Herbs For All

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Love Your Liver

I have allergies and am considering a "liver cleanse," but do not know anything about them. I hear there are some herbs that can be helpful. Can you please explain what such a cleanse is and what I should be able to expect from it?

After your skin, your liver is the largest filtering organ in the body. More than 200 functions have been identified. It processes many substances to metabolize fats, proteins, and hormones, helps to balance blood sugar, stores iron- and fat-soluble vitamins and helps clean toxins from the blood.

Herbalists are very interested in liver function. When we see clients with conditions such as allergies, skin problems, tiredness, headaches, mood swings, problems with eyesight and hormonal imbalances, we try to assess whether the liver needs support or protection. The liver can become overtaxed with all the functions it has to perform, which leads to the conditions called liver congestion or stagnation. The intake form I use in my consultations helps me to make that assessment. 

Some "liver herbs" stimulate the organ's function, while others calm and nourish an overworked liver and still others protect it. Hepatic herbs strengthen and tone the liver. Cholagogues promote the discharge of bile from the liver; the liver makes about a liter of bile a day, which is stored in the gall bladder until needed to digest fats.

A liver cleanse can be mild or drastic. A mild one would be to drink a tablespoon of good quality apple cider vinegar in a glass of water first thing in the morning every day. Vinegar's sour taste indicates that it is an acid food with astringent properties that help detoxify the liver and digestive system. (See Catalyst article, "Herbal Vinegars," July 2005).

Adding more bitter flavors to the food you eat can also be helpful. Try some bitter lettuces like arugula.

Chocolate and coffee are also bitters. Swedish bitters are available. The alkaline properties of bitter-tasting foods help the cascade of digestive secretions to fire off in proper order. 

Health food stores offer three-day liver cleanse kits. One of my students who worked in such a store told me that customers often returned this product with complaints that it made them feel awful and very angry. (The liver has often been called the seat of anger in the body. Liver imbalance can cause emotional excesses like rage, greed and resentment.) These preparations contain strong herbs that can have strong physiological effects with harsh reactions like nausea, diarrhea, pain, gas, mood swings, and exhaustion.

Usually, by the time clients call me for a consultation, they are not feeling very well. The last thing I want to do is stress the body further, so I avoid strong liver cleanses. I prefer instead to figure out which liver herbs are most appropriate for the person and combine those with remedies for their other health complaints to strengthen, nourish, balance and tone the whole body.

Many herbs affect the liver. If I could pick only five, these are the ones I would choose.

Picture of Herbs
  • Dandelion: The leaves and roots have a mild stimulating effect on the liver. This diuretic herb does not leach potassium from the body, so it helps flush the system of toxins without creating other imbalances. Young leaves have a slightly bitter taste and taste great fresh in salads. On summer herb trips, I like to pick leaves from clean mountain meadows and make a vinegar tincture to drink in water or drizzle on salads for a mild cleanse.

  • Oregon Grape and Barberry: Both these herbs stimulate liver and skin functions. They can be useful for acne, eczema and psoriasis.

  • Burdock: This herb strengthens the liver and purifies the blood. It is considered an alterative, which means that over time, it can help to improve liver function and improve some skin conditions.

  • Milk Thistle: This herb protects the liver; it's also a good antioxidant. It promotes the flow of bile and is useful in cases of liver damage from substance abuse.

  • Turmeric: This anti-inflammatory supports liver and gall bladder function. One study showed that it reduced mortality from cirrhosis.

The herbs recommended here should not be mixed with pharmaceutical drugs. They should not be taken by those with hepatobilary disorders, liver disease or obstructions of the liver or gall bladder. Diet plays a major role in liver health, so avoid fatty foods and eat apples and green, leafy, chlorophyll-rich veggies, and drink healthy juices.

Herbal Bitters
Herbal bitters tonics are traditionally used for improving sluggish digestion and associated problems such as indigestion, flatulence and constipation. Bitter herbs such as dandelion root and gentian stimulate the flow of digestive fluids, while ginger and fennel sooth the gastrointestinal tract. Bitters tonics can be taken daily and are especially helpful for improving the digestion of large meals or meals containing proteins and fats. (Caution: People with high blood pressure should avoid licorice.)

1/2 ounce dandelion root 1/4 ounce gentian root 1/4 ounce licorice root 1/4 ounce fennel seeds 1/4 ounce dried ginger root 1/4 ounce dried organic orange peel 1/4 ounce cardamom pods vodka

Grind the herbs in a blender. Place in a glass jar and add enough vodka to cover the herbs, plus two inches. Close the jar tightly.

Place the jar in a warm, dark place, and give the jar a gentle shake every day or so to keep the herbs from settling. After three weeks, strain the liquid from the herbs through a colander or strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth. Squeeze the herbs to strain out all of the liquid. Funnel your bitters tonic into a dark glass container, and store in a cool, dark place.

Take 1/2 to 1 teaspoonful of bitters tincture in 1/4 cup warm water 15 to 30 minutes before eating.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

An antique collection of 84 samples from an old Montana pharmacy

By Merry Lycett Harrison, RH (AHG)

     Out of curiosity, I occasionally visit ebay, the online auction site, and type in the word “herbs” in the search box. Usually, I see the ubiquitous weight loss combinations, books, pretty tea towels and canister sets. Last time, however, “Herbalist Collection of Herbs CA. 1920“caught my eye. A seller in Montana was offering 6 small boxes that held one dried herb each. Digital pictures showed the contents of each open box. The six herbs represented were golden seal, cascara sagrada, buckthorn bark, cola nut, cotton root bark and sassafras. There was another photo of the six box lids. Each had lots of tiny writing on it. This legible script listed the botanical name, the common name(s), the plant part within the box, A.C. (active constituents), use, a description of the appearance, characteristics, taste and preparation. All this handwriting was in a 2”x 3” space. Judging from the style of writing, the condition of the boxes and vocabulary used, it appeared that they were old. I was fascinated.
      I contacted the seller to learn more about them, and he said they had come out of an old pharmacy in a small town near the Continental Divide on the edge of the Bitterroot Forest in Montana. The owner of the pharmacy was retiring and was selling off some things. He told the seller that these little boxes were there when he bought the business forty years ago. “Were there any more of them?” I asked. “Yes, lots”, he replied.
     The seller was intending to sell the little boxes off a few at a time. I immediately thought that it would be a shame if the collection was broken up. From the little I knew, I had a hunch that the boxes held specimens of herb samples that were used in the old pharmacies. The kind that had a fountain that served up tasty soda tonics for whatever ailed you. As an herbal instructor, I thought, at the very least, they might be a good teaching tool. I was able to contact the retiring pharmacist, and he mentioned that they may have been used for just that very purpose but knew little else about the collection.
     I asked the seller if he would consider selling the lot to me, and we settled on a price. He assured me the only ones that had been separated from the collection were the six on ebay. Though I had lost the bid, I kept a record of the boxes that sold along with the photos of them.

     When the shipment arrived, I was not disappointed. There were 78 boxes in all, just like the ones that had been shown on ebay. I spent hours looking them over, needing a magnifying glass to see some of the minute writing. Some of the herbs seemed very familiar, obvious essentials for any herbal pharmacy. Others were totally unfamiliar to me like alkanet root, Alkanna. This small, twisted, red root was used as a coloring agent in ointments the box top said.

Some boxes did not even have plant material in them. One contained insects, Cochineal, an insect that lives on cactus that was used as a coloring agent. Another box contained barnacles off of whales that were apparently used to thicken rose water ointments. One box held beeswax.

     In order to organize what I had, I set the boxes in alphabetical order and transcribed all the writing to try to make some assessment. In doing so, I have enjoyed researching some of the more unusual materials and descriptions in hopes that there will be clues as to how old this collection is. There are many “purgatives” and flavoring agents like mints, citrus, saffron, anise, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, and bitter apple, many of which were listed as carminatives too. I was surprised to read that one of the uses for slippery elm was “abortion” as well as the familiar “demulcent, emollient”.
     Some boxes listed pharmaceutical products that contained the herb within it like psyllium seed (Plantago simin). A Parke Davis product called Siblin was noted on the box. Though there is a lot of valuable information on each box, there is much that is quaint and old fashioned about the language and terms. I have transcribed it all as the words appear, grammatical errors, abbreviations, and misspelled words, of which there are many.

    In my continuing quest to place the collection in a chronological context, I contacted Maggie Heran, Director of the Lloyd Library and Museum, in Cincinnati. Through phone conversations, emails and faxes, we began piecing together information trying to determine the collection’s age and use. She has shared very interesting articles she has discovered about such collections and copies of prints of pieces of furniture from circa 1899 offered by Parke Davis & Co. that were made to hold such samples. “Only by carefully examining and handling specimens can a student of pharmacy familiarize himself with the properties of drugs.” reads an 1897 description of the collection’s purpose.
     In an article about artifacts from the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Compounding (Vol. 8 No. 5) titled “American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, Madison Wisconsin,” by Lloyd scholar, Dennis B. Worthen, PhD, he writes about the specimen cabinets. “One of the more unusual items is a complete Parke Davis and Company cabinet of materia medica samples. These small tin boxes have a glass window in the lid for visitors to view the contents. The specimens were used by students to learn the botanicals and their parts, the mainstay of therapeutics throughout the early part of the 20th century.” Ms. Heran found the listing of the inventory and there are 288 specimens.

     Another interesting piece of Heran’s research at the Lloyd Library turned up an 1890 copy of “Lilly’s Bulletin” from Eli Lilly & Company which offered its own, scaled-down, less expensive version of “Student’s Collection of Official Organic Drugs.” The description reads,

“Students of medicine and pharmacy feel the need of a collection such as we offer. Those now found upon the market are quite expensive, or if not so are undesirable owing to careless collection or faulty packages.
     To meet a demand we have prepared under expert supervision of our botanical department a substantial case containing 172 specimens of official organic drugs. Each specimen is so arranged as to show the characteristics of the drug. The boxes bear numbers only, a key for identification being provided.
   In order to bring within reach of a large number of students we bring the low price of $10. As this is intended for students only, we provide no profit for druggists, but make the same price to all.”

In the pictures of fixtures that stored these collections there is one very modest cabinet called “Mulford’s Compressed Tablet Case”, and it looks like it holds at least 84 small boxes. Eli Lilly Co. and John Wyeth & Bro. offered similar cabinets. Could these boxes have been a scaled down collection that could be stored in such a cabinet? Why the handwritten lids? Did someone painstakingly copy the printed versions and take a bit of the herb in each box to provide specimens to a pharmacy in a remote Montana town?

And what of the town that the collection came from? It came out of the oldest pharmacy in the oldest town in Montana. The pharmacy is now called Valley Medical Supply. Stevensville is a small town brought up around the old St. Mary’s Catholic Mission. Its history is very rich, and the people of Stevensville, obviously proud of their heritage, could not have been more helpful in directing me to historians who I could contact about my research.  In a lengthy conversation with Colleen Meyer, Director of Historic St. Mary’s Mission, she explained details about its history. Italian priest, Father Antonio Ravalli, ran the mission from 1845-1884. He was himself a physician, pharmacist, architect, machinist, and sculptor who befriended, ministered to and traveled great distances to heal and serve the Native American community. It is said he had the first “ride up window” to his small dispensary that is still standing at the mission today.

 I asked her if there might be anything in their antique collections from the 1920 period that might be useful in learning more about the collection. She mentioned that the people at Valley Drug and Variety had contributed an old book or ledger to the mission. I asked her to look inside it to see what it said. Through email she informed me that the book was a prescription book from the old Stevensville Drug Company that dated from March to May of 1908. There was even a name, “Joe Dagenais, Reg. Pharmacist.” I sent a picture of the writing on the boxes to Colleen to see if she could compare the hand writing. In 1920 the town of Stevensville was a small agricultural community, not a boom town of mining or lumber, so it is fitting that this herb collection is homemade and modest.  

Conversations with Michael Moore, 11/9/05, 12/6/05.

     After sending my herb teacher, Michael Moore, a few pictures of the boxes and the transcription via email, we spoke on the phone. Michael is the director of the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine in Bisbee, Arizona (www.swsbm.com). Being a scholar of the history of botanical medicine, he had many insights into the purpose, use and period of the collection.
     The first thing he said was that this was a homemade “self-teaching kit” for a student of pharmacy from the era of between 1915 and 1925. The handsomely designed collection of 288 specimens offered by Parke Davis circa 1899 (see picture) cost $25 which was about four months wages, according to Michael, so it would seem this collection was created by someone of modest means.
     He explained that until the 1920s, unless you attended the school of Pharmacy in Philadelphia, most students learned the profession by apprenticing for between 3-5 years with a professional pharmacist and home study. The student might have lived with the family above the pharmacy, and after the apprenticeship, could travel to a school, the closest one being in St. Lewis, to complete the education with a few courses before sitting for the board exam to certify or qualify as an RP or Resident Pharmacist. Then again, if the community was in need of a pharmacist in an area far from cities where such education could be obtained, the student might forgo the exam and the expense of it and go right to practicing pharmacy. The student may have obtained a diploma from the pharmacist he apprenticed with.
     When I commented that the useful medicinal plants of the Bitteroots were conspicuously absent, he fired back, “The collection is strictly pharmaceutical and has nothing to do with regionalism! It is an accurate representation of plants of the USP, United States Pharmacopeia, and NF, National Formulary.” He explained that students of pharmacy needed to learn the plants physically for a few reasons. First, by learning to identify the plant, they would have a discerning eye to know if an order received from afar was quality material and exactly the right plant and correct part of the plant. The pharmacist could use these samples in the boxes for comparison. Secondly, it was more profitable when the pharmacist made and compounded the medicine he sold so it was necessary to be extremely familiar with the plant material.
     As we scrolled through the transcription together reading the language on the boxes, we studied “Cambogia” or “Gamboge”. Michael thought I was mispronouncing the word, and I was thinking that perhaps the ink on the box had faded with age so the C should be written like a G. I double checked the box and told him I thought the transcription was accurate. He took a moment to look it up in Culbreth’s Manual of Materia Medica and Pharmacology, and remarked that the name, “Cambogia” was not in use after 1926. The last line on the box reads, “Prep- in C.C. pills”. I asked what C.C. stood for, and by once again skimming through his resources he knows so well, he found that it stood for “Cathartica Compositae”. Translation, “bowel ripper” he said. He also noticed that the term Calabar Bean, Physostigma venenosum , fell out of favor before 1920. This helped us to place a date for the collection.
     I was perplexed why some listings include a pharmaceutical company’s name, such as psyllium which reads, “Prep- Parke Davis Siblin” or Karaya Gum which reads,” Prep-squibs Granaya & cascara-savaka”. Michael said that pharmacists would buy a few premade preparations of what they most commonly used or ones that were too toxic or difficult to manufacture themselves like opium, digitalis and cannabis. He said that with opium, it was hard to get the crude drug, and digitalis preparations had to be tested for potency on animals. He said that opium and cannabis were the most adulterated of the day.
     As to why there are so many spelling and grammatical errors, he commented that like today, some people’s education was limited and they just did not know how. There are so many misspellings, he seemed sure I had read the letters wrong, but we agreed that it just added to the character of the collection.
     When Michael learned that the collection had come out of an old pharmacy in Stevensville, he recalled that the very famous homeopathic physician, James Tyler Kent, M.D, (1849-1916) had retired there. After having lectured in Europe and the U.S. we wondered what drew him there and also whether he was in any way associated with the pharmacy.
     In my second interview with Michael, I prepared by going over the transcription carefully and noting terms, uses, anything that seemed unusual or not clear to me. I tried to do my homework before calling to answer as many questions for myself by using his extensive resources and library of Eclectic Materia Medicas and manuals which he offers in a 2 CD set. It was a rich educational opportunity for me to peruse these texts seeking specific information. Culbreth, Petersen, Sarye’s all had something I was looking for.  

     In our further discussion, I asked why the value of “Cactus Grandiflorus” (Cereus) was listed as “doubtful”. “The plant was in and out of favor for 100 years”, he said. In that era, he explained, they made preparations from dried, expressed juice which is useless. It is only the preparation from the fresh plant that is useful and this preparation was widely used by the eclectics. He claimed, “It is the difference between the vitalist and mechanist approach”.
     Under Capsicum, Cayenne, it reads, “Color-red-odor-charact. & stornatatory”. Michael set me straight by explaining, “Is is sternatory, s-t-e-r-n-a-t-o-r-y. Makes you sneeze.” Reading it over again, I realize it serves as a warning to the pharmacist when testing the material rather than a therapeutic recommendation.
     Crocus was used to treat the measles? “Yes”, he said, “it was used as an alterative to stimulate eruptions”. It was the idea at the time that the sooner the illness worked its way out the faster a person would get well. “The same for chickenpox,” he said.
     Hematoxylon, log wood’s, use was listed “as a dye and as a quanlitation indicator in alkaloidal assays”. He had no clue what that was and we moved on. Karaya gum from Cochlospermum gossypium is listed. He claimed it was an old fashioned preparation.
     The listing I most wanted an explanation for was under Ulmus, slippery elm. Under “Use” it read “abortion, demulcent, emollient”. I had looked through the manuals and did not see any such reference for abortion. Yes, he knew all about this too. “A branch of the tree was inserted into the cervix, disturbing the uterine lining as the mucilaginous inner bark softened.” He explained that this is part of “women’s medicine” that one finds in such older texts.


     Though there are still interpretations to be made, abbreviations and terms to be understood, and language to be scrutinized, I believe that Maggie Heran’s helpful research and Michael Moore’s informed perspectives unlock the mystery of this collection. His analysis dates the collection to before 1920. It is not known how complete the collection is, but it certainly holds a broad selection of not only the herbs that are essential to an early pharmacy but others that place it in historical context.

To view more photos of the boxes and their contents visit the Articles&Research page at http://www.millcreekherbs.com/research.html.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Doc Williams' Saddlebag and Its Contents

Doctor John W. Williams was the only physician for the rugged, red-rock town of Moab, Utah’s 500 residents and surrounding communities from 1896 to 1919. He was the town’s first trained doctor and his mere arrival made the front page of the newspaper. He not only served the 500 inhabitants of the town but also the local Native American tribes. He almost did not take the job because it was hard to make a living being a doctor; so to entice him further, the county commissioners appointed him to the position of County Health Officer for $150 per year to convince him to stay. He also opened a drug store that stocked anything that would sell. He remained in Moab for the rest of his life and died at home at the age of 103.

Doc practiced at an early and interesting time in the rapidly developing western medical tradition we know today. Close examination of the contents of his medical saddlebag at the Dan O’Laurie Museum of Moab sheds more light on what medicines he used and for what purposes and offers insight into the evolution of a country doctor’s practice before and after the turn of the 20th century.

 Doc Williams was raised in Missouri, and when grown, worked punching cows in Colorado, where he was known as “Rawhide John”. He was no stranger to rough and tumble ranch life. Before coming to Moab, he lived in Hugo, Colorado, where he sold medicine, opened a drug store and became Justice of the Peace. Beginning in 1892 he put himself through the three year program at Gross Medical College in Denver and became a doctor.
An average Cow Punch in the late 1800’s

An advert for Gross Medical College, which was only in its second year of business, reads:
“The school is fully equipped in laboratories, has unexcelled anatomical facilities and ample clinics in the College Dispensary and various hospitals. Eastern students in delicate health will find it advantageous to complete their studies in the salubrious climate of Colorado.” ~ From Annual of Universal Medical Sciences and Analytical Index.

Gross Clinic in the late 1890’s.

It is interesting to note that laboratory-based training in the bacteriology germ theory of disease was introduced in the 1890’s.
To give an idea of how newly established the Colorado medical schools were, here is some history from the Silver and Gold Record’s by Kim Glasscock, (September 28th 2006).
In 1893, the CU [University of Colorado] Board of Regents established the School of Medicine in Boulder; stating that it would not charge tuition and adding the unusual provision that the school was open to students of both sexes… The school grew very slowly, but eventually was able to build its own building on the Boulder campus and then add a 30-bed hospital, since Boulder had no hospital. However, the state Legislature decided to end the school and use the hospital for other purposes. In 1885 legislators discontinued state funding for the CU medical school and it nearly shut down. School faculty worked without pay and the school remained open… In the early 1890’s, a for-profit medical school, the Gross Medical School, opened in Denver along with the Denver Homeopathic College, giving the CU medical school competition.

There were several different types of doctors in those days. In addition to these “regular” medical colleges, which produced “regular” doctors, several institutions trained practitioners in other reputable medical practices such as homeopathy and Eclecticism. The most popular, especially among well-educated segments of society, was homeopathy. Homeopathic theory held that a drug (which often came from plants) which caused specific symptoms in a well person is the drug which should be used as an antidote to cure those same symptoms in a sick person with that condition. The concept is based on the phrase, “like cures like”, and that a drug’s potency is enhanced by a series of dilutions (the Law of Infinitesimals). The Eclectics, on the other hand, claimed to select the most effective forms of medical treatment from among all available therapies such as plasters, steams, herbal tinctures, liniments, poultices and the like, and avoided the depleting methods of bleeding and purging that characterized “regular” medicine at the time. (2)
Doc Williams’ saddlebag (3) is an inventive design with several metal containers in two leather pockets connected with a typical leather strap. This is embossed on the heavy leather:
Granted Jan. 18 1870
A.A. Mellier
St Louis, Mo.
Sole Proprietor

These bags were quite common. When you open the flaps on each side you find two tiered, rectangular storage compartments with dividers to hold the small glass bottles. It looks like Doc did some work with cardboard cutouts to customize his bag. These antique saddlebags can be found today at auctions and in museums. Doc’s shows signs of extensive use. He probably just threw it over his shoulder when he got to his destination.

Doc’s saddlebag still contains sixteen bottles of his medicines. The following lists the inventory and describes the potential and common uses for those medicines. Fourteen bottles have very small, handwritten labels with abbreviated names for the contents. It appears that some of the words may be misspelled, which adds to the curiosity about exactly how and where Doc, who was born in 1853, was educated. It also begs the question, “What sort of education would have been available to people of the 1860 and ‘70’s?” Another thing of note is that it appears Doc reused these bottles and cork stoppers to change out medicines as needed. One little label has the first medicine crossed out and a different one added.

Judging from these contents of his saddlebag, Doc was a “regular” doctor trained in the knowledge of using drugs, patent medicines, and procedures recommended by a “regular” medical school and professionals as advancements occurred.

Patent medicines were most popular in the late 1800’s at the time Doc was getting educated and beginning his medical practice. They were not regulated, so anyone could come up with an idea for a curative preparation and market it in drug stores, catalogues and medicine shows where the sales people were sometimes referred to as “snake oil salesmen”. The patent medicine manufacturers offered illustrated calendars and marketing paraphernalia lauding the myriad benefits one could hope to gain by using their product. This is a time when health care as we know it was rare, so it was an appealing option for people to have the hope of these often toxic and adulterated remedies right at home. It is startling to find out what the ingredients are in some. “Anlikamnia”, from the Antikamnia Chemical Company of St. Louis, Missouri, is one such medicine that Doc carried in his bag. Apparently, it contained a coal tar derivative, acetanilide (antifebrin), with sodium bicarbonate, citric acid and caffeine. It was used as a pain reliever and fever reducer. All that sounds good until you lean that one side effect can be cyanosis, which is diminished oxygen in the blood which makes lips and extremities turn blue and can be fatal within minutes of onset. Doc has both Antikamnia and Acetanilide in his saddlebag. Doc may have packed his saddlebag with what he thought he would need on a sick call. Perhaps the bag was prepared for a patient with a fever because it also contains quinine sulfate and salycilic acid, also known to help reduce fevers.
This was the age when doctors still believed in the puke-purge-and-bleed approach, so purgatives like the Pill Cathartic Compound found in the saddlebag were abundant and popular. Imagine if you are already so sick that you must call for a doctor and then he gives you something to make your body eliminate everything, often violently. The label on Doc’s bottle reads “Pill Cath. Comp. Imp”. Through my research, I believe this is Pill Cathartic Compound and the “Imp” stands for Investigational Medicine Product. There were three types of this preparation: USP, which stands for United States Pharmacopoeia version, Vegetable, and IMP. In checking the costs for medicines of the day, Vegetable was most desired and most expensive. USP was less expensive, and the IMP was really cheap. These purgatives were used regularly, most often to the detriment of the patient.

Just like today, digestive issues were very common and the saddlebag has several bottles of medicine that would be helpful and not harsh. The orange-y beige powder of Pepsinum is an animal drug derived from the inner lining of the stomach of a pig, calf or sheep. It is a normal constituent of gastric juice and so was a replacement when taken before meals to help digestion. The white powder labeled “Bismuth Subnit” could be Bismuth subnitrate, which is an ingredient in Pepto Bismal. It is used for nausea and acid stomach. There is also a label that reads “Mist. Pro. Diarrhea”, and the bottle contains a dark brown powder. I was unable to identify the substance, but certainly its purpose is obvious. The white crystals of “Pot. Clilor”, I believe are potassium chloride, which could be used as an electrolyte replacer in cases of dehydration from illness, fever and heat.   

Doc also had “Amm. Carb.” A brown powder which I believe is Ammonium carbonate, which is smelling salts used to revive people with its sharp smell. A surprising discovery was what I think is fluid extract of coffee. The label for this bottle is smudged but “Fl Ext…. fe”, can be read. I learned from Fenner’s Formulary that it may have been used to mask the disagreeable taste of medicines. There is a dark, tar-like substance in the bottle. This method to make extract is very specific and requires percolation, which takes a lot of time. Perhaps Doc’s notes will tell us how much of this work to make such preparations he did himself or whether he ordered them already made. It would be interesting to see receipts from the drug store to see what products he commonly ordered.

Penicillin was not widely available until the 1940’s, but Doc was surely faced with dangerous infections in his patients. For wounds and skin conditions there is “A C Borac” and a beige powder “Aristol”. Boric acid is antiseptic and Aristol is a powdered combination of iodine and thymol. When made into an ointment, it was used on psoriasis, leg and syphilitic ulcers but did not seem to be useful for skin cancer.
What 1890’s medical kit would be complete without opioid extracts such as Laudanum? Very popular and highly addictive, these preparations were used to calm just about anything from hysteria and severe pain to a child’s cough. Doc’s bottle label reads “TR. Opii campilia”, and the bottle has black, gooey residue in the bottom. According to the USP, TR. Opii camphorated is camphorated tincture of opium, which is Paragoric Laudanum. It can be used to increase the tone of the intestines which is useful in cases of diarrhea and is also used as a cough suppressant.
In those days, people did not have preventative care and they did not call for a doctor unless they absolutely needed one. The most common conditions Doc Williams would have faced would have been severe and infected wounds (penicillin was not available until 1918), difficult childbirths, deadly fevers like scarlet fever which usually killed a person, pneumonia, venomous bites, broken bones, bad teeth, amputations, venereal disease and multiple serious disorders of the digestive system. He most likely helped get his communities through the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-1920. Like a lot of the rest of America, southeast Utah was a pretty wild place with peace-abiding residents and those who created disturbances. We know Doc was resourceful and he must have kept a cool head to be able to make smart, snap decisions. He never had a hospital to work out of.

The life of a country doctor was hard and exhausting. Doc served everyone from Cisco to Thompson and Moab. He helped many Native Americans who paid him with their pottery and rugs. (4) If the case was in Moab, he would use a buggy. His wife, Alvina, would put warm rocks wrapped in newspaper in his buggy to keep him warm in winter. If the call was from farther out, he would strap his saddlebag on his horse and set out with his little dog on the horse with him. Such travel for medical calls could be arduous in those days. According to Maude Reid, a Red Cross worker from Louisiana who compiled a local history of country doctors:
“I am told an old time doctor would fill up his saddlebags with medicines, with no thought of a change of garment for himself, and start off on a sick call. Reaching his destination, by the ‘grapevine telegraph’, word would reach him of another sick person some miles beyond. Upon his arrival there he would hear of yet another call a little further away, and so it would go until his supply of medicines was gone and he, worn and unkempt, would turn his horse’s head toward home perhaps a week later”. (5)

The following excerpt is from an obituary and family history recollection by Moroni Gerber, May 11th 1912, from the Archives at the University of Utah. This is about the life of Mother Gerber who in 1870, after her husband’s death, stepped into his role for the communities of Wasatch County and Provo Valley.
Medical practice in those days was not yet profitable, what with taking pay in potatoes and other produce, the main thing that he bequeathed his wife was knowledge of midwifery and elements of homeopathy along with the desire to use that knowledge in serving the pioneer community. And serve she did! For thirty years, from 1870 to 1900, she was the main doctor in all of Provo Valley. For weeks at a time, she was away from home, in Charleston, Wallsberg, Heber or Daniel’s Creek caring for the sick. Many times miners from the little settlement at Park City came over the mountains for her in their wagons. She never could afford a horse and wagon of her own, as much of the time the only pay she got for her services was board and room while she was on the case.
According to his family, Doc Williams would saddle up whenever he was called. The people he served made sure his needs were met, and if on the way homeward he needed to stop and rest, he was always welcomed at a remote cow camp.

Doc Williams retired from his medical practice officially in 1919, although he apparently still helped out informally around town. (6) He was replaced in 1920 by I. W. Allen, and after this Williams concentrated on community work and promoting the local scenery. A significant percentage of the Museum of Moab’s collection today is passed down from his work and avocations. The saddlebag is an important part of this heritage.
This article was previously published in the Museum of Moab’s Canyon Legacy, Natural and Cultural History Journal of Southeast Utah Spring 2015 Volume 74. Reprinted here with permission.
(1)    Williams, M., 2000. Rawhide John: An Oral History of Doc Williams. Canyon Legacy 38:3-7. (Transcribed by Michele Reaume)
(2)    Grossman, J. R., Keating, A. D., and Reiff, J. L., 2004. The Encyclopedia of Chicago. University of Chicago Press, 1104 p.
(3)    Dr. John Williams’ medical saddlebag is Museum of Moab object number SUSA 002/356; it is on display at the museum upstairs in the medical display area.
(4)    Part of Williams’ Native American collection can also be seen in the Museum of Moab.
(5)    Reid, Maude, 1969 Early Calcasieu Doctors 1850-1912. First National Bank, 99 p. (Transcribed by Leora White, 2007)
(6)    Firmage, R. A., 1996. A History of Grand County. Utah State Historical Society, 438 p.

Merry Lycett Harrison is a trained, clinical herbalist and a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild. She received her training in 1998 through an intensive course of study with Michael Moore of the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine and has an herbal practice in Salt Lake City.
Her broad view of herbalism led her to complete the Master Gardener Program, and to also study ethnobotany at the Baca Institute of Ethnobotany and the science of essential oils at Purdue University.

HerbalGram (#55), the Journal of the American Botanical Council, and theJournal of Utah Archaeology (2003) have published feature articles on Merry's research on the botanical parts of a 500 year old Native American Bundle from southern Utah called the Patterson bundle. 

Merry has written a monthly herb column for Catalyst Magazine, Salt Lake's monthly magazine for health and the arts. Catalyst also ran her column,Creekside Observer, about the wild and natural world surrounding her home on Millcreek. She has been a guest on radio and television programs that inform the public about botanical medicine. 

She teaches classes in medicinal and culinary herbs, herb gardening, and leads summertime herb trips in the wild. She was a faculty member of the Myotherapy College of Utah and taught classes through Utah's Red Butte Garden, the Utah Museum of Natural History and the University of Utah.
Merry currently teaches classes through the Granite Peaks Community Education program.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Herbs for Mother's Day

Because Mother’s Day always falls during the beautiful, fertile time of spring when we can cultivate our gardens, herbs make a perfect gift. Even if your mother is not a gardener, there are sure to be herbal products just right for her. Consider first what herbs your mother’s garden already has and try to find something new to add. Understand what the plant needs to mature and make sure whatever you give her, she has room for. A perennial herb like sage, thyme, lavender or even rose will be used and admired for years to come. Mom will think of you every time she is near it. Herbs do not usually require a lot of maintenance. If your mother does not have a patch of earth she tends, give her potted herbs for the deck or windowsill. You or your nursery can create a planter in an attractive pot. 
If fresh, potted herbs are not quite your mom’s things buy new herbs and spices to replace the old, expired containers in her cupboard. Include some she might not buy for herself like a vanilla bean, saffron, Hungarian paprika, colorful peppercorns or a selection of curries. Many such collections are available, beautifully packaged from a gourmet kitchen store. 
Teas always make a nice gift that mom can use year-round. Gourmet tea shops have unique blends to choose from and a staff to educate you on the possibilities so you can be sure to pick what she likes. Going the less expensive route, regular grocery and health food stores now carry a wide selection of various teas in boxes or tins of 20 bags ready for easy use. Try fruit flavored blends, Rooibos tea (an antioxidant) or the now popular white tea. 
There are endless selections for the home and bath. Try fragranced potpourri, dried herb arrangements, wreaths for doors and walls, essential oils and diffusers or stainless steel strainers for teas, graters for nutmeg (with a jar of whole nutmegs) and citrus and garlic peelers and presses. These are the little things that one never seems to have when needed. For the bath, handmade soaps that contain herbs and the fragrance of only pure essential oils feel luxurious. Soaps from European countries can be interesting — olive oil bars from Italy, lavender from France. Naturally scented soy candles do not release toxic smoke or an unpleasant paraffin smell. Herbal body and salt scrubs, loofa sponges and moisturizing herb-scented oils are good choices. Inexpensive, small muslin drawstring bags can be purchased from the health food store, to fill with loose herbs like lavender, lemongrass and mint and toss into the bath to fragrance the steam. 
For health, make a gift basket which includes the most useful preparations like echinacea and St. Johnswort tinctures, arnica salve for sore muscles, calendula oil to nourish the skin, an herb book and a gift certificate for an herb class or a consultation with an herbal practitioner. 
Books on every conceivable herbal topic are available and some very pretty ones are tied with a satin ribbon or fragranced. My book, 'Herbs For All: Herbal Knowledge for Home, Kitchen, Garden and Healthcare' makes a great gift. 
Moms sometimes need help (and always like company), so offer to plant the garden herbs you give her or clean out the spice cabinet with her. You may be surprised at the memories and chuckles that come when you find antique containers and long-expired bottles. When you are done, cook a meal together, or better yet, cook one for her with the new spices you brought using a recipe from the new herb cookbook you gave her. Afterwards enjoy a cup of tea together. Let herbs help create a memorable Mother’s Day you both can enjoy.