Ever wonder what was available for Jane Austen’s character Mrs. Bennet as treatment for the lady’s “nerves”?
According to Culpepper’s Complete Herbal: Consisting of a Comprehensive Description of Nearly All Herbs with Their Medicinal Properties and Directions for Compounding the Medicines Extracted from Them, comfrey, ivy-tree, and wild valerian are recommended for nervous conditions.
Comfrey served many uses – a wonder herb, indeed. Culpepper (page 98-99) describes the virtues of comfrey as, “The great comfrey helpeth those that spit blood, or make a bloody urine. The root boiled in water or wine, and the decoction drank, helps all inward hurts, bruises, wounds, and ulcers of the lungs, and causes the phlegm that oppressed him to be easily spit forth. It helpeth the deflection of rheum from the head upon the lungs, the fluxes of blood or humors by the belly, women’s immoderate courses, as well the reds as the whites, and the running of the reins, happening by what cause soever. A syrup made thereof is very effectual fro all those inward griefs and hurts, and the distilled water for the same purposes also, and for outward wounds or sores in the fleshy or sinewy part of the body whatsoever; as also take fits of agues and to allay the sharpness of humours.” In addition, Culpepper lists the herb for use of relieving the soreness in a woman’s breasts when heavy with milk, to relieve the inflammation of hemorrhoids and gout, as well as joint pain, ulcers, gangrenes, etc.
Ivy-Tree taken internally is said to assist with bloody flux. The yellow berries are used to counter jaundice. The white berries can be taken inwardly to prevent the spitting of blood. “The berries prevent and heal the plague, by drink in the powder in wine, two or three days together, this drink breaks the stone, provokes urine and women’s courses; and the fresh leaves boiled in vinegar, and applied warm to the side of those that are troubled with the spleen, ache, or stitch in the sides, do give much ease…. It is an enemy to the nerves and sinews, being much taken inwardly.” (Culpepper 201)
True Wild Valerian is found on dry heaths and in high pastures. “The roots has a strong and disagreeable smell, warm to the taste, bitter, and a little acrid. In habitual costiveness, it is an excellent medicine, and will loosen the belly when other purgatives prove ineffectual. It is excellent against nervous affections, such as headaches, trembling, palpitatious, vapors, and hysteric complaints.” (Culpepper, page 378)
Richard M. Lucas in Miracle Medicine Herbs provides other possibilities. For nervous disorders, in India gotu kola was used (page 134) for fatigue, depression, exhaustion, rheumatism, fevers, skin conditions, stuttering, and chronic nervous disorders. Hops (page 175-176) and wood betony (page 185) were suggested for nervous headaches. Hop tea can be used for nervous irritability, sleeplessness, hysteria, and a nervous headache. To prepare the tea, boil one ounce of hops in a pint of water. Cover the pot and simmer for 2-3 minutes and then remove the pot from the fire to steep for another 5 minutes. On the other hand, wood betony was used early on as a remedy for nearly 50 different remedies. Place two heaping teaspoons of the dried herb in and cup and add boiling water. Strain the mixture when it cools. Drink a half cup in the morning and evenings for nervous headaches.
Passion flower was used as a sedative, nerving, and anti-spasmodic. In Europe it was considered a calming herb for anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and hysteria. It was described as a remedy that “brings peace to mind and body.” Passion flower would be used as a tincture with 15-60 drops administered in a little water. Meanwhile German chamomile maintains a reputation for soothing nerves, strengthening digestion, and relieving some forms of colic. Place two teaspoons of the dried flower heads in a cup and add boiling water to make chamomile tea. Cover the cup so the tea can steep for 5-10 minutes. A North American plant known as skullcap (also mad dogweed) is also a remedy for nervousness. To make the tea add one ounce of the herb to a pint of boiling water. Remove the mixture from the fire and cover it with a lid. Let it stand until lukewarm. Strain the mixture. A half cup is consumed at a time.
Recently, one of the members of The Beau Monde, the Regency chapter of Romance Writers of America spoke of orange flower water on the loop. Kathryn Kane is the author of the information below: “During the course of my research I discovered that orange flower water was: … regularly prescribed for those with nervous dispositions as a remedy for ‘neuralgic headache’ and palpitations of the heart. Some physicians and apothecaries prescribed orange flower water for a host of minor ‘hysteroidal’ disorders which they considered to be the result of self-indulgence and indolence. … in large doses, orange flower water was often given as a sleeping draught. The full post is HERE: if you would like more detail on how orange flower water was made and used during the Regency. And, not only is it totally natural, it is something that was commonly found in the kitchens orpantries of many homes during the Regency.”
One might also consider Peruvian bark, myrrh and cinnamon as all natural treatments for anxiety/depression. These were used for centuries.
Any others of which you are aware? Leave a comment below.