How To Cure Rabies, ‘the King’s Evil’

Rare Book Of Remedies In Ewbank Clarke Gammon Wellers Auction On March 21 Has All The Answers

Botanist, physician and astrologer Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) knew all about the powers of herbs. In 1652, he published his book “The English Physician”, followed by his “Complete Herbal” the following year, which for more than a century were regarded as the seminal works on natural healing.

The books contain many gems: Hellebore, for example, causes sneezing if ground and inhaled, but it also kills rodents if mixed with their food, while Pennyroyal, “strengthens the backs of women, assists with vertigo and helps expel gas”. But Culpeper did not know everything.

As research continued, Culpeper’s work was refined and extended by several others, including the celebrated Ebenezer Sibly (1751-1800) a physician, astrologer and writer on the occult. Sibly became a Freemason in 1784, and four years later, he dedicated his new edition of Culpeper's English Physician And Complete Herbal "To Thomas Dunckerly, Provincial Grand Master. in the year of Masonry 5798".

Sibly’s rare revised edition boasted “upwards of 100 additional herbs” to Culpeper’s original offering and promised “The Cure of all Disorders incident to Mankind”. But Sibly didn’t know everything either, as a copy of his book discovered in a house in Gerrards Cross has proved.

Hidden between the pages of the leather-bound volume are numerous methodically hand-written pages of notes listing a miscellany of weird and wonderful treatments, of which Culpeper and Sibly were presumably blissfully unaware.

Now the book, complete with its hidden content, has been consigned to a sale at Surrey’s premier fine art and antiques saleroom Ewbank Clarke Gammon Wellers. It’s unlikely to make much impact on modern methods and practices in the NHS, but the hand-written recipes and cures make fascinating – if bizarre – reading. The book is expected to sell for around £200 in the saleroom’s Spring sale on March 21.

The pages of notes are by an unknown hand and dated 1813, a time when the study of homeopathy and amateur science was a pastime of the middle classes. They include, for example, Professor Brugnatelli’s cure “for that terrible malady, madness” – rabies – which consisted of “hydroclore (liquid oxygenated muriatic acid) used externally and internally: the wounds caused by the bite of mad animals are to be washed with it . This substance will destroy the hydrophobic poison, even when used several days after the fatal bite as has been incontestably proved in the great hospital at Lombardy.”

Or there’s Captain Beaucamp’s receipt for curing a bad cough. It required “a quarter pound of liquorice roots; quarter lb of brown sugar; quarter pound each of best raisins, figs and linseed to be boiled in two quarts of water reduced to one, then the whole strained through a fine sieve. A small teacup full of the liquid in rum and water may be taken as often as the cough becomes troublesome. Lemon juice may be added if agreeable.”

The King’s Evil&rdquuo; – scrofula, or “tuberculosis of the neck”, was so-called because it was believed it could be cured by the touch of the king’s hand. The notes record a “Mr Charles Cooksey’s recipe for another “infallible” solution. It reads as follows: “Take the herb sannicle the inward or green rind of the tree from which elderberry wine is made likewise the young leaves of the same tree called buds; fresh got water-flocks cut in slices of each a light quantity suppose a handful; of rice a few sprigs; cover these with water say about three quarts and let it boil till reduced to two or less, stir it and press it through a thin cloth; let the patient drink of this a teacup full night and morning and midday, if the stomach will take it for the dose must be regulated according to the strength of the decoction, if it should operate too much by stool put only half the quantity of the young buds of the elder tree in the next making but the same of the green rind as before. The wound should be often washed in the course of the day with a double or two of linenrag dipped in some of the decoction poured out for that purpose and never anything be applied. A mild diet should be used and all kinds of malt drink avoided as poison as well as salted provisions. Water or barley water may be drunk in lieu. By pursuing this method regularly for three of four months or less according to the malignancy of the complaint the patient will be agreeably surprised with a sound and perfect cure which will not break out again. Men must drink it a month after the wounds are healed and a little the spring and summer following. Young women with wounds in their neck and under their ears soon get well if otherwise sound and healthy but by labouring under a deep consumption proceeding from other causes a cure cannot for a moment be looked for; but where there seems a disposition only arising entirely from the King’s Evil, a cure of both may be expected at the same time with great certainty.”

Other recipes are more prosaic: “To prevent mice from eating corn-stacks, lay a few stalks of water mint about a foot from the bottom and a few stalks every two or three cartloads you put in afterwards and a few near the top. Laying water-mint among cheeses will also prevent mice from eating them.”
“For a horse foundering in the body – Take half a tablespoonful of clove pepper – half a tablespoonful of cinnamon  -- two spoonful of treacle infused in a quart of boiling ale for three mornings. Fasting – let the horse fast two hours, give him no cold water during the ?? (illegible).”

“To make cowslip wine take five gallons of water and boil by itself a quarter of an hour, then put to the water 15 pounds of loaf sugar and the whites of four eggs, beat to a froth and then let the water sugar and eggs boil a quarter of an hour longer and skim it well; have ready 15 quarts of cowslips picked from the stalks; pour the liquor upon the cowslips and when it is nearly cold put to it half a gill of yeast and a little of balm leaves and about the same of sweet briar; stir it once a day for a week then strain it through a sieve or cloth and put it into a barrel with the thin parings of five lemons, and all the juice. Do not let the bung be put in too tight at first. When it has done working add to it a pint of brandy and a little isinglass; then bung it up”

“To make bitters – to one quart of British brandy put two pennyworth of Centuary and half as much hoarhound. Boil two pennyworth of Quasha bark in three gills of water, till it is reduced to a pint, strain it off and mix it with the other. Let it stand for a week and then it will be fit for use.”

Closing date for further entries to the Spring sale of antiques and fine art is March 7. For further information, please contact the auctioneer on 01483 223101 or