Book of Herbal Remedies
Check back here soon to view a digitised version of
an 18th century book of herbal remedies held in the College
Archives (RCPSG 1/20/3/1)
Digitisation provided by the Scottish Archive Network
Transcription by Dr Agnes Walker.
What does the book contain?
The book contains remedies for all manner of illnesses and conditions. The medicine in the book is based on the ancient theory of the four humours: blood, phlegm and black and yellow bile, an idea going back to the Greek writings of Hippocrates. The virtue of blood-letting, purging and sweating is extolled in the book along with vomiting and sweating. Apart from herbal remedies the book also includes household tips and culinary recipes as well as recipes for dyes and inks. It even contains instructions on how to write a secret letter to a sweetheart.
Where did it come from?
The provenance is unknown for the College’s 18th century book of herbal remedies but it is believed to come from lowland Scotland. It is an excellent example of the way in which the remedies, previously passed from generation to generation as an oral tradition, began to be collected together in hand-written volumes.
Were these sort of books common?
Many examples of similar documents can be found within collections of household manuscripts, correspondence and accounts, and it would appear that many households across the social spectrum kept such documents. The majority of such domestic remedy books were compilations of recipes gathered from a variety of sources. The College’s book of herbal remedies is unusual in that, apart from a few examples, it does not appear just to copy down other people’s remedies.