The oh-so-common cold

Since everyone seems to have a cold at the moment, I thought I’d delve into the archives for some remedies. Imagine the misery of snuffles and sneezes without our modern pain relief and decongestants. Colds were much more debilitating in the past and remedy books are full of suggestions for alleviating them.

The first is a staple of folk wisdom and comes from the eighteenth-century recipe book of Caroline Powys1:

For a bad cold, Mrs Saunders – a large spoonful of Honey to a pint of water a little lemon juice (& a little rum if liked) well boild & scum’d till clear, a spoonful now & then or a Bason full as a sweat.

From the same source is one that’s not quite so pleasant:

For a cold or hoarseness, Mrs Floyd – two oz of Kidney suet of a weather Sheep shred very fine, put it into a pint of Cold Milk, let it boil a good while, then strain it thr’o a Lawn Sieve, take a few large spoonfulls now & then stirring it, always take some going to Bed.

A more complicated variation is given in ‘A Booke of Physicke & Chyrurgerie’ from the end of the seventeenth century2:

An Excellent Posset for a Cold

Take a quart of new milke Set it on a fire in a Skillet, & when it boiles turn it with 3 pints of the best Aile or Beer, then take it off the fire & let it stand till the curd be lavined, when the curd is taken off set the posset drink over the fire againe & put in these ingredients following.

Sweet fennell seeds anniseeds of each one ounce bruised in a morter 10 figgs & 6 Dates sliced, 2 ounces of English Licquorish well washed wiped dry & then sliced, 20 reasons [raisins] of the sunn stoned, boile all these togather about half an howre when the time is almost expired put in a sprig or 2 of Rosamary, then it from the fire & straine it through a fine sive then sweeten it with Sugar or Sugar Candy take a pritty quantity of this in the morning fasting the like at night going to bed after a light super or rather noe super.

I think ‘lavined’ here means leavened, the yeast in the beer causing it to ferment, but if anyone knows different please let me know.

The Revd Mr Weems makes this suggestion3:

Take lemon juice oil sweet almonds Virgins honey of each one ounce let them be well mixed in a marble Morter with one syrup of squills this Quantity may be taken in the course of the Day

Virgin honey is that taken from a single comb that has only been used once for honey, so is purer. Syrup of squills is an expectorant made from the bulbs of the sea squill flower or Urginea maritima; it is still used in cough syrups today, such as Buttercup, and it makes a twenty-fourth century appearance poured on breakfast cereal in Star Trek!

And if you have a sore throat as well, you may want to try this charming little number4:

Take 4 ounces of the fat of mutton Put it into a stone or silver saucepan melt it over a slow fire, then strain & return it into the saucepan again, & put to it three ounces fresh butter (before salted) When that is melted put in three ounces of yellow rosin, & when that is disolved add to it one ounce and half common yellow bees-wax melted, put it into a gilly pot stir it the whole time it is making tye it down when cold in the pots, when applied let it be spread on a linen rag the width of the throat, reach from ear to ear & changed every 12 hours covered

It will keep for years, an excelent & invaluable receipt

A ‘gilly pot’ or gallipot was a glazed earthenware jar used by apothecaries. I wouldn’t have thought anyone trying that approach would have wanted to leave the house!

  1. British Library, BL 42173.
  2. British Library, BL 69970.
  3. British Library, BL 49373.
  4. Staffordshire Record Office, D641/3/H/3/3.

2 thoughts on “The oh-so-common cold

  1. “For a bad cold, Mrs Saunders – a large spoonful of Honey to a pint of water a little lemon juice (& a little rum if liked) well boild & scum’d till clear, a spoonful now & then or a Bason full as a sweat.”

    My parents gave me this, & I gave it to my 3 sons, only we drank it by the glass full. It did not cure, but it sure made the cold more bareable.

  2. Pingback: Cough, cough « Travels and travails in 18th-century England

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