In case of constipation

The Victorians were a little obsessed with laxatives and purging one's bowels to rid oneself of disease. 'Consult Me' has no fewer than 9 recipes for 'aperients' (another word for laxative) -- a variety of tonics, pills and children's formulations. Here's one of the suggested remedies, which I chose principally for the alchemical units of measurement:

"Aperient for Children. -- Infusion of senna, one ounce ; mint water, half an ounce ; calcined magnesia, one scruple ; manna, three drachms ; syrup of roses, two drachms ; (a solution of sugar will do). Mix and give in doses of one or two teaspoonfuls at a time."

Other recipes in the book call for castille soap ("ten grains"), Epsom Salts ("half an ounce"), rhubarb ("five grains") and extracts of gentian and colocynth -- both flowers, the former a harmless placebo, the latter a violent purgative and abortant. The 'Home Cook Book' suggests a 'receipt' (recipe) for "Fig Paste for Constipation":

"One-half pound of good figs chopped fine, one-half pint of molasses, two ounces powdered senna leaves, one drachm of fine powdered coriander seed, one drachm of fine powdered cardamom seed. Put the molasses on the stove and let it come to a boil, then stir in all the rest and bring it to a boil again. A teaspoonful once in a while is a dose. It will keep, when covered, for a year. --Mrs. Gardner."

'The American Frugal Housewife' (1832) doesn't come right out and say that this is for constipation, but I believe Mrs Child's phrase 'for use when the digestive powers are out of order' is a euphemism for just that.

"Elixir proprietatis" -- "One ounce of saffron, one ounce of myrrh, and one ounce of aloes. Pulverize them ;  let the myrrh steep in half a pint of brandy, or N. E. rum, for four days ;  then add the saffron and aloes ;  let it stand in the sunshine, or in some warm place, for a fortnight ;  taking care to shake it well twice a day.  At the end of the fortnight, fill up the bottle (a common sized one) with brandy, or N. E. rum, and let it stand a month.  It costs six times as much to buy it in small quantities, as it does to make it." 

So not a quick fix, then. 

Please note that none of these writers (including me) were medically trained and many stole their material from earlier works - try these remedies at your own risk. I repeat them as a exercise in history, not in pharmacological advice.


Works consulted:

  • 'The Home Cook Book', 1877 (Hunter, Rose and Co, Toronto)
  • Mrs. Lydia Maria Child, 'The American Frugal Housewife -- Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy', 1833 (12th Ed.), (Carter, Hendee and Co., Boston)
  • 'Consult Me -- For All You Want To Know', first published 1860s, this edition c.1900s, (W. Nicholson & Sons, Ltd, Halifax)