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.
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.
Mixing 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.
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.
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.
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.