The Brewing of Old Medicinal Remedies

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Late 19th century doctors and chemists offered “medicinal remedies” such as Stomach Bitters or other alcohol-based blends to make troublesome health problems disappear in blissful inebriation. When we found old bottles that used to hold the concoctions, we were inspired to relive the past. It’s almost time to share our experiment.

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As promised, we’ve been working hard to recreate the cure-all recipes, so you can experience them for yourself during the tasting portion of our July 19th Historic Pub Crawl with the Historic Districts Council.

archaeological firm nyMixing and brewing the remedies involves several steps. In modern times, such tasks would be accomplished in a huge laboratory by automated machines, but that wasn’t an option in the 1900s. The old-fashioned way is much more fun. We enjoyed indulging our senses with the various botanical aromas and textures.

To be fair to the doctors of yesterday, we should mention that popular 19th century brews contained a number of herbs and organic substances that are still used today in natural medicine. Some have even proven their effectiveness well enough to enter the world of mainstream pharmaceuticals.

ny archaeologist As pictured on the plate (above), our Stomach Bitters brew includes gentian, cardamom, cinchona, coriander, anise and cinnamon. The small bowl contains fragrant orange peel. Gentian provides the bitter taste that is the namesake of this brew. Cinchona, which is obtained from the bark of a cinchona evergreen tree, is a natural source of quinine. Historically, quinine served as an effective treatment for malaria. When included in bitters, it was often intended to relieve muscular spasms and headaches. Many people would find the other listed spices familiar; they’re used today in a variety of foods and beverages such as chai and black licorice candy.

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The spicy concoction is intended to work by stimulating enzymes and working with the fluids in the gastrointestinal system to help digest foods efficiently, and treat or prevent symptoms like

bloating, constipation, heartburn and gas. Bitters were often marketed as a cure for dyspepsia, an official-sounding catch-all term used to describe various types of stomach or intestinal discomfort.

We can’t guarantee our Stomach Bitters or our other old remedies will cure your gas or make you live longer, but we know you’ll enjoy the experience of authentic sensory time-travel.

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The work of our talented amateur chemists was conducted under the watchful eye of Salem, our Chrysalis mascot, who shares a home with our own Alyssa Loorya.

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Chrysalis Archaeology and the Historic Districts Council Join for a Historic Pub Crawl

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Are you thirsty for a taste of the past? Later this month, Chrysalis is teaming up with the NYC Historic Districts Council for a fun-filled historic pub crawl to explore New York City’s earliest and most famous watering holes. Join us to see the old sawdust floors, neon signs and dumb waiters of three familiar and beloved neighborhood pubs. Their walls have seen decades of social and architectural history and progress, and they’ve survived to tell their stories to every visitor. If that’s not enough excitement, you’ll also get to participate in our ambitious brewing experiment that we’ve been planning for weeks.

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Our Experimental Historic Brewing Adventure

Could there be a better way to start a tour of historic pubs than to actually have a taste of near-mystical snake oil potions and beverages enjoyed by patrons of the past? We found the recipes and tracked down the ingredients. If you’re curious, you can find them listed here. We’re entering the realm of historic apothecary madness and letting everyone share in the fun. As promised in our previous post, we’ll be recreating and testing the supposedly medicinal and unquestionably alcoholic remedies of yesterday including “Stomach Bitters” and “Elixir of Long Life.” The project was inspired by fascinating medicine bottles we recently found at a Bowery archaeological site. While we don’t guarantee longevity or relief of dyspepsia, we think everyone will enjoy the opportunity to experience the taste in context along with great snacks and even better conversations.

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We’re Adding a new Recipe to the Brew Party

If we can get all the ingredients together in time, we plan to add a third enticing recipe to our historic menu. It’s a product of the late 1800s called California Pop Beer. Inspired by C. C. Haley & Co. “Celebrated California Pop Beer” bottles found in New York and Newark, it’s sure to be an interesting brew.

The pub crawl event will be held on Saturday, July 19th at 1:00 p.m. To sign up for this historical sensory adventure, call (212) 614-9107, send an email to, or purchase tickets here:

We look forward to pouring you a drink!

The City Hall Park Project Has Received a Lucy G. Moses Project Award

Sometimes it’s an odd concept to think about archaeology and preservation going hand in hand.  After all, archaeology “destroys” what it excavates while preservation hopes to preserve objects and/or structures in place. But the two are not mutually exclusive. This year, the team that worked on the New York City – City Hall Rehabilitation Project was awarded the 2014 Moses Preservation Award for the City Hall Project. Chrysalis is honored to have been a member of the team working on this project.

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It’s Quite an Honor!

The Moses Preservation Awards represent the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s highest honors given for exceptional preservation efforts. Their namesake is Lucy G. Moses, a loyal New Yorker whose generosity supported and improved the city for more than 50 years.
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Bottling History: A Preview of Our Upcoming Apothecary Adventure

Long before the FDA was formed, doctors and chemists of the late 19th century invented a number of interesting concoctions to treat common ailments. Bottled in glass and given almost comical names, they were sold at neighborhood apothecaries. Practicing our own brand of experimental archaeology, we’ve decided to recreate the past based on medicine bottles we recently found at an archeological site. We’re excited that we’ve tracked down actual recipes for an “Elixir of Long Life” and “Stomach Bitters” to match up with labels on our old bottles. Since both formulas required copious amounts of alcohol as a medium, it may have been difficult for consumers to determine whether the “active ingredients” were actually effective. To indulge your curiosity, here are the ingredients of our recipes.

Elixir of Long Life
• Aloes
• Rhubarb
• Gentian
• Zedoary (White Turmeric)
• Spanish Saffron

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Alyssa Loorya Presents Then and Now Photos at PANYC

Our own Alyssa Loorya recently delivered a presentation for Professional Archaeologists of New York City, Inc. (PANYC) Annual Public Program that focused on “then and now” photographs taken at New York City archaeological sites. The photos were taken in the 1930s by one of NYC’s first urban archaeologists, Ralph Solecki. At the age of 90, Ralph was interested in documenting the landscape changes that have occurred since his early work, so we accompanied him on a tour of his old sites.

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The Bronx

A visit to Van Cortland Park in the Bronx revealed that some natural elements of the environment have been preserved as part of the NYC Parks system. A photo of Solecki in the late 1930s shows the open spaces that were once a major component of the area. Continue reading