Today, we know there are more than 200 viruses that cause the common cold. But in the 1700s, sudden changes in temperature were thought to be the reason people got sick. When it was cold outside, you would try to keep from “catching cold” by walking quickly. That’s not the only difference between 18th century and 21st century views on prevention and treatment. Wait until you hear what supposedly cured symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat, and fever!It’s that time of year when it seems everyone is sniffling, coughing, and feeling all-around “yucky.” I battled a particularly vicious cold early this season and it seemed to linger forever. Each morning, I would unpack my arsenal of throat lozenges, cold medicine, and cough syrup—until one day I got to thinking there had to be some all-natural alternatives to help alleviate my misery. Lucky for me, my office is just down the street from the Apothecary, which I discovered is full of age-old remedies.
In 1776, the shop would have served as both your doctor’s office and your pharmacy and you wouldn’t have waited for hours to get your prescriptions filled. Most of what the Apothecary needed to treat your ailments was imported and all right there—in various jars, drawers, and vials. I asked how doctors would have specifically treated the cold, known as a “catarrh” in the 18th century. My ears perked up when I heard suggestions like licorice and hot chocolate but then I inwardly cringed at some of the other mentions. Scroll down for a complete list of those 18th-century recommendations.
TREATING COLD SYMPTOMS IN THE 18TH CENTURY
Fever: Peruvian Bark and Willow Bark were used to treat fevers. There were experiments taking place in the 18th century using thermometers to test a possible correlation between temperature and fever. But most doctors checked for an elevated pulse and warm skin to make their diagnosis.
Cough: Licorice (made into lozenges) and hot chocolate (made with spices) were both used as cough suppressants. Garlic syrup was also used as an expectorant to help break up “phlegms of the chest.” Today, we know garlic has a bonus benefit in that it acts as a weak antibiotic.
Hoarseness: Syrup of Marshmallow Roots was the way to go if all that coughing made your voice raspy. Also called “Althea,” the root is still used in modern medicines to help treat coughs.
Sore Throat: Honey, lemon, and sugar candy (equal parts) were mixed together and eaten to soothe the pain of a sore throat.
Runny Nose: Lozenges of Sulfur were prescribed to help get your sniffles under control.
Upset Stomach: Mint was mashed with sugar into a paste and was used as a way to treat nausea.
There’s also evidence that elderberry was used to treat colds and modern science shows evidence that this botanical has some anti-viral properties.
In addition to these prescriptions, the doctor would also try to regulate the patient’s activities. It’s a regimen physicians still recommend to this day! Resting, staying in a warm bed, and eating foods that are easily digestible. The best suggestion? Chicken soup! It turns out, chicken soup has been the go-to remedy from as far back as the 12th century.
**The apothecary studies 18th-century medicine and always encourages guests to discuss all of their medicines (including supplements) with their pharmacist before self-treatment.
How do you treat your cold symptoms? Any family secrets passed down from generation to generation? Share them here.