© Cheryl Bolen, 2013
As one who haunts used book sales and old book stores, I’ve amassed a wonderful library of research books, but the one volume I’ve used the most since I sold my first historical novel in 1997 is Culpeper’s Complete Herbal.
In fact, I have two editions. The first one I purchased was a paperback, and I’ve marked it up excessively. Later, I found a hardback with illustrations, but I can’t part with the first one because I’ve highlighted passages with references to what ailments could be treated with a particular herb. Lots of hours of research went into all that highlighting.
Originally published by Nicholas Culpeper in 1653, the herbal is an impressive work. My original Wordsworth edition (1995) has 603 pages and combines the herbal with The English Physitian, both written by Culpeper. (Note: Culpeper’s original spelling of physitian has been retained.) My British hardback has 430 pages.
The latter book claims to be “a comprehensive description of nearly all herbs, with their medicinal properties, and instructions for making up the herbal remedies.”
The English Physitian, originally published in 1652, has been in continuous publication since its first printing and is the most successful non-religious English book ever published.
The Herbal catalogues most every plant that grows in Great Britain, giving descriptions of the plant, what time it needs to be harvested for medicinal purposes, and which physical complaints a concoction of it will help to alleviate.
The Physitian is a primer for physicians and apothecaries. It includes information on how to make decoctions, syrups, purging electuraries (like laxatives), pills, oils, ointments, and plaisters for a wide variety of ailments.
Since the information in this text was widely in use during the Regency, I’ve used these works as a resource for almost every book I’ve published.
Here are some examples of Culpeper’s delightful work:
My son was taken with the same disease (the body flux), and the excoriation of his bowels was exceedingly great; myself being in the country, was sent for up, with only I gave him, was Mallow bruised and boiled both in milk and drink, in two days (the blessing of God being upon it) it cured it.
On ground pine, which grows low, Culpeper has this to say: It is utterly forbidden for women with child for it will cause abortion or delivery before time.
On mint, he writes: Simeon Sethi saith it helps a cold liver, strengthens the belly, causes digestion, stays vomits and hiccough; it is good against the gnawing of the heart, provokes appetite, takes away obstruction of the liver, and stirs up bodily lust, but therefore too much must not be taken.
He says dill “is a gallant expeller of wind.”
So if you need to know what your characters would take if they are suffering from gout, sore throat, headache, tooth ache, to expectorate phlegm, treat asthma, or any infirmity you can devise, check out Culpeper.