Ingredients in Patent Medicines
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.