You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Sunday, August 16, 2015

My Novel Cassia and Colonial Medicine

picture of a medicine chest
 courtesy of
        Sometimes doing research for my colonial era novels can be amusing.
        A couple of months ago, I saw my family doctor for a problem I’d been having. The night before, I’d been reading a resource book for my upcoming novel Cassia. The name of it is Indian Doctor – Nature’s method of curing and preventing disease according to the Indians.
        I took the book with me to show the doctor the Indian cure for my problem. What a hoot! We had such fun looking through the book. Seems as if every cure involved mixing something with wine, ale, beer, or liquor. We came to the conclusion that with enough of the “cure,” even if you still had the problem, you wouldn’t care anymore.
        Here’s what the book says for my problem, “Take some pounded panic (panic is another name for powdered corn), and give it to the patient to drink with wine, and he will recover. The same panic, being boiled with goat’s milk, and eaten twice a day, morning and evening, will operate the same.”  
        Seriously, knowing the right herbs and natural cures was extremely important in an era where there were very few, if any, doctors available. And, most of the time, those doctors weren’t classically trained.
        Lilyan Xanthakos, the heroine of Cassia, is not only a portrait and mural artist she is a healer who carries her medicine kit wherever she goes. In Cassia I mention an incident in Swansboro, NC, where pirates blockaded the port not for money or other booty, but for medical supplies (which were worth their weight in gold.)
There’s also a scene where the ship’s cook, because there is no doctor on board, applies a camphor-based ointment to the scratches on Lilyan’s face.
       While she's being cared for, Lilyan checks out the cook's medicine kit that has: jalap for purging, mercury salves for the Foul Disease, autumn crocus and meadow saffron for gout, and St. John’s Wort for insomnia, all carefully wrapped in oil-soaked paper.
       Lilyan, along with most colonial women, maintained a medicine kit that might have included the following: (Some of the items in this list that may seem misspelled come directly from Nicholas Culpepper's The English Physician, Enlarged in 1653.)
  • Valerian root, combined with hops and lemon balm; a sedative for sleep disorders, insomnia
    valerian root
  • Sweet gum bark, boiled; for sore eyes, wash eyes three times a day
  • Rum or brandy; for a burn apply a wet rag doused; Two or three swallows of cold water before breakfast; for heartburn
  • Feverfew; for headaches/migraines, body aches, and fever
  • Southern Wood; for upset stomach (also used as an insect or moth repellent
    southern wood
  • Calendula, dried, ground and mixed with animal fat; for cuts
  • Tansy; for indigestion, cramps, sunburn, and to remove freckles
  • Basil; draw poison out of animal bites
  • Black Cohosh; for menopause
  • Boswellia; for arthritis
  • Chamomile tea; for digestive problems
  • Flaxseed; for menopausal discomfort and osteoporosis
  • White Willow Bark; for back pain
  • Ginger; for nausea and vomiting
  • Lavender flowers; for anxiety
  • Fleabane; for venomous bites, smoke from it kills gnats and fleas; dangerous for women and children
  • Hellebore root snuffed up the nose; for sneezing and melancholy and to kill rats and mice
  • Penyroyal; for vomiting, gas, and vertigo
  • Fox’s tongue softened in vinegar; applied topically, draws out a thorn or splinter
  • Rose petals steeped in vinegar; applied topically for headache
  • Chalk; for heartburn
  • Calamine; for skin irritations
  • Cinchona Bark (contains quinine); for fevers
  • Garden celedine, pile wort, or fig wort; for boils
  • Cottonweed, boyled in lye; it keeps the head from Nits and Lice; being laid among Cloaths, it keeps them safe from Moths; taken in a Tobacco-pipe it helps Coughs of the Lunges, and vehement headaches.
  • Take howse leeke Catts blod and Creame mixed together & oynt the place warme or take the moss that groweth in a well & Catts blod mixed & so aply it warme to the plase whare the shingles be; for the shingles.
        Oh, two weeks after I saw my doctor, who prescribed medicine that cured my original problem, I had to see him again for a terrible earache. We looked at the Indian cure that involved lily onions, marsh mallows, oil of violet and, of course, taken with wine. And then, bleeding.
       I’ll stick with the antibiotics.

The Xanthakos Family Trilogy


  1. I'll stick to modern medicine, thank you. LOL
    Looking forward to reading Cassia......wait, have I said that before? Hahaha.....guess I really want to read it. :-)

    1. Chappy! So good to see you here on my blog. Thanks for your encouragement. It means a lot to me.

  2. Have Cassia on my to be read list.
    Being a retired RN I found your post on colonial medicines interesting.

    1. Hi, Tina. So glad you liked the post and that you want to read Cassia.