Friday, August 26, 2016

1837: The botanic asthma remedy of Carter and/or Mathes

It is the year 1837, Andrew Jackson is president, you live on the frontier, and you are suffering from a fit of asthma.  What do you do to treat your difficult breathing?

Well, for one thing, you could grin and bear it and wait for nature to bring your breath back.  But there are too many uncertainties with this route, such as: how long can you suffer like this? What if your breath doesn't come back, then what?

Another option would be to find a doctor at some nearby village, which was highly unlikely.  Besides, what if the long ride there made your asthma worse and there wasn't a doctor, then what?

There was another option, one you might have read about in a local paper, and that was to seek the help of a root and herb doctor, which was in its hey day during the Jackson Presidency.

You certainly heard about Samuel Thomson and his army of root and herb doctors plastered across the nation.  Would there be one of these in the nearest village? It wasn't worth the risk to find out.

A fourth option might be your best bet, and this was to have in your possession a book of root and herb remedies written by a root and herb doctor.  You just happened to have on your desk such a book by J.E. Carter, and A.H. Mathe called, "The botanic physician."

The book contained every thing you needed to know about root and herb medicine, botanic medicine, folk medicine, Indian medicine, herb Medicine, stick medicine, or whatever you wanted to call it.  You read about the book a while back in some random newspaper you read, and you purchased a copy at some random general store.

You read some nasty things about these sorts of doctors, that they were copycats, quacks, or otherwise pent on peddling their fake products, most of which contained just alcohol, just to make a buck.  But you weren't concerned about that, especially while you were sitting in your log cabin, miles from any village, struggling to breathe.

Your best hope was that Carter and Mathe were among the few honest root and herb doctors hoping to help their fellows.

You open the book to a page you had marked, sneezing and sniffling as you do so.  You read the passages you were looking for.
This complaint is a spasmodic affection of the lungs, which mostly comes on by paroxysms or fits. It is attended with a short, difficult, frequent respiration, with a peculiar wheezing; there is also a stricture or tightness across the breast, which produces a peculiarly unpleasant sensation. Some have so light an attack of this disease, that they experience but little difficulty from it except when they take cold. Others are never entirely clear of its symptoms. Those who are afflicted with this complaint, experience an increase of the symptoms in the evening, and during the early part of the night. Towards morning the symptoms suffer some abatement-; sometimes enough to let the patient get some sleep, but the patient cannot lie down, without increasing the difficulty of breathing, and suffering a sensation similar to suffocation. This complaint is so easily known, that we deem it unnecessary to add any thing more on the symptoms.
This distressing complaint has long been numbered with those that could only be mitigated, and not cured; but the introduction of the botanic practice has stripped this disorder of its wheezing terrors, and offered the afflicted asthmatic a relief from this suffocating torture. In the whole compass of medicine there are but two articles yet discovered, that are very useful in this complaint, or deserve any thing like the character of being specifics for it; and these are botanic remedies.
The tincture of lobelia, given in doses of a tea-spoonful twice a day, or the pulverized lobelia given in doses of from half to a whole tea-spoonful, once a day, has been found almost a specific for this disorder. In some eases, the pulverized root of skunk cabbage, administered in doses of a half or a whole tea-spoonful mixed with honey or melasses, and repeated as the symptoms may require, often gives relief, in some kinds of asthma when the tincture does not effect a cure. It acts both as arc expectorant, and anti-spasmodic, which gives it a peculiar advantage in some cases of this complaint; yet in most cases, the tincture of lobelia is the surest remedy. In severe cases of long standing, it will be necessary in addition to the above, to carry the patient through several courses of medicine, at least one a week until a cure is effected. It will be necessary for the patient to make a daily use of some diaphoretic tea during the whole time he is using other remedies. He will facilitate the restoration of health and vigor, by using the astringent and bitter laxative tonic powders; and if his bowels ire incline to be costive, give him the stimulating tonic clyster occasionally to keep them regular.
Next to the book are the boxes containing the ingredients.  You prepare them, ingest, and wait.

What would it be like to have asthma on the American Frontier in 1837?" Sometimes it's good just to let our imaginations run wild.

  1. Carter, J.E., A.H. Mathes, "The botanic physician, or family medical adviser:  being an improved system, founded on correct physiological principles comprising a brief view of anatomy, physiology, pathology, hygiene, or art of preserving health: a materia medica, exclusively botanical, containing a description of more than two hundred and thirty of the most valuable vegetable remedies: to which is added a dispensary, embracing more than two hundred recipes for preparing and administering medicine.  The diseases of the United States with their symptoms, causes, cures, and means of prevention.  Likewise, a treaties on the diseased peculiar to women and children," 1837, Madisonville, Tennessee, Published by B. Parker and Company
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