Regency,  Research

“People do not die of little trifling colds.”

But what Mrs. Bennett didn’t say is sometimes it feels like you could.

I’m so annoyed. The kids have just gone back to school and this was supposed to be my chance to reconnect with my writing. Instead, I’m battling a stuffy nose, the plugged ears, chest congestion, cough and interrupted sleep. Despite the vaporizer fogging our upstairs with eucalyptus steam and a full complement of medicines, traditional and herbal, I am just barely functional when I wanted to be blazing into the new story. It’s so not fair!

Anyway, I thought I’d check out one of my period sources on medicine. It’s DOMESTIC MEDICINE, by William Buchan, first published in 1769 with 18 subsequent editions. (Click here to access the etext for the 1785 edition.) Buchan was pretty forward-thinking about general health and prevention and many of his suggestions are far less kooky than those of his counterparts (though that’s not saying much!) I think of it as the sort of book my heroines might have owned and used to help keep their families healthy during the happily-ever-after.

Anyway, here are some suggestions:

“THE patient ought to lie longer than usual a-bed…”

Please, Dr. Buchan, tell that to my kids!

“A SYRUP made of equal parts of lemon-juice, honey, and sugar-candy, is likewise very proper in this kind of cough. A table-spoonful of it may be taken at pleasure.”

This sounds very nice.

“If the pulse therefore be hard and frequent, the skin hot and dry, and the patient complains of his head or breast, it will be necessary to bleed, and to give the cooling powders recommended in the scarlet fever, every three or four hours, till they give a stool.”

I checked some of the recommended medications, and they include “Peruvian bark” and “snake root”. Googling these exotic terms, I learned that Peruvian Bark is also called cinchona bark, and can still be used to treat fevers. Seneca Snake Root has expectorant properties. OK, so far, Dr. Buchan is not so dumb.

However, I don’t think my medicine cabinet contains any Peruvian Bark or Snake Root…

And the bleeding I could definitely do without!

Here’s another tidbit.

“MANY attempt to cure a cold by getting drunk. But this, to say no worse of it, is a very hazardous experiment.”

Aw, I’m willing to try it at this point. It couldn’t make me feel any worse, could it????

LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, nominee, RT Best Regency of 2005

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Megan Frampton
16 years ago

Actually, when I have the beginnings of a cold, I usually down a beer to help dehydrate my nose. It seems to help, at least that’s what I tell myself.

I hope you feel better soon, Elena!

My husband has one too, but that hasn’t stopped him from going to work. And I know your work never stops–how come stay-at-home moms get paid nothing and still can’t get a day off?!?

Cara King
16 years ago

Poor Elena! You and your family have been under the (often miserable) weather quite a bit recently! I hope your family gives you a break and you get that sleep and lemon and honey (or beer) or whatever makes you feel better!


Amanda McCabe
16 years ago

I’m so with you on this, Elena, since I’ve been down with a cold this week, too! That syrup thing sounds good, but yech on bleeding. I definitely think I will take the Megan prescription. 🙂

16 years ago

It’s good to know that the treatment of colds has advanced so much since the Regency. Apart from dropping the bleeding, we seem to…hmm, well actually, that’s about it.

I sometimes take those weird zinc pastilles. Don’t know if they help, but maybe! There is one study that showed that they reduce the duration of a cold “by 42%.” Which sounds extremely precise, until you ask yourself, “If a cold normally lasts seven days, and is reduced by three days, what percentage is that?”

As the saying goes: a cold lasts for a week, but with the care of a physician it can be cured in seven days.


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