The Remedies and Recipes of our Ancestors

I have recently completed an article on Herbal Remedies that will appear in a future issue of Going In-Depth. In the meantime I thought, I would share a few more weird and wonderful recipes and remedies used by our ancestors.

Mrs Plant’s Cure for Kidney Stones (1680)

An excellent receipt for breaking & dissolving the stone.

Take sassifrage, Pelletory, marshmallowes, young parsley of each one good handfull & a half, horse Radish rootes six ounces, marsh-mallow rootes 4 ounces, the rootes must be scraped cleane & slit & the herbe wiped very cleane, two ounces of fennel seed, two ounces of Gromell seeds, these must be bruised a little, then put all these into nine pints of red Cows Milke and when it hath been steeped 12 houres, distill it with a moderate fire, then take of the water six spoonfulls with the like quantity of wine & a spoonfull of marsh-mallowes, mingle it well together, then drinke it being a little warmed the morning before the full of the moon & two mornings after & the morning before the [change] & two mornings after and at any other time when the paine is upon you. It must be taken constantly with every month.

If you can manage to obtain all those ingredients you are doing well.

There is a wonderful eighteenth century cookbook that is being transcribed and made available online. Like most early ’recipe’ books, it also includes instructions for making medicines and household products. Here is just one of its delights:

My Aunt Preston’s Cold Cream

Half a pint of trotter oyl, 3 ounces of white wax, 3 quarters of an ounce of spermaceti, all put in to a silver vessel till melted. Yn put into an earthen pan & beat up wth water till it grows white & doos not stick to ye pan.

Trotter Oyl is presumably fat from boiling up pig’s trotters so readily available.. Spermaceti is a wax like substance that is obtained from the heads of sperm whales. Our ancestors may have had more of a problem with that one. On the whole this may be a preferable beauty product to the moisturiser advocated by Elizabeth Peyps, wife of the diarist, Samuel; she used puppies’ urine.

Do take a look and see what else the unknown ladies recommend.

And for something that you might actually want to try in the twenty-first century:

Hannah Glasse’s Turnip Soup from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy 1747

Take a gallon of water, and a bunch of turnips, pare them, save three or four out, put the rest into the water with a half an ounce of whole pepper, an onion stuck with cloves, a blade of mace, half a nutmeg bruised, a little bundle of sweet herbs and a large crust of bread.  Let these boil an hour pretty fast, then strain it through a sieve, squeezing the turnips through; wash and cut a bunch of celery very small, set it on in the liquor on the fire, cover it close and let it stew. In the mean time, cut the turnips you saved into dice, and two or three small carrots clean scraped, and cut in little pieces: put half these turnips and carrots into the pot with the celery and other half fry brown in fresh butter. You must flour them first, and two or three onions peeled, cut in thin slices and fried brown then put them all into the soup with an ounce of vermicelli.  Let your soup boil softly till the celery is quite tender and your soup good.  Season it with salt to your palate.

The fact that this starts with a gallon of water gives some idea of the scale that these recipes expected.

I will be sharing more cookery tips in a future article.

About Janet Few

Janet Few is an experienced family, social and community historian who writes and lectures regularly on these subjects throughout the English speaking world. She is well known for her appearances as her alter ego ‘Mistress Agnes’ who aids Janet’s work as an historical interpreter. Janet is the manager of Swords and Spindles, a company providing living history presentations for history groups and schools. For further information see

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