Curing What Ailed You in the 17th Century

Hannah Wolley was kind of the Martha Stewart of late the 17th century in England. She authored books like The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673) and The Queen-Like Closet (1672). The 17th century housewife went to her for advice on all manner of subjects, including recipes for the popular “medicinal” cures of the time.

What follows is a few of these “cures.” I’ve transcribed them so they make sense to the modern reader, but I tried to keep the charm and rhythm of the original language.

The Plague Water:
Take three pints of muskadine, boil therein one handful of sage and one handful of rue until reduced to two pints. Strain it, and put it back on the fire.

Beat together a penny’s worth of long pepper, a half ounce of ginger, and a quarter ounce of nutmeg and boil with the liquid covered with a cloth.

Add a penny’s worth of mithridate, two penny’s worth of Venice treacle, and one quarter pint of hot Angelica water.

Take one spoonful at a time, morning and evening, always warm if you are already diseased; if not, once a day is sufficient all the Plague time.

It is a most excellent medicine and never fails, if taken before the heart be utterly mortified with the disease, it is also good for the small pox and measles.

A Most Excellent Water for the Stone (kidney stones) or for the Wind Colic (gas)
Take two handfuls of saxifrage, one handful of thyme, two handfuls of perstons, two handfuls of philipendula, and an equal amount pellitory of the wall, two ounces of sweet fennel seeds, the roots of ten radishes, sliced, and steep all these in a gallon of milk warm from the cow. Then distill it in an ordinary still for four hours. Slice half an ounce of saxifrage stem and put it into the water bottle and keep it stopped with a cloth.

Take three spoonfuls at a time and fast from both eating and drinking for one hour after; you must make this water about midsummer; it is a very precious water and ought to be prized.

Walnut Water, or the Water of Life
Take green walnuts in the beginning of June, beat them in a mortar, and distill them in an ordinary still. Keep that water by itself.

About midsummer, gather some more, and distill hem as you did before. Keep that also by itself.

Take a quart of each and mix them together and distill them in a glass still and keep it for your use. The virtues are as follows:

It will help all manner of dropsies and palsies, drank with wine fasting; it is good for the eyes if you put one drop therein; it helps conception in women if they drink one spoonful at a time in a glass of wine once a day; it will make your skin fair if you wash with it; it is good for all the infirmities of the body and drives out all corruption, and inward bruises; if it be drunk with wine moderately, it kills worms in the body; whosoever drinks much of it shall live so long as nature shall continue in him.

Finally, if you have any wine that is turned, put it in a little vial or glass full of it, and keep it stopped with a cloth. Within four days it will come to itself again.

Holly West

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