Lydia E. Pinham tablets, a well known to ladies of days gone by. According to Wikipedia: Lydia Estes Pinkham (February 9, 1819 – May 17, 1883) was an iconic concocter and shrewd marketer of a commercially successful herbal-alcoholic "women's tonic" meant to relieve menstrual and menopausal pains. What really interested me about Ms. Pinkham's tonics and pills is that they are forerunners with many of the homeopathic pills and herbal supplements for women on the market today. Just look at the ingredients of one of her most popular tonics for women: The original recipe for Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound is as follows:
Unicorn Root (Aletris farinosa L.) 8 oz.
Life Root (Senecio aureus L.) 6 oz.
Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa (L.) Nutt.) 6oz.
Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberosa L.) 6 oz.
Fenugreek Seed (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) 12 oz.
Alcohol (18%) to make 100 pints
Many of these herbs are recommended by midwives even today. No for the Doan's tablets. I find it so very interesting that many of the commercial substances we now use had their roots in homeopathy and natural medicine. It appears that Doan's pills (which you can still buy today) began no differently:
According to snippets of history published in company advertisements, in 1832 the formulation of Doan’s Pills “was the secret…of an old Quaker lady,” and “was kept a secret for years in a good old Quaker family. The neighbors all knew about it and many a time had reason to be thankful for its existence. Its fame spread and strangers who heard about it wrote for information concerning it, sometimes tried its virtues, and sometimes put a trial off for a more convenient season.” “It was given to the public by James Doan, a druggist, and is now known and recommended the whole world over.” “James Doan was a great Doctor who lived in a town called Kingsville, in Canada, in North America. Sick people took journeys of many days to go to see him, and to get his medicine. He was a doctor who excelled in his neighborhood, because he prepard his medicine with his own hands, so he knew it was well prepared, and good. He used to make it with shrubs, and roots, and herbs, which he gathered in the woods and veld near his home. He made many kinds of medicine; but the most excellent is that which is called Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills.” -courtesy RayCityHistory
Tholene salve marketed by the Rosebud Perfume Company-
The business began in a small drugstore located across the street from what is now known as the Rosebud Building in Woodsboro, Maryland. Friends and customers suggested that he (Dr. Smith) prepare for them a family salve that could be used for various minor skin irritations. With this as a challenge, Dr. Smith formulated a product known as Smith's "Balsam of Rosebuds" which was later renamed Smith's "Rosebud Salve." Realizing its local popularity, Dr. Smith decided to advertise his product in country tabloids, and within a few years he had organized one of the most unique mail order businesses in the United States. The mail order business offered four major brands for agents to sell door to door. They sold Rosebud Salve, Tholene Mentholated Salve, Rosebud Perfume, and Vivian Perfume. - Courtesy Rosebud Perfume Company
Hill's Cascara Quinine: Interestingly enough quinine is the drug listed as treatment for malaria and according to Wikipedia: Quinine was first isolated in 1820 from the bark of the cinchona tree. Extracts from the bark have been used to treat malaria since at least 1632. It is on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines, the most important medications needed in a basic health system. So what were these pills marketed as? According to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History it was:
Recommended for the relief of the following discomforts usually associated with colds: nasal stuffiness and discharge, headache, muscular aches and pains, neuralgia and neuritic pains, constipation, and that hot, flushed feeling
Again based in plant medicine as Cascara is also a bark based plant medicine.
Few under age 30 have ever heard of this stuff. In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared that Mercurochrome, generically known as merbromin, was "not generally recognized as safe and effective" as an over-the-counter antiseptic and forbade its sale across state lines. A few traditionalists complained: Whaddya mean, not generally recognized as safe? Moms have been daubing it on their kids' owies since the Harding administration! (the straight dope)
Luckily no one in my family ever died of mercury poisoning (at least to my knowledge) but that was the main concern that led the FDA to remove this from the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list and ban it in the late 1990's. Many a grandmother swore by the stuff and used it liberally.
So there you have, a trip down memory lane for some, an education in historical medicines for others. I find it all so very fascinating and I am always intrigued by how some of the big Pharma companies (Merck, Eli Lily, Pfizer, Glaxo Smith Kline) who have picked up drugs over the years were able to mimic and patent what nature provided for years for free. By isolating active chemical compounds in plants and making synthetic versions of said compounds, patents can be made and drugs produced, I still wish for the most part (save when antibiotics are VERY necessary) that we were able to rely on the knowledge of those who knew all about the plants, barks, seeds and life around us in nature.