VIII. Pharmacopoeia

An ordinary pharmacopoeia

Here are some examples of pain-soothing remedies, or anodynes, other than hypnotics and narcoticsHenricus Regius, Medicina et praxis medica, editio tertia, Utrecht, Theodori ab Ackersdijck, 1668. according to Regius, author of a 17th-century treatise on practical medicine:
roots, such as marsh-mallow, lily, mallow,
leaves, such as elderberry, cloves, dill,
flowers: chamomile, mullein, crocuses...
seeds and flours: flax, fenugreek, wheat, barley...
animal products, including milk, butter, wool grease, egg yolk,
oils: olive oil (with macerated rose or jasmine blossoms), sweet almond oil...

The list of anodynes could vary. So could the manners in which they were administered. Often mixed with wine or brandy, they could be applied locally, for example in the form of liniment, cataplasm or poultice, as well as internally, as a decoction, electuary (soft paste), clystera (anally) or pessary (vaginally).

For the strongest pain symptoms, these substances were mixed with laudanum, an opium-based preparation that was considered quite affordable. Doctor Paul Dubé (1669) believed that, in the countryside, the poorest patients could easily obtain it.


Doctors regularly used narcotic plants, such as opium poppies and hensbane, which, by numbing the senses, suppress pain.

They recommend, however, that these should not be used “recklessly or without thinkingPietro Andrea Mattioli, Commentarii, in libros sex Pedacii Dioscoridis Anazarbei, de medica materia, Venice, Vincenzo Valgrisio, 1554, p. 471., at the risk of fatal damage (Mattioli, Comments on Dioscorides). One of the difficulties was to precisely measure the substances.

Since “the whole of the East and the South make daily use of opium, datura, bhang [cannabis sativa]..., it is very sad that many people perish due to the violence of the pain they experience, because they do not know any of these remedies, whereas they could have been spared, if their doctors, convinced by the example of the whole world, agreed to make more frequent use of themGerard van Swieten, Hermann Boerhaave, Aphorismes de chirurgie d’Hermann Boerhaave, commentés par Monsieur van Swieten [1742], traduits du latin en français, Paris, Veuve Cavalier, t. I, 1753, p. 468., writes the physician Gerard van Swieten in 1742.

Palliative treatments

In August 1715, Louis XIV was afflicted with gangrene. The pain became widespread and unbearable. To soothe it, doctors prescribed donkey's milk and herbal baths. As one witness writes regretfully, these were only palliative treatments, “more likely to soothe the discomfort of the doctors than to cure the patientLa mort de Louis XIV, Journal des Anthoine publié pour la première fois, éd. E. Drumont, Paris, A. Quantin, 1880, p. 28-30. .