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My physician grandfather concocted a chest-loosening potion from natural herbs he learned about from local Indians near Lake Huron, where he grew up in the 1890s.  I’m sure there were ingredients other than bark and leaves in the medicine, which we drank frequently as children.  But my grandfather gave the secret recipe only to one chosen pharmacist.   It sold well because it worked.

I wondered when I stumbled across this pioneer notebook whether any of this doctor’s remedies actually did the job.  I love the part about steeping rust-free nails in vinegar.  Scroll down for a readable version.

Dropsy, Lotion for Itch, Sasparilla Beer. Physician's Journal 1843-1845

The State Library & Archives of Florida explains that Dr. John M. W. Davidson of Gadsden County began recording medical recipes and treatments in 1843 in this small, leather-bound notebook.  Davidson was a family practitioner and farmer who lived and worked in Gadsden County for more than 50 years. The 126-page journal reveals a glimpse of the knowledge and concerns of a pioneer physician in early Florida, including recipes for medicines, diet supplements, tinctures, salves, and treatment.

Here is a readable version of the two journal pages:

Page 45


[Recipe]. As much black snakeroot

as you can grasp between the

thumb & middle finger, steep

in one quart of Iemaca [sic] rum

48 hours. One pound new nails

(free from rust) steeped in one

qt. of cider vinegar 48 hours

each drawn off & added togeth

er to be simmered in an

iron vessel down to 1 qt. cov-

ered with a pewter vessel

add while simmering togeth

er 1 [pound] of brown sugar, keep

it stirred while simmering.

A wine glass full Morn. Noon,

& Eve; abstain entirely from milk.

Page 46

Lotion for Itch.

[Recipe]. Mur. Ammon. [1 dram].

Oxymur. Hyd. [half dram].

Aq. foul. [8 ounces]. M.


Sarsparilla Beer

[Recipe]. Rio Negro Sarsa. bruised [2 pounds].

Cort. Guaiac. Powd. [8 ounces].

Guaiac wood (rasped)

Sem. Arrisi

Rad Glycyrrh. aa [4 ounces].

Cort. Rad. Mezereon. [2 ounces].

Treacle [2 pounds].

Bruised cloves. 1 Doz.

Pour on 4 gal. boiling water & shake

the vessel thrice a day. When ferment.

begins use A. s. tumbler full 2 or 3 times a day.

U.S. Dispen. Page 590.