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Oskar Diethelm Library, Weill Cornell Medical College

Ingredients in Patent Medicines

Carter's Little Liver Pills
Carter's Little Liver Pills
1000.206.019

What was the special ingredient in patent medicines like Carter’s Little Liver Pills or Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound that could cure such a long list of diseases and illnesses? Oftentimes it was alcohol. According to a 1917 book published by the American Medical Association (AMA) entitled The Composition of Certain Patent and Proprietary Medicines, Ingram’s Vegetable Expectorant Nervine Pain Extractor was 86% alcohol by volume, while Burdock’s Blood Bitters varied from 16.33% alcohol by volume to 25.2%. Fenner’s Golden Relief was 70% alcohol by volume, in addition to seven drops of chloroform per fluid ounce. In 1902 Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was found to have 25.2% alcohol by volume. Surprisingly, one of the most common places to find alcohol listed as a main ingredient was in addiction cures. The AMA’s Composition listed a report stating that the “Second Treatment” of the Normyl Cure of Alcohol and Drug Addictions medicine was 75.5% alcohol by volume. Ashbel Parmelee Grinnell, M.D., claimed in his 1906 book A Review of Drug Consumption and Alcohol as found in Proprietary Medicine that Parker’s Tonic, “recommended for inebriates,” was 41.6% alcohol, while Golden Liquid Beef Tonic, “recommended for treatment of alcohol,” was 26.5% alcohol.

Burdock Blood Bitters
Burdock Blood Bitters
1000.206.013
Dr. Ingram's Vegetable Liver Pills
Dr. Ingram's Vegetable Liver Pills
1000.206.031