Colonial Cures for Overindulgences

    Last night, after my house full of family had departed, I got to thinking about the aftermath of the Thanksgiving weekend: the physical discomfort that always seems to accompany the over indulgence of wonderfully rich and heavy food and drink.  After all, it’s an American tradition—eat till you’re more than full and afterwards lay on the couch to watch holiday football and/or take a nap!

   And when the occasional stomach upset strikes, we have many options to choose from that offer relief.  Fizzy tablets, pink viscous liquids, and chocolately tasting squares that will, if nothing else, lessen the misery until our systems can overcome the stress and shock of being stuffed, well, like a turkey.  We think of these remedies as less than pleasant, but compared to the curatives of the Puritan Era they are downright ambrosial.

   Some of the treatments for stomach ailments due to gluttony, or “dyspepsia”, included such benign ingredients as catnip, dandelion, dill, mallow, parsley and mountain ash brewed into teas.  Some of the popular herbal remedies used in the New World of the colonists we still use today, such as chamomile.   But other treatments included bleeding, emetics, blistering and clysters (which comes from the Greek word Kluster, meaning to cleanse—think of a colonic in less than hygenic conditions and you get the idea).

   A recipe for relief of an upset stomach following too rich a meal dating from the 17th century was as follows:  salt, molasses, turpentine and castor oil mixed with water and drunk until “purging” followed.   Well. . .yeah!

   So the next time you dread reaching for the chalky-tasting Milk of Magnesia to relieve stomach and intesinal distress, think of the drastic methods our Colonial ancestors had to endure and the cure will not seem so onerous.

She needs to be bled, and heartily.”  Dr. Roger Toothaker about one of his patients, from The Traitor’s Wife.


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