February 24, 2011

Curious Colonial Remedies and Cosmetics

During colonial times disease was the leading cause of death. Many people survived diseases but were severely physically scarred so it is not surprising that there was a lot of experimentation with remedies and cosmetics.  I am actually not sure if some of these are better or worse than the chemicals many of us put on our skin everyday.

Birch sap is used fir making birch beer and strawberry water sounds like it would work just as lemon does for the skin but orpiment (a toxic mineral that contains arsenic) and (::gulp::) frog-spawn water just sound crazy to me.

This receipt is not referring to real worms, but  clogged pores. Before the common access to microscopes, many people believed that the oil blockage of a pore was a worm. This believe was still present as late as the American Civil War when magazines were quick to point out that "ignorant persons" still believed it.

Even today some people swear by the whites of eggs to remove blackheads and using the plant Soloman's Seal (Polygonatum) to cure acne.

The vermin most likely meant in this recipes are fleas, lice and mosquitoes which were responsible for spreading many diseases and were also very annoying.  Ships often carried lice and every sailor and passenger on a ship with an outburst would eventually become infected. Stavesacre (line-bane) is very toxic and I don't think that honey would help keep the mosquitoes away.

In some places, especially at the beginning of the 1700s, it was common for people to share bowls and cups at the table. Dishes were not washed with soap, even in taverns where many people could have used the same cup all day.

*Note: The baby in the picture at the top is wearing a "pudding cap" which protected the heads of children while they were learning to walk.


  1. Where would find Frog-spawn water? and putting it near your face? Eek!!

  2. today common sense would tell you not to drink from the glass if the person was dirty. :)

  3. Birch juice! My sister was talking about it last time she came back from Latvia. Apparently, the juice can only be harvested several weeks in spring, and she missed those weeks. She's looking forward to tasting it this spring. I really wonder what it is like.

  4. Maggie and Erika, I know! I'm not sure if the eggs are included or just the water the eggs were in.

  5. Hana,I have only tasted it in birch beer. It tastes very similar to root beer. I actually hate soda in general so while the taste of birch is not bad. I don't drink it. The syrup would be really yummy though.

  6. Pudding caps are awesome! Very interesting blog, I always liked reading about colonial medicine.


Tell me what you think!

Copyright © 2008-2020 Stephanie Ann Farra. All rights reserved.

All materials posted on this site are subject to copyrights owned by Stephanie Ann Farra. Any reproduction, retransmissions, or republication of all or part of any document found on this site is expressly prohibited, unless the author has explicitly granted its prior written consent to so reproduce, retransmit, or republish the material. All other rights reserved.