Cornelius Osborn’s Materia Medica, ca. 1768


Daisy   (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, Bellis perennis?)

“Large Dayses”                            Consumption: p. 8

Linctus recipe.

Decoction recipe for a Constant Drink to be used in a Hectic.

Assorted Daisies were described by Parkinson who noted that “they are certainly to bind, and the roots especially being dryed, they are used in medicines to that purpose.”  Gerard wrote of “The Great Daisy, or Maudelewoort”, and notes that Daisies can be used to produce excellent vulnerary drinks and a poultice for the “cruell torments of the gout.”  Culpeper respected the Daisy as a wound herb, adding it “reduces the heat of choler, and refreshes the liver and other inward parts.”  Its use for treating Consumption and the Hectic is not noted in these early herbals.

      In his Materia Medica guide, Lewis also does not recommend the Large Daisy for consumption and the hectic.  Instead he recommends a smaller Daisy, today referred to as the Lesser Ox-eye (Bellis perennis), for use as a vulnerary and a remedy for asthma and hectic fevers. 

These uses were apparently changed significantly by the time Cornelius Osborn learned medicine.  In 1771, Dr. Hill said that an infusion of the leaves of the Lesser Ox-eye was “excellent against Hectic fevers,” closely resembling Osborn’s use of the plant, although he fails to mention it in his later discussion of hectic fevers.

      So which of these Daisies Dr. Osborn made use of remains uncertain.  By referring to this plant as “Large Dayses”, one would suspect he made use of the Chrysanthemum, which bears a 1″ to 2″ diameter flower, rather than the Bellis  mentioned by Hill, which has a flower measuring just 1/2″ to 1″ in diameter and has fairly fine almost hairlike petals.


Diascordium Electuary

“Diascord”                            Consumption: p. 3

      A Linctus recipe.

“Speces Dias. Cordm”                   Dysentery: p. 52

      An Electuary.

Spec Dias Cordm”                    Green Purges: p. 77

      An Electuary.

Used in Pectoral Expectorant recipes.

Diascordium was discovered during the early sixteenth century by Girolamo Fracastro who used it as a plague remedy.  For centuries, Scordium (Teucrium scordium), also known as Water Germander, was its main ingredient.  By the 1700s, Opium was added to this recipe.

      Formerly an alexipharmick, Scordium later served as a deobstruent, a diaphoretic, and diuretic.  During the late 1700s, Cullen recognised two other species of Teucrium: Chamaedrys and Chamapitys.  By the year 1800, Teucrium was no longer an official drug.

      To make the Diascordium Electuary, first Diascordium had to be made.  Apothecarian James gave as his recipe:

“leaves of Water Germander (Scordium), Cinnamon, Nutmegs, Japan Earth, Gum Arabic, Olibanum, of each 1,6326 Grains; Roots of Tormentil, Bole Armeniac, of each 2,4489 Grains;  Opium, 0,3061 Grains, dissolved in a suffucuent Quantity of Canary Wine”

To make an Electuary, this was then added to “Syrup of dried Roses, boil’d to the Thickness of Honey, thrice the weight of the Powders, 44,9999 Grains.”

      Another of his recipes, Specific Diascordium (“Species E. Scordio Cum Opio”), avoids Japan Earth, and makes use of many of the same herbs substituting Storax gum for Olibanum, and Ginger for Nutmegs.  In addition, it requires Bistort, Leaves of Cretan Ditany, Galbanum, Red Roses, and Long Pepper.  From this the Electuary is then prepared by mixing one part Species E. Scordio Cum Opio with 3 parts Diacodium, a six percent aqueous Opium solution.  Diacodium was considered to serve as a cure-all or Panacea, having the same effect as a strong Opium/soap pill.

      Although the inventor of this formula, Fracastorius, meant it to serve as an anti-pestilential, it was later found to serve more as a moderate astringent.  In the form of a Specific, it was accepted into the London Pharmacopoeia and became the basis for the Electuary.  Later, when the bistort and roses were removed from the recipe (replaced by increasing the other astringent–Tormentil), and rose syrup replaced with honey, it became accepted into the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia and was often referred to as Pulvis e bolo, and Pulvis e bolo, cum et fine Opio, when the Opium was added.

      See: Specific Diascordium.


Diet Drink

      “Dia Drink”                     “for all Decay”: p. 11

      See: Barley; Beer.


0_Untitled-13 copy   Dogwood

(Cornus spp., esp. Cornus florida)

“Dog wood” bark                           Jaundice: p. 31

Decoction recipe.

Dioscorides’s rendition of the Dogwood tree is reminiscent of the Doctrine of Signatures as he describes it as “a strong tree bearing a fruit like ye Oliue, sommewhat long, green at first but being ripe it growes tellow or of the color of wax, edible, binding, good for ye flux of ye belly and ye dysenteries…”

      Barton wrote of two Cornels, or Dogwood trees, Cornus florida and Cornus sericea.  He felt their bark to be “considerably astringent” being of service to many for the treatment of intermittent fevers. 

      Cornus was considered the North American equivalent to Peruvian bark, a treatment for Malaria.  Barton gives reason why:  The taste of the barks of the two Cornels, and that of the Peruvian bark, is nearly similar.”  He goes on to further explain his reasons basing them on experiments, performed by his acquaintance Dr. Walker, showing that they “possess the same ingredients…though in different proportions.”  As a result, Cornus was used as a tonic, an astringent and a febrifuge.  This use of Cornus continued well into the 19th century.

      Little mention is given of its use as a treatment for the Jaundice.  Its reddish inner bark and the red edges of its flowers may have led Osborn to consider its use in accordance with the Doctrine of Signatures; thus using it to treat the Jaundice.

      See: Rose Willow.


Dragon’s Blood

See: Sanguis Draconis


Duck’s Meat        (Lemna minor)

“Ducks meet”                        St. Anthony’s Fire: p. 58

Fomentation recipe.

A large number of the plants that grew around Dutchess County had to endure the marshlands and numerous other aquatic habitats.  These habitats became the source for many of Osborn’s medicinal herbs.  Duck Weed is one such example. 

      Duckweed is a very small flowering plant found growing on nearly all forms of still water including puddles, brooks, lakesides, swamps, and marshlands.   Its leaves are only a few millimeters in diameter, the flower is so small it can hardly be seen.

      Dioscorides referred to this herb as “Phakos epi ton Telmaton” and wrote “Lens which grows in marshes…is found in standing waters, being a moss like to lenticula, cooling by operation.”  He felt it to service as a valuable medicine for “all inflammations. & Erysipelata….”  (Erysipelas is synonymous with St. Anthony’s Fire.)

      Gerard wrote about Ducks Meat as well claiming “Duckes meat is called Ducks herb, because Ducks do feed thereon….”  In his description of this herb he felt it to resemble “a certain green mosse, with very little round leaves of the bignes of Lentils: out the midst whereof on the nether side grow downe very fine threds like haires, which are to them in stead of roots: it hath neither stalke, floure, nor fruit.”  As for its medicinal virtues, he agrees with Dioscorides uses in general, stating “Ducks meat mingled with fine wheaten floure, and applied, prevaileth much against hot Swellings.”

      In his Theatrum Botanicum Parkinson wrote of the Water Lentills, or Lens palustris sive Lenticula aquatica, Duckes meate (Lens palustris sive aquatica vulgaris), and two other related herbs.  Of the Ducke’s meate he notes: “This small water herbe consisteth of nothing but small round greene leaves, lying on the top of standing waters, in ponds, pooles, and ditches, without either flower or seede that ever could be observed, onely from the middle of each leafe, on the underside, these grow certain small threds finer than hours, which pass down into the water….”  He recognised its virtues as being cold and moist in the second degree, making it applicable for the treatment of inflammations and “Saint Anthonies fire”.

      Culpeper also felt it to be “effectual to help inflammations and St. Anthony’s Fire.”  All three of these herbalists also used it to treat gout, and recommended its use as a poultice made using barley meal as well. 


Elder/Elderberry        (Sambucus canadensis; S. niger)

      (Dwarf Elder: S. ebulus)

“inside bark of Elder”              Bilious Colic: p. 40

            (inner bark)

Decoction recipe.

Considered to be a powerful purgative, Elder was used by Gerard to treat a number of disorders including dropsy, gout, and “infirmities of the matrix”.  Parkinson did not know of its use, writing:  “It is not applied to any Physicall use that I know.” 

      Osborn’s use of Elder somewhat resembles Culpeper’s recommendations.  Culpeper felt the tea drank from boiled stems “doth mightily carry forth phlegm and choler.”  He recommended the middle and inner barks to “expel the same humour” and for the treatment of dropsy.  Its roots were known to act as a strong purgative.  As for the colic, he suggests that Dwarf Elder be tried for a more direct cure.

      Cullen wrote of Sydenham’s use of the middle bark of Elderberry feeling that “operates both upwards and downwards, evacuating a great quantity of water by stool and urine.”  The flowers and berries were also recommended.

      Lewis recommends the green inner bark as a gentle cathartic.  A juice and a wine were also prepared with the bark.  The flowers had numerous applications due to their aroma and flavor.  They were added to distilled water, teas, wines, oilve oil preparations, glysters, alexiterial and plague remedies, and cataplasms.  The sweet fruit was felt to “offend the stomach” and therefore worked as a mild laxative. 


Elecampane         (Inula helenium)

      “alacampain”                              Consumption: p. 1

            Syrup (Lincture/Balsam)

“allacampain”                             Consumption: p. 11

      Electuary recipe.

“Elecampain”                              Decay state: p. 14

      Tincture/Syrup recipe for

      Spitting of Blood.

“Alecampain”                                    Dropsy: p. 24

      Dia-Drink/Constant Drink


Originally a European herb, Elecampane quickly escaped from herb gardens and established itself in North America where it grows in stony pastures and along roadsides. 

      Elecampane has had numerous applications to the treatment of pulmonary diseases.  It has been used as a diuretic, a tonic, an astringent, and an anti-septic.  Dioscorides used it for these and related disorders.  He may have been referring to his use of this herb as a treatment for Consumption and the Decay state when he recommended that a confection be prepared from the root: “Beeing pounded, & dranck, it is good for the Excreantes sanguinem (the bloody excretions).”

      Culpeper gives a recipe for a fresh conserve made from the fresh roots of Elecampane.  He recommended this “to warm a cold windy stomach…and to relieve cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing in the lungs.”  The powder of dried roots was used for very much the same health problems.

      Although Cullen finds little to note of its virtues, he felt it “promises to be of some power”. Lewis felt “Enulae Campanae” root best served as an alexipharmic, and strongly recommended it for use as an expectorant for humoural asthmas and coughs.


Elixir Proprietatis; Elixer of Propriety

      “Elix: p:p:t”       Spitting of Blood in a Decay State:     p. 16

      “Elix p.p.t”        Spitting of Blood in a Decay State:     p. 19

      “Elix ppt.”          Spitting of Blood in a Decay State: p. 20

      “Elix: p.p.t”       Dropsy: p. 25

      “Elix ppt.”          Dropsy: p. 28

      “Elixter ppt:”    Jaundice: p. 31

      “Elix: p.p.t”       Stoppage of ye Terms: p. 70

      “Elix ppt”           Stoppage of ye Terms: p. 72

The recipe for Elixir of Propriety was discovered by 16th C. Alchemist Paracelsus.  Paracelsus felt it would serve as a valuable medicine and so gave it the name “Proprietary Medicine”.  Being an Elixer of Aloe, Saffron and Myrrh he declared that it would “provide a vivifying and preserving Balsam, able to continue Health and long Life, leading to the lofty Title…The Elixir of Propriety of Man.” [Ref: James].

      The Edinburgh recipe given for this is:

“Take one Ounce of pulveriz’d Myrrh, and as much Oil of Tartar per Deliquum, as will make it into a soft Paste; with a great Heat evaporate the Moisture, and add a rectify’d Spirit, two Pints, digest in a Sand Heat for four Days, then add Succotrine Aloes in Powder, an Ounce, and half; English Saffron, an Ounce; digest them again for two Days, and pour off the Elixir, after it is depurated by subsiding.”

      James’s own recipe for “Elixir Proprietatis, with distilled Vinegar” helps us to better understand this process:

“Take choice Aloes, Saffron, and Myrrh, of each half an Ounce; cut and bruise them, put in a tall Bolt Head, pour twenty times their own Weight of the strongest distill’d Vinegar thereon, let them simmer together for twelve Hours: then suffer the whole to rest, that the Faeces may subside, and gently strain off the pure Liquor thro’ a thin Linen.  Put half the Quantity of distill’d Vinegar to the Remainder, boil, and proceed as before, and throw away the Faeces.  Mix the two Tinctures together, and distill with a gentle Fire, till the Whole is thicken’d to a third; keep the Vinegar that comes over for the same Use; and what remains behind is the Elixir Proprietatis with distilled Vinegar.”

      James felt that what the pharmacist/chemist obtained was “an acid, aromatic Medicine of great Use in the Practice of Physic….”  He recommended its external use as a remedy for “putrid sinnows”, “fistulous old Ulcers”, putrefaction, and gangrene.  When taken for internal, ulcers, he adds, “It is to be taken in a Morning upon an empty Stomach, at least twelve Hours after eating…”

      Lewis recommended it to strengthen the stomach, “cleanse the intestinal passages of tenacious phlegm”, and “gently promote secretion”.  William Cullen’s views on Paracelsus are made clear with his comment on the medicine: “The only aloetic I have to remark upon is the noted elixir proprietatis, introduced from a very bad authority…”  Although Cullen claims to never have employed it as an evacuant, he does report success regarding its use for spasmodic pains of the stomach.

The following is from Fuller’s Dispensary, 1739.


Elixir Vitriol/Spirit of Vitriol

“Elix vitriol”                                     Decay: p.19

Used as a stomachic.

Vitriol is Sulphuric Acid; Oleum Vitriol is concentrated sulphuric acid. 

      Vitriol was treated several ways to produce medicines.  If the vitriolic acid contains a lot of water, it is called the Spirit of Vitriol.  The most popular medicine is known as Mynsincht’s Elixir, invented in 1631 by Adrian Mynsincht.  Elixir Vitrioli Acidum is another name for this aromatic medicine.  An herbal tincture was added to a blend of vitriol and spirit wine to produce this more pleasurable medicine.  Examples of these aromatics include Cinnamon, Ginger, Cloves, Calamus, Citrus Peel, Sage, Mints, Cubebs, and Nutmegs.  Similar to this recipe was the later developed Acidum Sulphuricum Aromaticum, in which free sulphuric acid was mixed with ethyl-sulphuric acid, and Ginger and Cinnamon Oils. It was used as a remedy for night sweats and sometimes fevers.  An Elixir Vitrioli Dulce was also produced by sweetening these recipes.  According to Lewis, this was meant for “persons whose stomach is too weak to bear the foregoing acid elixir.”.

      During the 18th century, these recipes were used for treating a weakness and relaxation of the stomach and “(a) decay of constitution, particularly in those which proceed from irregularities, which are accomplished with slow febrile symptoms, or which follow the supression of intermittents.”

      A variety of other vitriolic preparation are described by Pomet, but are not related to Osborn’s use of Vitriol.  These vitriols include the Roman, German, and Hungarian Vitriols, all of which are earth-like in quality and texture.  The latter vitriol, also known as White Vitriol, was known as “The Sympathetick Powder” and considered to be “The Magnetick Cure of Wounds.”  Pomet felt it to be “of great Use and Force in (treating) Bloody Flux, and frequently used for that Purpose in Camps and Hospitals…”


Emplastrum de Minio/Plaster of Red Lead

“Implas Demeni”                           Dropsy: p. 29

A Plaster used in cases of Mortification.

According to Pomet, “Mnium is Lead Ore pulverized, calcined, and reduced to such a red Powder as we see it.  It is called Minium from the Word Mina, because it is made of the Lead as it comes from the Mine.”  He felt that the best red Lead was mined in England.  A counterfeit product known as Red Ceruse, or Sandyx, came from Holland.  This red Ceruse, he believed “was nothing more than common Ceruse just reddened over a fire.”

      Red Lead was felt to be “of some Use in Medicine, because it is drying, and gives a Body to some Ointments and Plaisters.”  Fuller gives the following recipe:  

“Take of red Lead, nine Ounces; Oil-Olive, a Pound and half; Vinegar, six Ounces;  Boil these in a Brass Pan of a sufficient bigness, to the Consistence of a Plaster.”

He adds: “It cools, dries, repels, blunts Acrimony, and removes old fixed Pains of the Limbs; and in other Respects, greatly agrees with Litharge Plaister.”  Litharge is another form of Lead used as a medicine, namely White Lead.

      In his Pharmacopoeia, Lewis wrote:   “It has the convenience of not sticking so well…”  He therefore recommends a second recipe:  Emplastrum de Minio cum Sapone (Plaster of Red Lead with Soap), whereby Spanish Soap is added.  This recipe was recommended for the treatment of “gouty tumours”, and “the juices stagnating after sprains”.  Emplastrum de Minio is omitted by the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia.

      Red Lead also served the painters and potters as a source for a red dye.

      See White Lead.

      The following is from Fuller’s Dispensatory, 1739:


Emplastrum oxycrate/Emplastrum Oxycroceum (?)

      “Emplas oxacrat”   “A Barring Down of ye Matrix”: p. 75

A Plaster of Water/Vinegar is recommended by Osborn for treating a weakness of the back.

In this preparation, Osborn is probably referring to a vinegar plaster.  “Oxycrate” is a water-vinegar mixture.

Oxycratum Saturni, also known as Lac Virginal and Cerussa Acetate, is Lead Acetate (Saturni refers to the Lead).  This preparation served as a cooling medicine.  It was used as an anti-diaphoretic, an anti-inflammatory, and a sedative.  An unguent was prepared from it using Olive Oil and Cera Alba (White Wax).  This too served as a coolant.

      According to the Edinburgh Dispensatory, a Saffrom Plaster (Emplastrum Oxycroceum, commonly known as Oxycroceum) was made using:  Yellow Wax, one Pound;  common Pitch and Galbanum, each half a Pound:  melt them over a gentle Fire.  Add Myrrh, Olibanum, and Venice Turpentine, of each 2 Ounces.  Mix together, an make a Plaster according to Art.   James noted it to serve as a Resolvent, a fortifier for nerves and muscles, and to relieve pain. 

      Lewis’s recipe uses Saffron, which is missing in the Edinburgh recipe, probably due to the yellow color being provided by the Wax and Galbanum.  He felt it served to “strengthen the parts to which it is applied, especially the tendinous ones.”  He also recommends it for use as a warming plaster for resolving and discussing the cold tumours.


Ens Veneris

“Ens venris”;

“ens veneris”           Stoppage of the Terms: p. 69


“E:ven”                       Stoppage of the Terms: p. 71

“Ens ven”                    Lying in, or Delivery: p. 76

Used for the preparation of a drink referred to as Pyrrol Water.

The term “Ens Veneris” comes from:

Ens, or Entia:  meaning Thing, Essence, or Entity.  Paracelsus noted “the life of man proceeds from the ens.”  This first extract of the ens he referred to as Primum ens.  In the case of the animal world, this was contained in the blood or ova.  In humans, depedning on your philosophy, its place in the body included the blood and various organs found in the body. 

To Paracelsus, the Ens was the essential or active part of any recipe.  The Ens veneris therefore had a name that referred to its relatioship to the veneris or “venus” of the body.  These ‘venus of the body’ components could have included any of a number of organs, body parts or activity types associated with the different parts of the body.  Instead, it was often association with the most feminine parts of the body, especially to internal female organs like he uterus, and at times perhaps to ovaries.

Veneris:  comes from the plural for Venus, referring to the spiritual source of the medicine and its virtues.  Venus represents the feminine spirits;  Ens veneris was used to treat disorders associated with the spirit of Venus in the human body–namely feminine disorders.

      In the same discussion, Osborn is referring to the use of “Peroyal water”.  He is probably referring to the pyrrol water discussed by Paracelsus and other alchemists.  His spelling of the word is probably of phonetic and/or Old English origin.  The Old English  spelling for”Pyrrol” was “Purl”; followed by “Petrol”, “Petryl”, and “Pyrrol”. 

      Pyrrolatry is the worshipping of fire and was practiced by nearly all alchemists.  In practicing pyrrolatry, it was felt that powerful medicines were being produced.  With the passage of time came the confusion of certain ingredients used in the recipes.  Along with this came changes in the traditional method of preparation.  For example, the red salt of Copper, felt to truly represent the feminine spirits due to the astrology of this metal, was replaced by the red oxide of Iron.  This was perhaps due to the fact that Iron was more available and the red potion was easier and cheaper to produce.    

      The Ens veneris was produced a number of ways, using Copper and later Iron.  Paracelsus first described its virtues and it use.   Later on, Robert Boyle described the synthesis of Ens primum Veneris whereby Calcothar (Iron Sulphate–a vitriolated calx), was made by a “lasting and vehemic fire” and “exquisitely ground with an equal weight of sal armoniac, a salt but moderately volatile”.  The product would then undergo a process known as sublimation to form the end product which appeared very much like “yellow flowers” or a “reddish sublimate”.  Due to the use of Iron, this was more accurately referred to as Ens Martis.  The true Ens veneris was made using Copper.

      In his Philosophical Works…, Boyle gives a more detailed explanation of his Iron-based recipe:

      “Calcine good Dantzick, or rather Hungarian vitriol, till the calx become of a dark red, or purplish color; then thoroughly dulcify it by repeated washings in warm water, and mix it exquisitely with an equal weight of sal-armoniac in powder; put the mixture into a glass retort, able to hold above three times the quantity, and sublime it in a sand-furnace, by degrees of fire for ten or twelve hours; in creasing the fire at the last, till the bottom of the retort be red-hot.  If what is sublimed, which is the medicine be not of a good yellow, return it to the remainder, mix it well there with, and sublime it once more.”

The Vitriol he refers to is better known as Sulphuric Acid.  Vitriol served as an intestinal astringent, an anti-septic, a refrigerant, stomachic, and tonic.

      When used as a medicine, he recommended two to three Grains for little children, and ten to twelve, sometimes twenty to thirty, for full grown adults.  He added, it should be diluted in water or some beer and notes:  “It may be given at any time, upon an empty Stomach; but I mostly give it at bed-time.”

      The value of Ens Veneris as a medicine was based upon its action as a diuretic and diaphoretic.  Boyle’s claim was:

“When it operates sensibly, ’tis by sweat, and sometimes by urine.  I exhibit this medicine also, in fevers, and other diseases, to procure sleep, which it does more safely than opiate preparations.  ‘Tis, also, powerful against worms, obstruction of the menses, and to strengthen to appetite.”

He also recommended it for treatment of the Rickets, noting: “I may safely say two or three hundred children have, through my means, have been cured by it….”.  He also used it for “removal of Subsultus Tendinum in a person dangerously sick of Febris Petechialis.”

      Some findings suggest that Osborn’s use of the Ens veneris more accurately followed the rules set by early alchemists during the previous century.  Unlike Boyle, he made appropriate use of the Ens veneris to treat feminine disorders.  Perhaps he also made use of the feminine metal Copper, for the Ens veneris recipe, versus the Iron-based recipe given by Boyle (in spite of the fact that Iron was considered to be a masculine metal by astrologers and alchemists, Boyle’s suugestion was taken by many to be an improvement over the old recipe).   On the other hand, the Iron ore found at the Livingston Manor in New York may have provided Osborn with an ample supply of this valuable medicine making it cheaper and leading to his use of Iron/Steel from Iron ore and blacksmiths, rather that the less available Copper and Copper ores.

      See: Pyrrol Water; Chalybeatus; Vitriol; Sal Ammoniac.


Epsom Salts

“Ipsm Sal”                    St. Anthony’s Fire: p. 57

Used as a Cooling Purge.

Epsom Salts, known as Sal Epsomensis in Pharmaceutical Latin, is a salt consisting primarily of Magnesium Sulphate.  Thus its other names in Pharmaceutical Latin: Magnesia vitriolata and Magnesii Sulphas.  It was isolated in 1695 by Dr. Nehemial Grew from medicinal water pouring from the Epsom Wells in Surrey, England.  It was later prepared from several other mineral sources in England including Dolomite.  As a medicine it was considered to serve as a valuable refrigerant and cathartic.




      (Chrysanthemum parthenium)

“fether few”            Barring Down of ye Matrix: p. 74

Used for Suffumigation-bath Therapy.

Feather few originated in Europe and has naturalized in North America. 

      Its name “featherfew” is the Middle English version of its common name in use today–“Feverfew,”  which in turn is felt to be a corruption of the word “Febrifuge” indicating the value placed on this herb as a tonic and a fever remedy.  It has also served as a flavorant and carminative for many medicinal recipes.

      Gerard felt this herb to be of a hot and dry nature making it serviceable for the treatment of “Matrix problems”.  When it is used he recommends: “it can be drunk, set over in a hot bath, or applied as a poultice.”   Parkinson also referred to its values for the treatment of women’s diseases, stating “It is answerable to all the properties of the single kind which is used for women’s diseases, to procure their monthly courses chiefly”. 

      Culpeper claimed Featherfew to be ruled most appropriately by Venus, stating that She “hath commended it to succour her sisters, women, and to be a general strengthener of their wombs…”.  He recommends it to be boiled in white wine to be taken to cleanse the womb, expel the afterbirth, and “doth a woman all the good she can desire of an herb.”  As for it use in suffumigation baths he notes:  “For a woman to sit over the hot fumes of a decoction of the herb made in water or wine, is effectual for the same.”

      Lewis recognised Feverfew (which he refers to as Matricariae) as “a celebrated anti-hysteric” used to treat obstructions of the uterus.  He briefly describes a recipe making use of “a decoction of matricaria and chamomile flowers with a little mugwort.”  Cullen notes an American herb that may have served as an equivalent to Matricaria, “the Foetid Plant”,  a different species of Matricaria characterised by its fetid odor.

      The earlier herbals concur with Osborn’s use of this plant.  The more contemporary writings written during, or just prior to, Osborn’s apprenticeship did not. 


Fennel  (Foeniculum vulgare; F. dulce)

“fenil root”                                Consumption: p. 10

      Recipe for a Syrup to use with Balsam.

“fenil roots”                                     Dropsy: p. 24

      Dia-Drink/Constant Drink/Decoction.

“fenil seed”                              Bilious Colic: p. 39

      Recipe for a Decoction.

      “fennil” (seed)         Dr. Ferdinand’s Formula: p. 78

During the eighteenth century, two varieties of Fennel were recognised:  Sweet Fennel (Foeniculum dulce,) from Florence, Italy;  and Common Fennel (F. vulgare), from Spain and Portugal.  The seeds and roots of Fennel were most often used as medicines.  Young parts of this plant are edible.

      Due to their warm pungent taste, the seeds were considered to be one of the four great hot seed-medicines and were looked upon as a good stomachic and carminative.  They were used to prepare an essential oil and a simple water.  The recipes of a number of important medicines included Fennel seeds including the official preparations of Mithridate and Theriaca, Glysters (Enemas), and the Compound Juniper Tar.

      The roots are less warming and sweetish and are listed amongst the five opening roots.  They were often used as aperients for fevers.  Boerhaave felt Fennel root agreed in taste, smell, and medicinal virtues with the Ginseng, and was used accordingly.

      Finally, the leaves of the Fennel were felt to produce the weakest medicines and were rarely used except for preparing simple waters.

      Dioscorides recommended Fennel (which he referred to as “Marathron”) for a number of ailments.  Its uses included as a diuretic and to “assuage ye burning heat & nauseous of ye stomach” for those with fevers.  Parkinson felt it should be “boyled in broths and drinks to open obstructions”and to “expell winde”.  Culpeper used the seeds to treat lung ailments such as “shortness of breath and wheezing, by stopping of the lungs…”.  He adds: “The roots are of most use in physics, drinks and broths, that are taken to cleanse the blood, (and) open the obstructions of the liver…”.

      By the eighteenth century, Fennel root was used to induce sweat in cases of fever, and to purify the blood.  Seeds were given to “expel Wind, assist Digestion, ease old Coughs, open Obstructions of the Lungs, and cause free-breathing.” 

      Osborn uses the Fennel plant to treat several of the above mentioned disorders although he seems to have switched around the uses for Fennel roots and seeds.


Ferdinand’s Powder

      “Ferdenands pouder”           “ye Fever, an ague,

                                                      ye Cure”: p. 59

                                 “Dr. Ferdinand’s Formula”: p. 78


fine bole

      “fine bole”                                 Piles: p. 44

      See: Clay; bole Armeniac.


Flaxseed  (Linum usitatissimum; L. sativum)

“flax seed”                             Pleurisy: p. 35

Recipe for a Decoction or Constant Drink;

      an Expectorant Drink for coughing.

Flaxseeds are traditionally used as a laxative due to their mucilaginous coating.  Their mucilage also gives them a soothing quality, making them valuable for making poultices and mustard plasters.  The seeds provide Linseed oil.

      Dioscorides felt Flax had the same power as Foenugreek when externally applied, and claimed it act by “discussing and mollifying all inflammations inwardly & outwardly.”  For the treatment of lung or chest ailments he proposes that it be taken with honey.  Gerard’s discussion of its medicinal virtues emphasizes it use in external applications for pain, swelling and infections.  Cullen would later recommend the use of the seed oil over its mucilaginous coating for use in masking an external application.  The London and Edinburgh Dispensatories both describe the seed oil as the official medicine.

      Parkinson, in his Theatrum Botanicum, recommends flaxseed for provoking the urine, and washing the kidney and urinary tract of gravel and stones.  Its leaves and flowers were mentioned as a remedy for Jaundice; its powdered seeds as a singular remedy for  the Dropsy.

      Lewis appreciated the value of the entire seed.  In times of famine he recognises its potential as a food.  Once the seed oil is extracted, he recommends the use of the remaining seed cake for making cataplasms.  He also noted the fact that flaxseed and linseed oil can be poisonous, resulting in a swelling of the face and limbs.

      Estes notes that it also served as a demulcent for the catarrh.


Florum Benzoin; Benzoic Acid

“Flor Benzon”                               Consumption: p. 3

Benzoic acid is found naturally in benzoin, balsam tolu, balsam peru, storax, and other plant resins.  It was identified in 1617 from an extract of Gum Benjamin Tree (Styrax benzoin).

      Lewis describes Benzoinum as “a concrete resinous juice, obtained from a large tree growing naturally in both the Indies…”  The resin came primarily from the East Indies.  It occurred in large masses ranging in color from white to light brown, bearing yellow specks.  The best was considered to be white, without any specks.

      Like many resins and gums, Benzoin is fragrant when heated.  The production of Flowers of Benzoin is given by Pomet (?):

“Put in earthen pot, place in sand; and with a slow fire sublime the flowers into a paper cone fitted to the pot.  If the flowers be of a yellow colour, mix them with white clay, and sublime them a second time.”

Lewis described these flowers as being of “an acidulous taste and grateful colour”.  They were principally used for the production of perfumes and cosmetics, and are rarely seen in prescriptional recipes.  Only one official composition had Benzoin at that time:  Balsamum traumaticum.  In general, when it was used as a medicine, Benzoin was used to make a Balsamic Syrup that served as a pectoral, an expectorant, and sudorific; it can also be found in recipes for paregoric elixirs, electuaries, troches, and pills.  A number of these recipes are noted in the London and Edinburgh Dispensatories.

      See: Turlington’s Balsam.


Flower of Sulphur

“flower Sulphr”                           Piles: 42, 44

Used inwardly to help Piles.

Sulphur is referred to by Dioscorides in his write up entitled “Theion”; he describes Sulphur as “the best Brimstone” to be used as a suffumigant or in liquid medicines.  He recommended it for “ye Asthmaticall… such as to spit out ye rotten matter”, and by suffumigation to “draw out ye embryo.”  An assortment of skin conditions could be treated with Sulphur as well including Leprosy, Scorpion Bites, and “itchings over all the body”.

      Pomet describes it in his section, “Of Flowers of Sulphur”:

“The best and most beautiful Flower of Sulphur comes from Holland…the True Holland’s Flowers of Sulphur were wont to be brought to us in Cakes that were light, soft, friable, and rather white than yellow.”

Lemery spoke highly of its chemistry in which he refers to the importance of its colors, thereby inferring a relationship with the Doctrine of Signatures.

      Pomet and Lemery considered the Flower of Sulphur to serve as a strong remedy for nearly all diseases of the lungs.  Lemery felt Sulphur acted by deterging the Viscosities of the lungs that tended to stick to them. It was therefore given as a lozenge or electuary.  Externally it was applied as an “unguent for the Itch”.  This last use, mentioned ever so briefly by Lemery, is  associated with the use of Sulphur by Osborn for the treatment of Piles.

      Estes also notes the use of Sulphur as a cooling cathartic, a diaphoretic, and a resolvent.  It was considered to be antagonistic to the side effects of Mercury and Antimony preparations, and served to make medicines for treating skin diseases.