Friday, January 13, 2017

Old West Recipes

Your Old West characters would have been interested in reading about many of the same things that interest modern folk: the latest news, expert advice, and of course, looking and feeling good. People back then worried about the same things we do, too: clear skin, gray hair and no hair. This particular list of recipes is from The Ladies' and Gentlemen's Etiquette (Mrs. E.B. Duffey, 1877). Each paragraph beneath a heading marks a new recipe.
Some terms explained:
      Ambergris: a wax-like substance that originates as a secretion in the intestines of the sperm whale; found floating in tropical seas and traditionally used in perfume manufacture.
      Attar of Roses: the essential oil extracted from the petals of various types of rose.
      Bandoline: a mucilaginous preparation used for smoothing, glossing or waving the hair.
      Cantharides: extract of crushed blister beetle
      Deliquated: dissolved or melted.
      Drachm: a unit of weight formerly used by apothecaries, equal to 60 grains or one-eighth of an ounce.
      Felon: also known as a whitlow; a deep, usually pus-filled inflammation of the finger or toe, especially around the nail.
      Gill: a unit of volume equal to 4.16 fluid ounces
      Goulard's Extract: a solution of lead acetate and lead oxide; commonly used as an astringent up until the early 20th Century.
      Grain: A unit of weight formerly used by apothecaries, equal to 60 milligrams. 1 gram is equal to 15 grains, and 1 dram is 60 grains.
      Isinglass: a kind of gelatin obtained from fish, especially sturgeon, and used for making glue, etc.; also used of transparent sheets of mica.
      Muriate: a chloride compound.
      Rectified Spirits: highly concentrated ethanol, which has been purified by repeated distillation (rectification).
      Spermaceti: a waxy substance found in the head cavities of the sperm whale (and, in smaller quantities, in the oils of other whales).
      Tragacanth: a natural gum made from the dried sap of several Middle Eastern legume plants.

To Remove Freckles:
Prepare the skin by spreading over it at night a paste composed of one ounce of bitter almonds, ditto of barley-flour, and a sufficient quantity of honey to give the paste consistency. Wash off in the morning, and during the day apply with a camel’s-hair brush a lotion compounded thus: one drachm of muriatic acid, half a pint of rain-water and a teaspoonful of lavender-water, mixed.
At night wash the skin with elder-flower water, and apply an ointment made by simmering gently one ounce of Venice soap, quarter of an ounce of deliquated oil of tartar, and ditto of oil of bitter almonds. When it acquires consistency, three drops of oil of rhodium may be added. Wash the ointment off in the morning with rose-water.
One ounce of alum, ditto of lemon-juice, in a pint of rose-water.
Scrape horseradish into a cup of cold sour milk; let it stand twelve hours; strain and apply two or three times a day.
Mix lemon-juice one ounce, powdered borax quarter of a drachm, sugar half a drachm; keep for a few days in a glass bottle and apply occasionally.
Muriate of ammonia half a drachm, lavender-water two drachms, distilled water half a pint; apply two or three times a day.
Into half a pint of milk squeeze the juice of a lemon, with a spoonful of brandy, and boil, skimming well. Add a drachm of rock alum.
To Remove Discoloration of the Skin:
Elder-flower ointment one ounce, sulfate of zinc twenty grains; mix well, and rub into the affected skin at night. In the morning wash it off with plenty of soap, and when the grease is completely removed apply the following lotion: Infusion of rose-petals half a pint, citric acid thirty grains. All local discolorations will disappear under this treatment; and if freckles do not entirely yield, they will in most instances be greatly ameliorated. Should any unpleasant irritation or roughness of the skin follow the application, a lotion composed of half a pint of almost mixture and half a drachm of Goulard’s extract will afford immediate relief.

To Remove Wrinkles:
Melt white wax one ounce to gentle heat, and add juice of lily bulbs two ounces and honey two ounces, rose-water two drachms and attar of roses a drop or two. Use twice a day.
Use tepid water instead of cold in ablutions.
Put some powder of best myrrh upon an iron plate sufficiently heated to melt the gum gently, and when it liquefies cover your face with a napkin and hold your face over the myrrh at a proper distance to receive the fumes without inconvenience. Do not use it if it causes headaches.
Cold Cream:
Put into a jar one pint of sweet-oil, half an ounce of spermaceti and two ounces of white wax. Melt in a jar by the fire. Add scent.
Melt together a pint of oil of sweet almonds, one ounce of white wax, half an ounce of spermaceti and half a pint of rose-water. Beat to a paste.
To Remove Sunburn:
Milk of almonds, obtained at the druggist’s, is as good a remedy as any to use.

J.E.S. Hays


  1. Some of these concoctions sound a little bit scary ... but intriguing at the same time. What a super resource! Thank you!

    Nancy C

  2. A muriatic acid solution to remove freckles? Ouch!

    Very informative. This calls for a trip to the apothecary.

  3. Great stuff. I love sources like this. Thank you for posting.

    Muriatic acid is hydrochloric acid. A natural source is - stomach acid!

  4. Had to chuckle at some of those homemade remedies. Do not use if it causes headaches? Wow, what a sales pitch for a product.
    Thank goodness that modern day over the counter concoctions take the guess work out.
    Great post.

    1. Like those commercials that list all the possible side effects...

  5. Interesting stuff. Thanks much.

  6. I've read quite a few of these, but you've added to my list. A fascinating subject. Doris