It is not surprising that many people associate the Victorian era with poisons. Mainstream heroic medicine of the period concentrated on use of drugs such as mercury, antimony, prussic acid and arsenic. The powerful and potentially poisonous herbs such as foxglove, belladonna and particularly opium were administered alongside favoured purges and bleeding. With each generation loss of constitutional strength was observed in the population.
After exploring the background of Victorian life in middle class homes we look at the plight of poorer families who had moved into towns for work in mills and factories. At a time when there was loss of herbal knowledge and experience through this move, we find the arrival of Dr. Coffin bringing Thomsonian botanic medicine with a wholesale approach for treatments from America. His medicine flourished in the industrial midlands and north of England. Recipes made will necessarily be those from the botanic medicine with horehound and ginger cough syrup, the much used panacea of composition powder, barberry bitters etc. North and South American herbs such as lobelia, balmony, bayberry, Pinus Canadensis, golden seal, prickly ash and pokeroot will be featured alongside the more familiar British native plants.
Prevention of disease has always been a goal in medicine, through waves of holistic consideration of diet, exercise and supportive medicine, interspersed with less helpful regimes and powerful and debilitating medicines and practices. The role of immoderate ‘passions’, including anger and fear on mental and physical well-being has been noted since the ancient Greek cradle of the philosophy of medicine. We will search out and make recipes credited with encouraging a healthy mind and body and consequently also offering long life. In particularly stressful circumstances there have been historical recommendations of syrups, elixirs and infusions as well as eating specific herbs, inhaling, or occasionally smoking them. Alongside this there has been advice on mental attitude and activities to support a positive outlook.
Recipes and regimens from the past will be looked at in the light of modern scientific research and personal experiences. These will include help to combat infectious disease, gain better sleep, relaxation and ease anxiety. Herbs featured in recipes made will include rose, lemon verbena, elder, betony, skullcap, vervain, orange flower, clove pink, cleavers, clove, rosemary, cowslips and saffron. Aromatic waters, medicinal wines, syrup, teas and scented mixes will make this an enjoyable day in a relaxing atmosphere.
At a time when climate change and the desperate need to address it in whatever ways we can is encouraging planting trees on a grand scale, this is an opportunity to appreciate their worth to us in so many ways. Since the industrial revolution and fewer people being familiar with the countryside, knowledge of the medicinal use of trees has declined. On this day a walk in the Museum grounds begins the day which will offer us an introduction to coming to know the trees around us, and glimpses both of their history in medicine and usefulness today.
Through pictures, products and making recipes we will look at the uses of fruits, blossoms, leaves, barks, roots, wood, sap and resin to make medicines, splints for broken limbs, and so much more. The association of birds, animals and insects with trees and the interconnected nature of the ecology, including woodland plants, will make this a day full of interest. Over millennia medicinal trees have also given foods, wines, flavourings, incense, dyes, inks and basketry materials. Adding a rich folklore enhances the day. Find out about the ash, hawthorn, bay, birch, elder, lime, hazel, horse chestnut, oak and willow.
The concept of modern ‘superfoods’ and food pharmacy may appear to have grown simply from scientific research. On this day we will search for the roots of these ideas in historical attitudes and diet in general. From detailed Roman health instruction which extended concerning meats to knowing how the animal had lived, the cooling and heating properties of vegetables and their use in treatments, through dietary instructions in the Anglo-Saxon period when theories on the causes of disease were very different. In the last millennium foods were considered in relation to their effects on bodily humours. In later times we find attitude to familiar foods changes with new introductions and scientific progress.
We will be making varied recipes from the Anglo-Saxon lung pottage, and medieval treatments for conditions from coughs to open wounds. We will make an inhalation from the 18th century and compound barley water from 100 years later. As the philosophy and knowledge of medicine changes and we discover diet drinks and strengthening broths, we track the corresponding emphasis on diet both to avoid and treat disease together with the discovery and re-discovery of the therapeutic properties of some foods through to the present day.
Due to several factors, including lack of formal education for the majority of women over the centuries, herbals and written evidence of herbal medicine have been dominated by male authors. The role of women as carers and not least as mothers has meant skill in home medicine at least has always been part of their lives. In truth women have long carried out herbal medicine to professional standards. This day will highlight the work of women as licensed midwives from early times, surgeons in the medieval period, wives of religious ministers emigrating to the New World as settlers and ladies of the manor offering charitable treatments not only to their own families and servants but to the poor who sought their help. Nurses and cunning women, later termed herbalists, bring us from the earliest times to today.
We will consider a range of herbs with recipes including those used by midwives for easing the pain of childbirth for the mother and comforting remedies for after the birth. We will make herbal medicine for babies, healing applications for wounds following surgery, recipes for travel to the New World and necessary herbs in the stillroom will complete the picture. Herbs featured will include rose, wormwood, cinnamon, cumin, mastic, frankincense, chamomile and valerian.