|This image (or other media file)|
is in the public domain because
its copyright has expired
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Victorian Remedies, Then and Now
With Thanksgiving Day past, Christmas Day to come, and New Year's Eve to follow, the aftermath of the holiday season brings more than fond memories of festive meals. The traditional Christmas dinner in particular, going back to Victorian England (stuffed poultry of some kind, mashed potatoes with gravy, and cranberry sauce, plum pudding, fruitcake, and perhaps mince pie), much of which we still cook today, can leave indigestion in its wake.
Today we might take a Tums or an Alka-Selzer or some other over the counter antacid to settle our stomachs. But in nineteenth century England, these remedies weren’t available. The famous Mrs. Beeton (Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861) suggested Hepar Sulph (calcium sulphide) for chronic indigestion. For indigestion produced by overeating, she recommended nux vomica (strychnine). She also supported Dr. John Cook Bennett’s recommendation of the curative power of the tomato, “almost a sovereign remedy for dyspepsia and indigestion.”
While modern homeopathy today includes small amounts of nux vomica to treat indigestion as one remedy, most medical doctors would be loathe to recommend strychnine. And calcium sulfide figures in today’s homeopathic remedies for infections rather than for indigestion. As for the curative power of the tomato, its high acid content often triggers indigestion rather than curing it.
Overeating can also cause headaches, according to Dudley Delany, R.N., M.A., D.C. (Winter, 1986/87, issue of Health World). For headaches caused by indigestion, once again, Mrs. Beeton recommends nux vomica, a cure also accepted in current homeopathic practice for this type of headache. But few of us today would be comfortable doctoring our families with strychnine or want to follow the helpful hint in an 1882 issue of Girl’s Own Paper to “Sponge the head all over night and morning with water as hot as you can bear it, and rub it dry with a coarse towel.” ( www.mostly-victorian.com?GOP1882/medicus03.pdf)
Today’s over the counter medicines usually treat either headache or indigestion, not both. Antacids provide digestive comfort, but can cause headaches. The caffeine in aspirin can aggravate indigestion and the acetaminophen in Tylenol can cause an upset stomach. However, according to the editors of Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs (1987 Rodale Press, Inc., p. 384), mint, especially peppermint, is a home remedy that really works for both indigestion and headache. A mint infusion is recommended for indigestion or upset stomach. Freshly picked, crushed mint leaves applied to the forehead can relieve a headache.
Would any of Mrs. Beeton’s remedies be useful today? Perhaps her hot liquid cure for a cold—raisins, stick licorice, sugar candy, rum, and a bit of vinegar, boiled then simmered and drunk warm at bedtime—would partially pass muster. The Mayo Clinic Staff agrees that warm liquids make a patient more comfortable and suggests that warm lemon water with honey can loosen congestion and prevent dehydration (www.mayoclinic.com/health/cold-remedies/ID00036 ) while a cold runs its course. The staff also recommends bed rest, saltwater gargles, and over the counter medications to relieve discomfort, since a cold cannot really be cured—a fact that would surprise Mrs. Beeton. Of her own cure, Mrs. Beeton promises, “The worst cold is generally cured by this remedy in two or three days; and, if taken in time, is considered infallible.”