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Victorian Medicine–painkillers part 2, the sort of wierd part


I did a post on Victorian painkillers a year ago with every intention of posting this shortly afterward.  Unfortunately, I never quite got to it, so here it is!

This is more from Dr. Pierce’s book.  In part one I touched on Opium, which was the painkiller of choice and still is.   He did write about other painkillers however (but not, interestingly enough, willow tree bark. Hmm, wonder why?).  There’s Hyoscyamus, Poison Hemlock, Belladona, Camphor, and Hops.   You’d think the last of those would be referring to beer, wouldn’t you?  But nope, not always.  Instead:

“This is an excellent remedy in wakefulness. . . a bag of leaves, moistened with whisky and placed as a pillow under the head. . .Dose–fourth to three-fourths of a teaspoonful; concentrated principle–Lupulin–one to three grains.” 

I don’t know what Lupulin is.  Nor do I know what a “grain” is. 

As for the others:

“Hyoscyamus (Hyosyamus niger).  Herb.  Henbane is a powerful narcotice, and unlike Opium does not constipate the bowels, but possesses a laxitive tendency. . . it may be employed. . .in allaying pain, calming the mind, inducing sleep and arresting spasms. . . .Dose–Alcoholic extract, one-half to two grains; fluid extract five to ten drops; concentrated principle–Hyoscyamin–one-twelfth to one-fourth of a grain”

“Poison Hemock (Conimum Maculatum). . .Dose–of fluid extract, two to six drops; solid extract, one-fourth to one-half grain.”

“Belladona (Atropa Belladona). . .The Deadly Nightshade is a valuable, although in lage doses, a powerful agent. . .in medicinal doses, it is anodyne, antispasmodic, diaphoretic and diuretic.  Excellent in neualgia, epilepsy, mania, amaurosis, whooping-cough, stricture, rigidity of the os uteri, and is a prophylactic (preventive) of Scarlet Fever.  Its influence upon the nervous centers is remarkable, relaxing the blood vessels on the surface of the body and inducing capillary congestion, redness of the eye, scarlet appearance of the face, tongue and body.  Dose–fluid extract, one-half to one drop; tincture, one to two drops.”

“Camphor.  This drug is an anodyne, stimulant, diaphorectic, and in lage doses, narcotic and irritant. . .it is an excellent stimulant for liniments.  Dose–Of the powder one to fine grains; tincture, ten to twenty drops, in simple syrup.”

Gotta say, I always considered things like Henbane and Belladonna as poisonous, not medicines. I believe, although I am not entirely certain, that Belladonna played a part in some Victorian-era murder mysteries.  If anyone wants more information, here’s a site that makes some references to that time period:

Picture borrowed from here



  1. Interesting post! The Poison Hemlock floored me though. They gave a dosage, but didn’t say what to use it for. I’m thinking murder or suicide. LOL. And we think our moden day medicines, with all the side effects, are dangerous!

    This doubly makes me glad I didn’t live back then.

  2. Caroline Clemmons says:

    Here is the Wikipedia definition of lupulin:
    The female flowers of the hop plant, Humulus lupulus L. [Cannabaceae], have long been used as a preservative and flavoring ingredient in beer. The cultivation of hops dates back to at least 860 A.D., based on written records. The therapeutic use of hops for treating anxiety, insomnia and restlessness is first noted in Europe in the 9th century. It was introduced in England in the sixteen century but was soon banned by King Henry VIII whose public believed it spoiled the taste of drinks, caused melancholy and endangered the people. Young hops shoots can be eaten but it is the strobiles (oval-shaped, semi-transparent scales otherwise known as hops or hop cones) and grains that are used in medicinal teas and manufacturing beer. Hops are primarily used as a sedative and relaxant. Sleeping on a pillow filled with hops is believed to help insomnia. Although the only confirmed value for hops lies in its use for edginess and insomnia, this herb has also been used traditionally as a bitter to stimulate the appetite, increase the flow of digestive juices, and treat ulcers, skin abrasions, and bladder inflammation. Cherokee healers traditionally used hops as a sedative, antirheumatic, analgesic, gynecological aid for breast and womb problems, and kidney and urinary aid for gravel and inflammation. In India and China hops are recommended for treating restlessness associated with nervous tension, headache, indigestion, insomnia, intestinal cramps and lack of appetite. Hops are now recognized for their strong estrogenic activity and are being included in some herbal preparations for women for “breast enhancement.” A recent study found that the main phytoestrogen in hops, 8-Prenylnaringenin, competed strongly with 17ss-estradiol for binding to both the alpha- and ss-estrogen receptors. Another study showed that hops bind competitively to estrogen receptors and up-regulate progesterone receptor mRNA in cultured endometrial cells.

    Active Ingredients:
    Hop strobiles contain: 5-30% bitter substances including acylphloro-glucides, humulones, lupulones; essential oil containing mono- and sesquiterpenes (myrcene, linalool, farnesene, caryophyllene, etc.; more that 150 aroma substances have been identified; tannins; flavonoids including kaempferol and quercetin mono- and diglycosides; xanthohumol and other chalcones. Traces of phenol-carboxylic acids (ferulic and chlorogenic acids. Phytoestrogen flavonoids include: 8-prenylnaringenin, and structurally related hop flavonoids. 6-Prenylnaringenin, 6,8-diprenylnaringenin and 8-geranylnaringenin

    At the base of the hop scales are two hard nuts covered in aromatic, yellow glands or grains called lupulin. Lupulin can also be found in the scales but to a lesser degree. To extract lupulin from hops, the strobiles are rubbed and the grains sifted. Bitter substances (acylphloro-glucides) present in the resin make up to 50-80% of the hop grains whereas they make up only 15-30% of the hops strobiles. The resin is differentiated into the light-petroleum-insoluble part (hard resin) and the light-petroleum-soluble part (alpha and beta soft resins). The most important part of the alpha-soft resin is the bitter substance humulone, while the beta-soft resin contains mainly lupulone, another bitter substance.

    Maybe I can get enough to make a pillow so I’ll sleep well. LOL

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