Cornelius Osborn’s Materia Medica, ca. 1768


Saffron        (Crocus sativus; C. officinalis)

“Safron”                                  Decay State: p. 16

      a fine Powder

      Recipe for Pills/Boluses for purging.

“Safron”                                     Jaundice: p. 32

      “Tinct of”

Saffron most often refers to the herb Crocus spp..  On occasion the name “saffron” has also referred to a yellow powder produced by Iron.  (Thus, one Iron preparation is known as Crocus Martis.)  Based on the predominantly plant-based nature of this recipe, Osborn is more than likely referring to the herb. 

      Saffron is originally native to Levant.  It is often cultivated inparts of Europe and North America. 

      Only a small part of the Crocus flower goes into making Saffron–the stigma.  There were several sorts of Crocus or Saffron.  Pomet felt the best came from France and warned against the use of counterfeits, namely the Bastard Saffron or Safflower (Carthamus sive Crocus).  Today our artificial Saffron still comes from various Carthamus spp..

      Saffron was described by Pomet as “the Chive, or Thread of a Flower, of a very beautiful red at one End, and yellowish at the other…it ought to be well dry’d, of a beautiful Colour, long and large, well tufted, of a fine red, good Smell, with the fewest yellow Threads possible, and not smelling either burnt or musty.”  Saffron was pressed into cakes soon after being dried.  When it was used to make a tincture, it would produce a deep yellow tincture, indicative of its use for treating Jaundice as per the Doctrine of Signatures.

      Although the Doctrine of Signatures suggests its use for the treatment of Jaundice, earlier herbalists wrote about its use as a remedy for chest ailments.  Gerard noted “(it) strengthenth the heart, concocteth crude and raw humours of the chest, opens the lunges, and removes obstructions.”  He felt it to be especially useful for the treatment of Consumption.  Parkinson used it “to expell any hurtful of venomous vapours from the heart” and to treat the plague, jaundice, and “strengthen and comfort any cold or weake members.”  Culpeper stated pretty much the same.

      During the eighteenth century, it was highly respected for its use as a cordial and was felt to exhilirate the spirits.  Lewis notes:  “taken in large doses, it is said to occasion moderate mirth, involuntary laughter, and the ill effects which follow from the abuse of spirituous liquors.”  He felt it to be particularly useful for the treatment of hysterics, or “obstruction of uterine secretion.”  Lemery took note of the red colour that Saffron gives a potion.  He felt the the reddest form was the most useful as a cordial, pectoral, anodyne, hysterick, and aperitive.  As a plaster it was used to deal with Small Pox, and it served to “enliven the Blood, and remove visceral Obstruction.”

      As for the use of Saffron for the treatment of any malignancy such as Decay, it is found in the Treacle administered after a patient is made to vomit and purge.  Colored by Saffron, the Treacle was felt to “drive out the maligancy by sweat.”  Tinctures were also felt to be sudorific.  Saffron was also added to Glysters and Blistering medicines. 

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron


Sage  (Salvia officinalis)

“Sage Tea”                      Continual Fever: p. 62

Used with the Compound of Contrayerva.

Used as a Febrifuge-Diaphoretic.

Originally from the Mediterranean, Sage became a very popular garden herb.  It was used in Britain and China as a tea that would serve as a sweat-inducer.

      Dioscorides gave this herb much credit for its ability to move the humours of the body.  This opinion was carried through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance period when herbalists preferred it for  many of the same virtues.  Gerard noted it to be cooling in cases of fever.  He states: “Sage is good for the head and brain, it quicketh the senses and memory, and strengthenth the sinews, restoreth health to those that have the palsy, and taketh away shakey trembling of the members.”  Similarly, Parkinson recommended it as a means to “warme and strengthen aged cold sinewes.”

      By the eighteenth century, physicians recommended it as a warm aromatic, drank in the form of a tea.  They felt such preparations served as strengtheners of the blood vessels, stimulants of the nervous system, and febrifuges.  The slight bitterness of Sage made them consider it to be a good tonic and mild astringent, good for treating “cold phlegmatic habits”.  Their favorite uses for Sage are found in an Old French saying which when translated is: 

   “Sage helps the nerves and by its powerful might…

    Palsy is cured and fever put to flight.”

In spite of this high degree of popularity, Cullen would later write that it had “no advantage over the other aromatics”, but did not discourage its use.


Saint John’s Wort        (Hypericum perforatum)

“Pul St. Johnwort”                          Consumption: p. 6

Part of the recipe for Turlington’s Balsam.

[Pul = Powdered (Pharmaceutical Latin)]

Several species of Hypericum are found in Dutchess County.

Hypericum is best known for its unopened flower buds, which when compressed exude a dark red-brown liquid.  This has led the use of its flowering buds and tops for treating a number of medical problems, namely diarrhea, dysentery, jaundice and consumption.  It was also popular as an astringent and a wound herb. 

      The Doctrine of Signatures applications for this herb come from the nature of an oil-based medicine that was made from it.  Gerard notes:  “The leaves, floures, and seeds stamped, and put into a glasse with oile olive, and set in the hot sun for certain weeks together…doth make an oile of the colour of bloud.”  Several of Dioscorides’s uses for this herb also imply the use of the Doctrine of Signatures.  He recommended it for treating a stoppage of the terms and “cholerick excrements”.  Parkinson considered it “as singular a wound herbe as any whatsoever”  and wrote “(it) helpeth all manner of spitting and vomiting of blood.”   Culpeper values it as “a singular wound herb…it opens obstructions, dissolves swellings, and closes up the lips of wounds.”  He finally notes “it prevents the vomiting and spitting of blood.”

      When Osborn was practicing medicine, St. John’s Wort was hung in the windows on St. John’s Day, following in the ancient tradition of its use as Fuga Daemonum, or “Flight of Demons”, to help keep the demons away.  Following in this tradition, eighteenth century practitioners used it to treat hysteria and maniacal disorders.  The blood-red oil made from its flowers was considered an official medicine according to the London Pharmacopoeia.  By itself, Hypericum was still used as a wound herb.

      Osborn incorporates St. John’s Wort to his version of the recipe for Turlington’s Balsam of Life.  This recipe does not include St. John’s Wort in Estes’s description of it.  Osborn uses this herb in this because it is recommended for dealing with blood-related disorders, such as those which happen with  consumption, and because it was considered a specific remedy for consumption. 


Sal Absinthe/Ashes of Wormwood/Salt of Wormwood  (Artemisia absinthium)

“Sal absinth”                                   Dropsy: p. 25

“wormwood”, Ashes of                Dropsy: p. 27, 29

      Added to a decoction.

            (Dia-drink/Constant drink)

      For use as a diuretic.

Taken in a Decoction.

Absinthe or Wormwood is native to Europe and stony regions of North America.

      The Ashes of Common Wormwood, referred to by alchemists as the Salt of Wormwood, were used as a medicine just as much as the fresh and dried herb.  The ashes were considered valuable as a diuretic and were therefore used to treat dropsy. 

      Salts were obtained from many plants during the 17th and 18th centuries.  Plants such as Purslane, Cresses, Comfrey, Sorrel, Lesser Cantaury, Eyebright, Plantain, Oak and others were often used to extract their salts.  In general, to do so, one had to burn the plant, or expose it to a heavy heat, in order to evaporate off the essential oil, followed by what was then considered its Sulphuraceous element.  The Sulphur often took on the form of a bubbling semi-liquid, left behind by the plant after it was slowly heated for a considerable amount of time.   Total riddance of the Sulphur left behind first black and then grey ash, referred to by alchemists, apothecarians and physicians as the plant’s Earthen element, which is then taken as a medicine (sometimes considered the salt) or used to produce the Salt. 

      James recommends another way of procuring salts from a plant.  First a juice is prepared from the plant, which is then strained through a piece of flannel.  It is then placed in a Pellicle and then a glass vessel over the fire.  Olive oil is added to the final product of the heating, which is then placed in the cellar.  Over time crystals grow.  They are then washed with Spring Water and dried.  What is produced is the precious salt of the plant.   

      The London Pharmacopoeia gives a description for the preparation of Sal Absinthe:

Let the Ashes of Wormwood be put into an iron Pot for some Hours by a strong Fire, after stirring them, that all remains of Oil may be burnt out; then boil them in Water, which will be impregnated with Salt, thro’ Paper, and evaporate it to Dryness.”

      Estes identifies one common salt, Lixivia, or Potassium Carbonate as being the end product of smothering plant materials in the heat.

      Also see Wormwood.


Sal Ammoniac

“Salermo”                                   Decay State: p. 20

“Salermonic”                                    Shingles: p. 58

“Spt Salarmo”,              Stoppage of ye Terms: p. 70, 72


“Spt Salarmo”                       Dr. Hill’s Formula: p. 79

“Sal armoniac”                              Epilepticks: p. 80

Sal Ammoniac is a salt that consists of Ammonium Chloride, a white, crystalline or granular powder, with a cooling, somewhat saline taste.  Originally it came from Arabia, but later, other sources developed in Venice and Holland. 

      The main source for Arabian Sal Ammoniac during the eighteenth century was described by Pomet:

“When the Turks and other People of Asia or Africa, travel with their Caravans, their Camles. passing thro’ the Deserts, urine upon th Sands; and the Sun shining fierce upon the Urine, fails not to dry it up, and reduce it into awhite Mass; the Truth of which I am convinced of by a Piece which Mr. Tournefort  gave me the 6th of March, 1693…and which I keep by me as a great Rarity.  The Peice is crystallized; that is to say, it appears on the Top like Needles, as Salt Petre refined, and is hollow on the under Side, where there is some Sand sticking to it, which shews that the Salt is sublimed by means of the Sun, and rises up from the Sands, that they are hot.” 

He adds that the ancients have been in universal agreement with this method of its formation:

“it was made from the Camel’s Urine which travelled to the Jupiter Ammon, from whence it took its Name: And others say that it comes from the Greek Word Ammi, which signifies Sand.”

      The Dutch offered a different opinion regarding its formation.  They considered it to be “a Mass or Composition of several Things”, including human or animal urine, common and sea salt, and chimney soot, “all boiled together, and sublimed into a Salt, and formed into Cakes.”  These cakes were shaped into the form of sugar loaves and shipped from Holland and Venice.  Another rare, but naturally-occuring sal ammoniac substitute (perhaps one and the same as this counterfeit form) also came from Holland and Venice.  Pomet described it as “a kind of Earth, or saltish Scum, that ouzes out of old Caverns, and the Chinks of Rocks, between Labor, Thanusseri, and Tzerhint.”   Other forms of counterfeit Sal ammoniac were often made from Salt Peter.

      The medical uses for Sal ammoniac were numerous.  Most 18th century practitioners valued it as an aperitive and sudorific.  Its coolness led to its use in many fever preparations.  Pomet notes its value for the resistance of putrefaction, for example from Gangrene an “superfluous and corrupted flesh.” (the shingles?)  The volatile spirit and salt of Sal ammoniac, he wrote, “is good for all hypochondriacall Cases” and benefits those with vertigo, epilepsy, “suffocation of the womb”, and other problems brought on by “the Corruption or Obstruction of Humours.”

      Lewis further explains its effects upon the humours.  He theorizes that it attenuates the viscid humours and is effective as a diuretic and diaphoretic, and when given in large doses, an effective emetic.  He valued it particularly as a diuretic and a powerful aperient, capable of passing into “the minutest vessels” thereby dissolving thick mucous.  For this reason it is included in the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia.  As a Discutient Cataplasm, it can be applied to the chest to deal with lung problems such as the Pleurisy (See Dr. Hill’s Formula).  Sometimes, Sal ammoniac is added to preparations of bitter tonics. 

      Sal Ammoniack served more than just physicians.  It was also used by Dyers, Goldsmiths, Founders, Pin-makers, and Farriers in a variety of ways. 


Sal Cornu Cervi

“Sal C:C:”                            Consumption: p. 3

      An Electuary/Linctus recipe.

            for use as a Pectoral Expectorant.

“Sal C.C.”                            Decay State: p. 20

            An Elixir for the Stomach.

Salts obtained from either of two sources could have been referred to by “Sal C:C:”–Cornu cervi and Carbonas Calcis.   Medical historian Estes notes that the abbreviation more often implies the latter.  It is unlikely that Osborn is making use of Carbonas Calcis for this medicine served as an antiacid and a topical for burns.  Therefore, Dr. Osborn is most likely referring to Salt of Cornu Cervi, also known as Salt of Hartshorn or Staghorn (Cornu = Antler/Staghorn; Cervus = Deer/Hart/Stag). 

      Sal Cornu cervi is a salt, a white powder left behind by burning the Hartshorn down into an ash.  Dioscorides made use of the Burnt Hartshorn, which he referred to as “Elaphou Keras”.  It was prepared by burning the hartshorn in a oven, “being beaten & put in an earthen pott, luted about with clay (where it must stand) till it is white, (& the afterward) it is washed in like manner as Cadmia is.”   He felt that two spoonfuls of the ash or salt placed in a drink served as a good treatment for “blood-spitters, ye Coelicall, the icterall, and for the griefs of ye bladder…, and could be added to some liquor for treating “women troubled with ye flux (of ye wombe)…”

      Later uses for Hartshorn, in part, came from beliefs regarding the fact that it was shed every year by the Elk.  Due to this, it was presumed Hartshorn “must be proper for intimidating the enraged Archaeus, renewing health and strength, and prolonging life.”    But during the eighteenth century, Lewis gave no support for these virtues in stating “not do they seem to have any great timidity of the hart, the annual renewal of the horns, and an opinion of his extraordinary longevity.”  He recommends its use instead, as the London and Edinburgh Pharmacopoeias do, for as an absorbant earth.  The Edinburgh also makes note of a nutritious gel and emollient that can be prepared by boiling the horn in water.

      Due to the high ammonia content of Sal C.C., it served as a powerful stimulant and was even applied externally to the nose for fainting.


Sal Glauberi–see Glauber’s Salts

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


Sal Juniper-see Juniper, Ol Juniper

Sal Nitre–see Nitre


Sal Succin

“Sal: Succin” powder            Continual Fever: p. 63

Intermission Feviour.

A recipe “for sinewy contractions”.

This is a salt made from Amber (Succin).  Amber was first described in 1546 by Georgius Agricola (Georg Bauer), a German mineralogist.  It was later studied by Dr. Oswald Croll, a Paracelsian chemist/alchemist in Anhalt in 1609.

      For use as a medicine, Amber was often altered by a process known as destructive ditillation.  From this process came Succinic Acid, representative of the Salt of Amber.  Traditional recipes also made use of a Spirit, and an Oil of Amber.

See Sal Absinthii for methods of forming salts.


Sal Tartar/Tartar

“Sal Tarter” powder                             Dropsy: p. 25

“Tarter”    powder                              Pleurisy:p. 36

“Tarter”                              Continual Fever: p. 62     

A Cooler.

Traditionally, Tartar came from the inside of Wine Casks; it was the reddish-brown crust-like deposits that were scraped off every few years.   It is mostly made up of Potassium bitartrate.  A later substitute was developed by dissolving pearl-ash in cold water; this formed Potassium Carbonate.

      The original Salt of Tartar is said to be the invention of a Friar who took Crystals of Tartar and salt and dissolved them in spring water.  The liquor was boiled, cooled, and then filtered.  It was allowed to sit and evaporate off the water.  The remaining white Salt was Sal Tartar.

      For use as a medicine, Sal Tartar was re-dissolved into any cold liquid.  According to Pomet, it served as a remedy for problems ailing the Liver, Spleen, Womb, etc.  In general, it had many virtues as a coolant and mild diuretic.  Large doses turned it into a strong cathartic.



      “a Gentel Sandheat”                       Consumption: p. 4

      This was not a medicine, but rather an important aspect of the cooking process when it came to making medicines.  A typical doctor’s “kitchen” consisted of a stove capable of cooking on its top “burners” as well as on a top or side burner covered by a layer of sand.  Unlike the standard burner, where the temperature can change greatly due to changes in the fuel supply in the stove, the sandheating burner held the temperatures more constant due to the layer of sand.  This was not only important for keeping already prepared recipes warm, but also for exposing recipes to intense heat for long periods of time, for example for the preparation of medicines that were derived from metals such as iron and copper, or metal salts such as lead oxide.  The Ens Veneris probably took several hours for Osborn to prepare if he did not have the needed ingredients such as rusty iron plates already prepared and readily available.


Sanguis Draconis (Dragon’s Blood)   (Daemonorops spp.; esp. D. propinquus and D. ruber)

“Sang: Dra:”                        Whites/Fluor Albus: p. 66

“Sang. Dra.”              “Overflowing of the Terms”: p. 67

In powder mix recipes.

This is a resin obtained from two palm trees found in the East Indies.  Originally classified together as one plant, Calamus Draco, Pomet gave their origins as the Canary Islands and India.  

      The resin was collected by making cuts in the tree, from which he noted there to be a “pouring forth a Liquor, during the Dog Days, which afterwards thickens or congeals into red colour’d Drops and Tears.”  Of these tears he recommends that one “Chuse Dragon’s Blood in little Tears, that are clear, transparent, and very brittle.”

      As for the medicinal value of this resin, the role of the Doctrine of Signatures in pre-determining is clear.  Truly good resin produces a deep red alcoholic tincture, suggestive of sanguinous disorders.  Pomet wrote:

“It is good to stop all Sorts of Fluxes, whether of Flood or Humours, whether Defluxations from the superior Parts, or Fluxes of the Bowels or Womb, the Bloody-Flux, Whites, and Gonorrhea…mixed with Conserve of red Roses…It is good against Spitting of Blood, and stops Catarrhs, being of a drying, binding, and repelling Property.”

      Lewis also recommends it for Fluor Albes, seminal gleets, “and other fluxes”, noting that “in these cases, it produces the general effects of resinous bodies, lightly incrassating the fluids, and somewhat strengthening the solids.”

      Dragon’s Blood is found in Lucatelli’s Balsam and a Strengthening Plaster.  (See Balsam Lucatelli).

      False Dragon’s Blood was prepared as well, and was used as a counterfeit and/or adulterant for true Dragon’s Blood.

      Non-medicinal uses for this colorful resin included for the production of enamels, paints, varnishes, and other coatings being used by Goldsmiths, Jewelers, Varnishers, Painters, and Shoe-Lacquerers.

File:Dragon's blood (Daemomorops draco).jpg


0_Untitled-13 copy  Sarsaparilla  (Smilax spp., esp. S. ornata and S. aristolochiaefolia)

“Sasaprila”                           Decay State: p. 12

      Dia Drink Beer…

      for old Lingering Disorders of the Hectic kind.

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

Although several plants known as Sarsaparilla were known to exist, Smilax was most often in use.  It is a Central and South American herb that can be found growing throughout Peru and Mexico.  It also grows in the Spanish West Indies, thus one of its common names Jamaican Sarsaparilla. 

      The official medicine came from its long, fibery roots.  They are of a glutinous nature upon the tongue and bear a bitterish taste. 

      Smilax was first brought to Europe around 1530 by the Spaniards.  It was first presented as a treatment for rheumatism in 1556.  Later, it became popular as a specific for the treatment of Lues Venerea, or Syphilis, but was found to be ineffective in Europe, leading one author to write “Whatever good effects it might have produced in the warmer climates, it proved unsuccessful in this…”.   Smilax is sometimes used as a sudorific and can be found in assorted recipes for the treatment of fevers. 

      A resulting high demand for this herb led to the search for North American equivalents.  Such plants included the American Mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum), Wild American Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), Indian Sarsaparilla (Hemidesmus indica), and common garden herbs such as Ginger and Flax.

      During the eighteenth century, true Sarsaparilla was used to treat diseases like rheumatism, gout, and the King’s Evil, but it served primarily as a tonic-alterative.  For this reason it is found in the Composite Decoction Recipe of Sarsaparilla, Decoctum Sarsaperilla Compositum, a recipe that would soon become very popular.  This recipe also contained Sassafras, Guaiac, Licorice Root, and Daphne mezereum.  It served as a tonic and a Diet-Drink.

      With all of its popularity, one would expect Osborn to pay more attention to this herb by making better use of it.  Instead, we only find it in his recipe for a “Dia Drink Beer for all Decay”, a recipe he recommends repeatedly in the manuscript, and his version of Dr. Ferdinand’s Formula.  


 0_Untitled-13 copy  Sassafras  (Sassafras officinalis; S. albidum; and especially the locally-occurring S. variifolium)

“Sasafras:”                           Decay State: p. 12

      Dia-Drink Beer for all Decay.

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

Sassafras is found throughout North America in forests and swampy regions; S. variifolium is the recognised local species. 

According to Lemery, the name Sassafras comes from a corruption of the French name Saxifrage.  It was referred to as Saxifrage by the French because they felt it had many of the same virtues as the true Saxifrage, for instance as a diuretic, sudorific, heart tonic, and remedy for gout, sciatica, and catarrhs.

      The overseas voyages of Spanish Explorer Nicolas Monardes led him to discover and bring Sassafras back to Europe in 1569/71.  Earlier, the Indians had introduced it to Frenchmen and taught them how it could be used as a medicine.  The French in turn then showed it to the Spaniards during a medical crisis that occured due to the continual Agues.  According to Monardes:

“Thei tooke up the roote of this tree and tooke a peece thereof, suche as it semed to thieme beste, thei cutt it small into verie thinne, and little peeces, and caste them into water…and thei sodde it the tyme that semed nedefull, for to remaine of a good colour, and thei dranke it, in the morning fastyng, and in the daie tyme and at dinner and supper…and of this thei were healed of so many griefes, and evill diseases…Our Spaniards did begin to cure theim selves with the water of this Tree, and did theim greate effects.”

      Monarde also wrote of how good it was for treating the griefs of women, and “especially in that which is called the evill of the Mother.”  It was used as a carminative, for “where ther is windinesse, it consumeth, and dissolveth theim.”  Sassafras was believed to deal with any “maner of colde of the beallie” and “evills of the breast.”   Other uses included for the treatment of gravel, stones, the gout, and “evill of the joynts”.  Its highly aromatic roots were felt to “rectifie the infected ayre” and so remove the pestilence and contagion responsible for epidemics.

      Later medical practitioners would state very much the same in their writings about Sassafras.  In the his first American Materia Medica, Barton described “Laurus Sassafras” as a general stimulant, with an essential oil very much like that of Camphor.  He recommended that it be externally applied for the treatment of gout and rheumatism, and warns “(it) is remarkable for its power of shifting the pain from its original seat; but not always to the advantage of the patient.”

      Pomet called it Cinnamon-wood because the bark of its roots were often sold as a substitute for Cinnamon.  He recommends to the practitioners:

“Chuse your Sassafras with the Bark reddish, thick and rough…The Bark is better than the Root, and the Root better than the Wood…. When they cut or rasp this Wood for Use, the Smell is so strong that it occasions the Head-ach in those who work up on it.”

      Certainly, the most important use of Sassafras during the 18th century was as a treatment for fevers, especially the Ague.  Thus it became known as the Ague tree and was respected for the medicinal value of its essential oil.  It served as a bitter, sub-astringent tonic and was taken to purify the blood.  The rusty red colour of its inward bark is suggestive of the Doctrine of Signatures.  It was taken also to strengthen the tone of the stomach, decrease fevers, and treat “hypochondriacal spasms”.  It was covered by the London and Edinburgh Pharmacopoeias throughout the eighteenth century; its essential oil being the only official preparation. 


Scabious  (Scabiosa arvensis; other species.  Alternatively, Erigeron spp.)

“Scabious”                             Consumption: p. 8

Decoction for a Constant Drink to be taken for a Hectic.

Scabious may be identified as one or more species of Scabiosa and/or Erigeron, both of which have new world and old world varieties growing in old pastures and fields. 

      Scabiosa is described by Parkinson although nothing is said of its medicinal virtues.  Culpeper described it as serving to “ripenth all sorts of inward ulcers and imposthumes.”  He recommends it for treating pleurisy, sores, worms, the pox, plague-sores, green wounds, carbuncles, scabs, pimples, and even freckles.  One preparation, a fermented decoction, is made for procuring sweat and making thin any infection or pestilence, thereby enabling it to free itself from the heart and cure the pleurisy.

      The other possibility, Erigeron heterophyllum, is a Fleabane found throughout Eastern North America; E. philadelphicum grows locally.  In later Materia Medica texts, both served as diuretics and therefore may have been used by Osborn as treatments for Gravel, Dropsy and other urinary problems.

      Of the two genera, (Scabious and Erigeron), Dr. Osborn is most likely referring to the Scabiosa for the treatment of Consumption in his manuscript.  Scabiosa was considered a specific for an assortment of infectious disorders, like consumption and other chest disorders.


Scouring Rush  (Equisetum spp.; especially E. arvense)

“Rushes such as they Scower with”           Gravel: p. 55

A decoction to be taken with Harlem Oil.

This is a common herb found growing along the edges of waterways, paths, roadsides, etc.  It is native to Dutchess County. 

Dioscorides refers to it as “Ippouris” and “Ippouris etera” (Recall Hippuris for Horse).  He considered it to be good for binding the fluxes of blood from the intestines, nose, or skin.  It was also used as a diuretic, although little more was said regarding this virtues. 

      Similarly, Gerard felt the “Horse-Taile, or Shave-Grasse” was good for treating a nosebleed.  Later, Culpeper would add on to this by including “fluxes of all sorts, either inward or outward.”  He recommended it as a diuretic and for removal of stones from the kidneys.  As for most eighteenth century publications, the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia includes a description of the Horsetail or “Cauda Equina”.  Lewis reiterates this text by stating that Cauda Equina serves best as a strong astringent, “but in a very low degree”.

      Osborn is using the Scouring Rush in the traditional way; as a diuretic to help flush out the gravel.


Sealed Earth; Hermetically Sealed Earth

“Sealed Earth”                                  Piles: p. 44

Used as a powder; in a poultice recipe.

Drugs and food were often stored and transported within vessels made from clay.  Sealing of the vessel assures its purity for later use and effectiveness as a medicine.  An official seal called a Hermetic Seal was often placed on the seal of the vessel or the drug itself to assure that the drug was not adulterated or a counterfeit.

      Earthy ingredients, in general, were felt to be medicinal due to their association with the four essential elements of matter noted by alchemists–earth, air, fire, and water.  Centuries before alchemy became influential, Dioscorides wrote of the earthy ingredients as “Ge”.  He felt that “All earth that falls of medicinal use hath a supreme faculty of cooling & stopping the pores, but it differs in kind…”.  Pomet gives this description of Sealed Earth:

“Terra Sigillata, or Sealed Earth, is a kind of white bole, sometimes a little reddish, that is moistened with Water, and afterwards formed into little Cakes, roundish, of the bigness of one’s Thumb, upon which are stamped several Characters.  The variety of Figures, Colours, and different Seals that are found upon the Terra Sigillata, makes me think that every one makes its up according to his Fancy; and that it is nothing but a fat astringent Earth….I shall not stop here to relate all the fabulous or true Stories which the Antients have told concerning the Place whence this Earth comes, and the Ceremonies used when it is gathered, &c., but I shall tell you that the Earth that is most used and esteemed, is that which is in little reddish Cakes…and the most astringent you can get.”

Obviously this earth was used much in medicine due to its astringent and absorbant qualities.  Osborn employs it as a strong absorptive agent and astringent to reduce the swelling of the piles.

      It is also found in the recipe for the Venice Treacle.

      See Lemnian Earth.


Senna  (Cassia spp.; esp. Cassia acutifolia and C. fistula;  locally, C. marilandica)

“Seaney”, “Seanna”                        Bilious Colic: p. 39

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

Several species of Senna come from Egypt, Africa and Saudi Arabia; one is noted to occur locally.  Both foreign and domestic sources were probably used as medicines; with an emphasis on the more traditional foreign sources prioir to the revolutionary war.

      The seed pod is milder than the leaves, and, of the two, is most often employed as a medicine.  It is a strong laxative capable of causing griping and is therefore usually prepared in recipes that also contain strong aromatics.

      Three types of Senna were recognised as being official:  Alexandrian, which was considered the best; Tripoli; and Mocha, of an “ill quality” and considered by some to be “good for nothing”.

      Lemery felt that Senna served as “a purger of serous humours and melancholy.”  He felt that the griping it causes was due to “sharp Humours” joining up with it in the gut.  Like most apothecarian recipes, he added strongly aromatic herbs such as Cinnamon, Cloves, Galingal, and Ginger to help correct this effect.    Senna is still found in many official and proprietary medicines.


0_Untitled-13 copy   Skunk Cabbage  (Local species: Symplocarpus foetidus, or Dracontium foetidum)

“scunk root”                                Consumption: p. 5

Part of a recipe for a Balsam/Pectoral Expectorant.

“scunk root” probably refers to the Skunk Cabbage, the root of which is most often employed as a medicine.  The Skunk Cabbage has Eastern North America and Asian species.  The North American variety Symplocarpus grows in boggy woods and swamps throughout the East; a western variety Dracontium exists as well, but was not yet discovered and so was not available to Osborn.

      Skunk Cabbage root was often employed as a stimulant, anti-spasmodic, narcotic, and a treatment for rheumatism, asthma, and whooping cough.  This made it a specific for the treatment of spasmodic asthma, chronic cough, and other cold phlegmatic problems.  It’s volatile-acrid and resinous principles were felt to be the reason for its anti-spasmodic effects.  Many considered it to have medicinal properties “similar to asafoetida and other fetid gums.”  Thus the powdered root was also used to treat hysteria (See Asafoetida). 

      Osborn’s use of this in a recipe for treating consumption again relates to its aromaticity and anti-spasmodic effects and perhaps its purported opium-like effects.


File:Polygonatum biflorum.jpg

Solomon’s Seal  (Polygonatum spp., esp. P. multiflorum; P. biflorum;  P. virginianum; sometimes Smilacina stellata, a look-alike.)

“Salmons Seal” root powder            Decay State: p. 14

      A Tincture/Syrup for Spitting of Blood.

“Solomons Seal” root powder   Whites/Fluor Albes: p. 66

      Used for making a Decoction or Syrup.

Polygonatum multiflorum and P. biflorum are common to England.  Smilacina occurs locally and can be found alongside meadows and on young forest floors.  It closely resembles Polygonatum, except that its rhizome, the official drug, is tougher and thinner and lacks the characteristic signs or Sigilli.  Lewis described these sigillata as flat circular depression in the rhizome that are “supposed to resemble the stamp of a seal.”  Gerard felt the seal on the rhizome meant it was to be used “to seale or close up greene wounds, being stamped and laid thereon.”  Other herbalists noted very much the same.  

      The rhizomes were considered to have astringent and demulcent effects.  Being sweet and mucilaginous, they were perhaps being used in accordance with the Doctrine of Signatures when Osborn added them to one of his recipes for treating the Decay and the Whites.  It is possible that he and local herbalists made use of the locally occurring Smilacina species in periods of despair.

Image source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Polygonatum_biflorum.jpg


Southernwood  (Artemisia abrotanum)

“suthernwood”                         The Epilepticks: p. 80

Decocted in Rum for making a fomentation for treating “the affected part”.

Also known as European Wormwood, this herb was grown in herb gardens and has since naturalized in North America.

      In general it is considered effective as a stimulant tonic with nervine properties.  It has also served as an emmenagogue, an antiseptic, and an anthelmintic.  Gerard explains its nervine properties by noting its ability “to disperse all cold humours”. 

      The use of this herb for treating epileptics is described by Dioscorides:  “the seed bruised, heated in warm water and drunk helpeth those that are troubled in the cramps or convulsions of the sinews…”.

      By the eighteenth century, the use of Southernwood is almost totally confined to external applications.  Like Gerard and Culpeper, Lewis recommended it for curing baldness.  It was also used during the eighteenth century as an antiseptic and a detergent for “cold, leucophlegmatic habits”.  This suggests that as a treatment for “The Epilepticks”, it was meant to be used as a local stimulant for “affected parts”, as Osborn indicates, or as a relaxant-sudorific.


Sow’s Thistle  (Sonchus spp.; especially S. oleraceus, S. arvensis, S. palustris, and S. alpinus)

“Sows Thistil”                A Stoppage of ye Terms: p. 70

Used in a Tea.

European in Origin?

Dioscorides described three different “Sonchos” varieties.  He described them to be moderately binding and refrigerative, and recommends them for “a burning stomach” and “inflammations of the seates and of the womb.”  Parkinson felt that Sonchus was cooling and somewhat binding.  He recommends it for very much the same problems as Dioscorides and mentions its use as a salad herb during the winter and spring.  As for its effects upon the womb, he notes: “Causeth in women in travell of child to have so easie and speedy delivery, that they may be able to walke presently after…”.

      Culpeper repeated this practically word for word when he wrote:  “Three spoonfuls of juice taken warmed in white wine…causeth women in travail to have so easy and speedy a delivery, that they may be able to walk presently after.”

      Although this herb was respected by herbalists as a treatment for women in labor, little mention is found concerning its use for “a Stoppage of the Terms”.  Still, a value for treating the former infers an additional use for treating the latter.


Species Diascordium

“Diascord”                          Consumption: p. 3, 8

      Recipe for a Linctus.

“Spec Diascord”                         Dysentery: p. 52

      Recipe for an Electuary.

“Spec Dias Cordm”                   Green Purges: p. 77

      Recipe for an Electuary.

All of the above recipes are intended for use as a Pectoral Expectorant.

The word “Species” was given to medicines that were not very palatable.  They were therefore kept as a powder, and given along with honey or a treacle in the form of an electuary or bolus.

See Diascordium Electuary.



      (Physeter catodon)

      “Spermisity”, “Spermisit”              Consumption: p. 3

Used in Linctus recipes as a Pectoral Expectorant.

“Sperma Ceti” is obtained from the Sperm Whale (Physeter catodon).  It is found in the head and consists of various oils, fats and the like, including cetyl palmitate.  It was used to make ointments, cerates, pomatums, and was often mixed with beeswax to make candles. 

      Due to personal experience, Pomet believed it to be “the Brain of a Sort of Whale”, having seen it prepared and having prepared it himself.  He described its preparation: 

“…take the Brain, and melt it over a gentle Fire…cast it into Moulds like those wherein they refine Sugar; and after it is cooled and drained from the Oil, melt it again and proceed after the same Manner, till it is well purified and very White; then, with a Knife made for that Purpose, cut it into Scales or Flakes…”

He recommends it for use as a pain-reliever for “Women in Child-bed” and as a remedy for bruises, inflammations, pleurisies, and the like.  As a pomatum, it served to soften the skin.

      The London and Edinburgh Pharmacopoeias both incorporate Spermaceti into their recipes for oils and emulsions.  Internally, an emulsion treated “pain and erosion of the intestines” by acting as a mild laxative.  It was also used to treat “coughs with sharp defluxations” and relax any other form of solids captured within the body.  The Doctrine of Signatures may be the reason why it has also been used to treat Consumption, catarrh, gonorrhea, and spermatorrhea.


Spiderwort  (Tradescantia spp.)

“Spiderwort”                                 Dysentery: p. 52

Decoction for use as a strong Astringent.

A limited amount of information is found on this herb in the standard reference texts.  Parkinson wrote of a variety of Spiderworts of the Phalangium genus.  He notes “The soon-fading Spiderwort of Virginia, or Tradecant, his Spiderwort” as being native to North America.  He briefly makes reference to it use by the American Indians, although no specifics about this are given.

      Phalangium is called Spiderwort due to an ancient belief that it once served as a cure for Serpent, Scorpion and Spider bites.  Later, Parkinson noted its virtues as a medicine for treating vomiting and poisoning cases in his text Theatrum Botanicum. 

      The reasons for Osborn’s use of this herb for the treatment of dysentery remains uncertain. 


0_Untitled-13 copy   Spignel (Aralia racemosa; alternatively Meum athamanticum)

“Spignut”                                   Consumption: p. 9

      For a Syrup to be taken with a Balsam.

“Spignet”                                         Dropsy: p. 29

      For a Poultice made in New Milk.

“Spignet”                     The Whites/Fluor Albes: p. 66

      For a Decoction or Syrup recipe.

This is another herb for which the identity is uncertain.  “Spignut” or “Spignet” as a common name  closely resembles “Spignel” and “Spignet”.

      Spignet is a locally occuring herb more commonly known as Spikenard (Aralia racemosa).   It has served as a Pectoral, Balsam, and Stomachic, and was used to treat coughs, colds, and assorted lung diseases.  Other uses include as a tonic to purify the blood, and as a remedy for gout.

      Spignel (Meum athamanthicum) is used for stomach disturbances such as to dispel flatulence and treat inflammations.  It was an aromatic herb, and was used by some to treat women’s disorders.

      A Bastard Spignel is identified by James as Foeniculum sylvestre Officinalis.

      Of the three given, the first possibility (Aralia) is the most acceptible because:  1) it occurs locally,  2) the spelling of its alternative name is identical with Osborn’s phonetic spelling.  This identification is made with reserve in view of the fact that little more evidence can be found in the texts for any herb named “Spignet”.


Spiritus Cornu Cervi (Spirit of Harts Horn)

“Spt: C:C:”             Stoppage of ye Terms: p. 69

“Spt: C:C:”       Barring Down of the Matrix: p. 75

Spirit of Cornu Cervi (Harts Horn) is made by heating shavings of deer (Cervis spp.) or elk (Alcus spp.) antlers in a closed container over a fire.  As they become slowly charred the antlers produce an strong aroma, somewhat acid in nature and rich in ammonia.

Like other strongly aromatic medicines, Cornu Cervi was used to treat illnesses associated with disturbances of the body’s spirits and/or energies.  Thus it was used to treat hypochondria, fainting, hysterics, and menstrual disorders.

See: Sal Cornu Cervi; Harts Horn. 


Spiritus Harts Horn/Spirit of Harts Horn

“Spt harts horn”              High Stericks: p. 73

See Spiritus Cornu Cervi, Harts Horn.


Spiritus Nitri Dulce (Sweet Spirit of Nitre)

Sperit Niter Dul”                        Gravel: p. 55

“Spt: N: Dul:”                            Gravel: p. 56

According to lewis, this medicine was “long held in great esteem for it quenches thirst, promotes natural secretions, expels flatulencies, and strengthens the stomachs.”  The London and Edinburough Dispensatories instruct the reader to make make this medicine by adding Spirit of Nitre to a rectified wine.  This is then distilled on a sandheat.

Historian Estes notes a relationship between Nitric Acid (Nitric Acidum), Sal Niter, and Glauber’s Spirit of Nitre  The latter was obtained by mixing Sal Nitre with Vitriol to produce Nitrous Acid.  It was introduced in Amsterdam by Dr. Johann Rudolph Glauber in 1650.  This Dulcis Spiritus Nitre, or Spirit of Nitrous Ether served as a refrigerant, a tonic, a diaphoretic, an anti-spasmodic, and a diuretic, for which it is being used here.

See Glauber’s Salts; Sal Nitre.


Spiritus Lavendula (Spirit of Lavendar)        (Lavendula spp., esp. Lavendula stoechas (French      Lavendar)).

“Spt Lavend”                  “A Stopage of ye Terms”: p. 69

      Added to a tea, for treating Hysteria.

“Spt Lavend:”                          “High Stericks”: p. 73

      Added to tea.

“Spt Lavend”              Barring Down of the matrix: p. 75

This is one of several medicine Osborn employs for its aroamtic properties.  The essential oil from lavendar was used to treat numerous feminine disorders.  The traditional theory centered on the notion that it “raises the spirits”.  Unlike other medicines with similar applications, such as Asafoetida, Castoreum, and Skunk Cabbage, this aromatic medicine has a rather pleasant aroma.. which most traditional herbalists have taken to be soothing and calming. Therefore Lavendar was considered to be valuable in tonics and restorative medicines for those experiencing faint, giddiness, spasms, tremors, and colic.    In 1807, Harral summed it up by writing:  “This is a grateful, reviving cordial, much and deservedly used in all kinds of langour, weakness of the nerves, and lowness of the spirits.”

      The value of Lavendar to colonial physicians centers on its use for “all Indispositions of the Heart and Head…” [Fuller, p. 94].  Fuller recommends it in the form of a Compound Spirit for “decayed Strength, …Palpitations of the Heart, Fainting, and Melancholy.”   Like other spirits and essential oils, this recipe was administered “upon a lump of Loaf-Sugar”.

      A recipe for the Compound Spirit of Lavendar is  given by Estes as: Lavendar, Cinnamon, Caryophyllum, Nutmeg, and Haematoxylon.  It served as a Tonic and anti-rheumatic.


Spiritus Salermo (Spirit Salermonic)

      See:  Sal Mooniacum; Spiritus Salis Ammoniacum


Spiritus Salis Ammoniacum (Spirit of Sal Ammoniac; Spirit of Salarmonic)

      “Spt: Salarmo”                Stoppage of ye Terms: p. 70

      See Sal Ammoniac.


Spiritus Vitriol

      “Spt Vitriol”                             Dysentery: p. 53

Vitriol is essentially the highly caustic Sulphuric Acid.  It was used as a styptic to treat severe cases of bleeding, especially in cases of dysentery. 

See Vitriol/Ol Vitriol.


Steel Wine/Steeled Wine

“Steeld wine”                              Jaundice: p. 33

“Steal wine”                  Stoppage of ye Terms: p. 68

The Steel Wine is a wine to which Iron has been added in the form of rust, or to which particles of iron/steel are added and then allowed to putrefy in the wine.  The lengthy history of Iron and its roles in astrology, alchemy, chemistry, biology, and medicine has led to its use for treating many disorders. 

      During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Iron was used to make medicines for diseases or disorders that were initially attributed to venetian and martian influence, and later to problems concerning the heart, blood, and (liver).  These disorders were often theorized to be of feminine and masculine influence (Venus was felt to symbolize women; Mars represented men.)  Later, these disorders centered on the blood and heart, and especially the menstrual period.  

This may apply to a possible Phlogiston-based theory for disease, which Osborn may have believed in.  See essay entitled Phlogiston.

The Steel Wine was felt to serve as a tonic, nourishing the body and fortifying the blood.   

See: Chalybeatus; Ens veneris; Iron.


 Stink Cedar        (Juniperus sabina (?); Thuja sp.?; Torreya sp.?)

“Stink Seder”              “A Stoppage of Ye Terms”: p. 70

      “that grows by the rivr Sid”

To be used in a Tea.

The common name used for this tree is not found in the literature.  It is possibly a local name given to it by Osborn, his preceptor, or others in the neighborhood.

      This is probably a tree or shrub related to and/or resembling the Juniper, i.e. Juniperus or Thuja species.  According to Lemery, the characteristic terebinthate odor of most evergreens was tolerable, if not pleasant.  Probably more tolerable than that of the Stink Cedar.  A description of Savin Tree (Juniperus Sabina) by Wooster Beach suggests that Savin is the same tree referred to by Dr. Osborn as “Stink Cedar”.    

      Savin Tree is native to Siberia, Tartary, southern Europe and North America.  Beach noted it to flourish in New-Jersey.  In his description of Savin he gives reason to suspect that this plant may have been known as Stink Cedar:  “The leaves and tops of this plant have a moderately strong smell of the disagreeable kind, and a hot bitter acrid taste.”  He goes on to describe its history of use as an emmenagogue, serving to produce “a predetermination to the uterus”.


Stinking Orris        (Iris floridanum)

“Stinking oris”   Barring Down of the Matrix: p. 74

Suffumigation Bath therapy.

A plant bearing this common name has not been uncovered in the literature.  Possibilities include:

Florentine Iris (Iris florentina)  Traditionally used.

Fleur-de-Luce   (I. purpuraea nostratis)

Stink-bush  (I. floridanum)

Local historians Roberts and Shaw note Iris versicolor and Iris prismata to be growing wild in Dutchess County.

      The Florentine Iris was very popular during the eighteenth century.  It served as a perfumant and a medicine.  This suggests that Osborn’s use of the word “Stink” could have been in the more archaic sense.  The Oxford Dictionary defines “Stink” to mean “to emit a smell or vapour of any kind; Obsolete…generally refers to offensive.”

      Florentine Iris has a violet-like odor.  Fresh roots are bitter, acrid and nauseous, and thereby serve as an effective cathartic.  The use of the Iris for treating menstrual problems was written about as far back as 150 A.D. when Dioscorides discussed Iris plants in his Materia Medica.  He describes the use of its roots as a treatment for women’s problems:  “But all of them have a warming, extenuating facility… extenuating grosse humours hard to get up… drank with wine, they bring out the menses, and the decoction of them is fitting for women’s fomentations which do nullify and open the places….”

      Pomet notes the value of this plant for making dyes, perfumes and confections.  As a medicine, he recommends it primarily for lung disorders, although he also mentions “Gripings of the Belly”, “Pain in the Stomach”, “Obstructions of the Terms”, “Glands of the Mesentery”, and treatments for the womb.  Lewis recommends the root for treating Dropsy.  



      “Loaf Shuger”                             Consumption: p. 3

            Electuary/Linctus recipe.

      “Shuger”                                        Gravel: p. 55

            Used with Oil of Juniper as a vehicle for                   administration of this medicine.

      “Shuger”                        A Stoppage of Terms: p. 69

            Used with Oleum Succinum as a vehicle for                   administration of this medicine.

            Added to a tea.

Sugar Came primarily from the Caribbean where it was extracted from sugar cane.  Boiled down sap from the Sugar Maple was just beginning to serve as an alternative source for sweeteners during the eighteenth century.

      Sugar was extracted from the canes and then pressed into cakes known as loaves.  Of these Pomet wrote:  “if you chuse it for Colour, the whitest is the best; then next to the White is that of the Cream Colour…and lastly the Red.  If you chuse it from the Making, the treble refin’d is the best, and that which is form’d into the Loaf, the whitest of which will look like a driven snow.”

      Uses for the sugar included as a medicine as well as as a food.  Concerning its virtues as a medice, he wrote:  “It is good for the Brest and Lungs, to smooth their roughness, take away the Asthma’s Hoarseness, ease Coughing, and to attenuate and cut the Flegme, afflicting the Fibres of these Parts…”.  Pomet also recommended it for the kidney and the bladder.  He warned against its use in excess noting “…but being constantly used, (it) rots and decays the teeth.”


Sulphur–see Flower of Sulphur.


File:Drosera rotundifolia habitat.jpg

  0_Untitled-13 copy   Sundew        (Drosera spp., esp. Drosera rotundifolia)

      “Sun Due”                                 Consumption: p. 5

In a tincture made with Rum, Rosemary and Pitch Pine.

Added to recipes of other powders used to make balsams.

Sundew is found growing in the acidic soils and floating mats of marshes and bogs in Eastern North America.   Roberts and Shaw [1925] noted the Round-Leaved Sundew to exist in Dutchess County. 

      Use of this herb as a medicine is not found in any of the references used for this research.  General medicinal features ascribed to Sundew in later writings include its use as an expectorant and a diuretic.  It is a bitter, acrid plant leading to its use for treating pulmonary afflications.  Its use as an expectorant and the presence of dew-like drops on its hairs suggest a Doctrine of Signatures.

Image source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Drosera_rotundifolia_habitat.jpg