Home-made Remedies from the 17th Century

Written by Louise Ryland-Epton

In past months, I have looked at some of the more bizarre practices undertaken by residents to cure medical complaints. In the last few weeks, I have discovered yet more, but dating back over three hundred years and set down by the Gardiner family of Tytherton Lucas.

We are very fortunate that starting in the late seventeenth centuries, three generations of the family made notes in a book of what they considered essential information. It included farm accounts, dates of bad weather and a record of remedies which had been transcribed from a volume entitled The Queen’s Closet Opened: Incomparable in Physick, Chirurgery, Preserving, Candying and Cookery, as they were presented to the Queen. The book had been supposedly written by one of Queen Henrietta Maria’s servants and had been first published in 1655. At the time, the Queen herself was in exile (her husband, Charles I had been executed). It was a bestseller.

A copy found its way from London to Wiltshire and into the hands of Thomas Gardiner, a local yeoman farmer, who copied what he considered the most useful remedies. He did not reproduce cures for the worst illnesses or afflictions, such as the plague or cancer, but for more common-or-garden ailments like the common cold. I assume, Thomas was an occasional insomniac as one recipe was ‘to procure sleep’. It advised ‘bruise some anise seed and steep them in red rosewater and make it up in little bags and bind them to each nostril and it will rouse sleep’.

We have no way of knowing if Thomas tried any of the cures he wrote down, and I wonder how one could comfortably go about binding two bags to one's nose, but can assume, given the trouble he took to write these remedies, they were ones he wanted to remember. If he did manage to truss bags of anise seed to his face, he might have been disappointed at the result as it can act as a stimulant.