Delmarva Settlers

by James W. Baker, appeared in the Mayflower Quarterly Vol. 75 No. 1 March 2009

Transcribed by David Ranzan, M.A., M.L.I.S., Salisbury, Maryland, 2011

The historical facts of the Pilgrim Story, from its beginnings in Scrooby to the successful planting of Plymouth Colony, are familiar to us all. Certainly there are many small points and details that are unclear or debatable, but we probably know as much about what the Pilgrims did as we do about the actions of any community in the past. Because they are our ancestors and their story is so familiar, we may assume that we have a clear and accurate understanding of them personally. I can assure you that we do not. We know their history, but we do not necessarily know them, their opinions, their tastes, and their beliefs. We are separated from the Pilgrims by the great cultural shifts that have occurred since their time - the Age of Reason, the Scientific Revolution, and perhaps even this latest "post-modern" shift in public sentiment. As has often been quoted (from L. P. Hartley), "the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there." The Pilgrims were not simply ourselves wearing funny clothes and lacking the com-forts of modern industrialized society. They did not share our scientific view of the world and our common sense opinions of what constitutes reality. They were citizens of a culture as different from our own as any in the world today, despite the obvious fact that their culture contained the origins of our own.

One area in which this difference can be demonstrated most clearly is in the practice of medicine and healing. The Pilgrims and their contemporaries were heirs of several thousand years of traditional medical practices and beliefs, traditions that have little or nothing in


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 common with our modern scientific approach to disease and treatment. For example, they had no reservations about the belief that the stars in the heavens could have a direct effect on the health of the individual and that earthly medicines had astrological virtues. The concepts which informed their understanding of the human body and the material cosmos were intricately connected. The four elements of the external world were mirrored by the four "humors" of human physiology, not metaphorically but in fact. Herbal medicines - and for that matter, foods - were classified not for their chemical constituents or calories and carbohydrates but by their "humoral" characteristics. They were either hot or cold and either moist or dry. These qualities were not literal temperatures or moisture contents but rather the hypothetical equivalents of the four humors which constituted the human body: sanguine (hot and moist), choler (hot and dry), phlegm (cold and moist) and melancholy (cold and dry). A person's health depended on the proper balance of these four qualities, and disease was largely attributed to their imbalance. If an individual had too much choler, her symptoms would be a fiery complexion, fever, anxiety, anger and excess nervous energy. Too much melancholy and she would have a dull or sallow complexion, bags under the eyes, depression (even to the point of insanity), suffer through wasting away and lassitude, or sullen and brooding resentment.

Clinical medicine was dedicated to restoring health by correcting the natural balance (or complexion) of the humors. This could be in part done physically by eliminating a certain quantity of blood so that the excess humor would then be drained away as well, or by purging the digestive system with emetics and laxatives to the same effect. On the other hand, the inadequate humor could be built up by eating the right foods and taking appropriate medicines. However, popular medicine was not limited to the classic herbal or organic medicines and bleeding, but included a large number of traditional remedies which had not any apparent humoral rational. These were passed down orally, in medical texts and even cookbooks, but especially in those manuscript or printed collections known as "books of secrets."

It is interesting to note that the Pilgrims owned and treasured one of these handbooks of traditional medicine, Thomas Lupton's A Thousand Notable Things (London: 1586). It enjoyed a number of editions, there being one as late as 1815. Nevertheless, Lupton's "receipts" appear quite strange to modern sensibilities and unmistakably illustrate the chasm that separates our world view from that of our ancestors. Lupton is one of the few medical texts the Pilgrims had that was identified by title. The book first turns up in Samuel Fuller's probate inventory in 1633, and then in William Brewster's in 1644, indicating that the book was absorbed into Brewster's library after Fuller's death. Its successive possession by the Deacon and the Elder of the Pilgrims would attest to the book's acceptability in the eyes of the community even if they might choose to ignore certain of the more questionable remedies.

Paraphrasing Professor Matthew Dickie, the formulas described by Lupton are to our eyes quintessentially magical. This is so for two reasons: the procedures and ingredients look to us to be unscientific and thus magical, since we cannot imagine how they could be credible or effective; and we are presupposed to assume that anything astrological or "occult" must of its nature be magical and religiously illicit. This latter assumption makes no allowance for the possibility that to the Pilgrims these ideas did not have the same connotations as they do for us. Our intuitions and "common sense" opinions of what constitutes magic and occultism are not necessarily the same as those of the educated 17th century Englishman. As Dickie points out, the centrally-defining characteristics of magic are secrecy and its illicit nature. While Lupton and other authors of books of secrets and formulas are ostensibly revealing hidden or "occult" knowledge, it is clear that they did not think there is much that is dangerous about either the recopies or their publication. The fact that the Pilgrims' religious leaders valued such a book indicated that they were correct.

A Thousand Notable Things is divided into ten books with a hundred remedies and annecdotes [sic] in each. We will select some that best illustrate the medical beliefs of the time. The numbers at the head of each entry indicate the book, the remedy and the page it is found on. We will be publishing a number of Lupton's cures - with modern translations and explanations - so readers will be able to see the sort of remedies that may have been used in Plymouth Colony. It is not the individual examples that are important, however, but the overall intellectual con-text that established and legitimized these strange medical recipes. They offer us a glimpse into the minds and beliefs of our ancestors in a way that simply reading the letters and chronicles of the history of Plymouth Colony cannot, and allow us to appreciate the ways in which our culture differs as well as resembles that of the first colonists.

1:42 (11) As soone as a child is borne, (especially a boy) their ought to bee great heede taken in the cutting of the Navell string: the member of generatio(n) doth followe the proportion of the Navell string: and if it be tyed to short in a Wench, it maye be a hynderaunce to her in bringing forth her chylde. Therefore it is meete that Mydwives have a great regarde therein. This is gathered out of Mathais Comace, an excellent Phisition.
"When a child is born, (especially a boy), there should be great care taken in cutting the umbical [sic] cord. The future size of the genitals will be determined by the length of the remaining umbilical stump. If the cord is tied off too short on a girl baby then she will have trouble delivering her children through a narrow birth canal." This sort of correspondence between scientifically-unrelated objects or hypothetical causes and effects is very typical of symbolic thinking which looks for clues not in the items' chemical or mechanical characteristics but in their outward physical appearance, analogies or propinquity. They could not explain how such effects and influences took place, but classified them as "occult" or hidden relationships in which the mechanics were unknown yet none the less real. What to us is merely a fanciful analogy or accidental simliarity [sic] was to them indicative of real and potent medical efficacy. We will see the same sort of thinking displayed in the belief in hidden "sympathies" or "antipathies" between creatures or substances, which could be manipulated to cause all sorts of inexplicable effects.

. 1 :48 (12) If a peece of fine golde, or the leaves of pure golde be put into the iuce of Lymons, and taken out of it after it have leyne therein a whole daye, and the same iuce is then geven to one that is sicke of the plague, with a lytle Wine, and the powder of the roote of Angelica, or of the decoction of the same roote: it is marvayle to bee tolde what helpe it bringes them, yea, though they be past all hope, or thought. past recouverie. This Mizaldus wrytes as proved.
This remedy IS clear enough to the modem reader (if the curious spelling and grammar is overlooked) to need little translation. It should be noted that "i" and "j" are interchangeable In the alphabet of the time. Gold was not just a valuable metal but also the earthly example of a perfect substance which could not be affected by rust or corrosion. It was believed that its purity was transferable and could cure the corrupted human body. The most .famous of these gold medicines was the alchemical "aurum potable" (drinkable gold) which unfortunately was actually poisionous [sic] in many of its forms. Here the "essence" of the gold its uncorruptable [sic] purity - was to be administered through lemon juice in which It was steeped with wine and the herb Angelica. It apparently was believed that lemon juice would leach out the desired quality of purity. Angelica is the tall herb Angelica officinalis which was long known as a soverign [sic] remedy and blood purifier. The stem of the Angelica was and is often candied with sugar.

1 :56 (14) If a stone called an Hematist, wherein a man is graven with bend¬ed knees, gyrded about with a Serpent, holding the Serpents head in his right hande, and his tayle in the left hande: be set in a golde ryng with one leafe of an herbe called Draggons put in under the sayde stone, it doth make the bearer thereof safe from all poyson and plague. Hollerius a notable Phisition wrytes it.
This entry is quite magical in appearance. There is no chemical or physical effect indicated here - the dragon's leaf (tarragon - Dracunculus hortensis in Gerard's Herbal 1633) seems rather an afterthought. Instead it is the ring containing the bloodstone with an engraving of the man and the serpents that has the real efficacy. The belief that gems, stones and metals had physical and medicinal effect was a standard and unquestioned part of traditional medicine, as odd as it might appear to us today. The inclusion of engraved images, on the other hand, was generally considered to be magical in our sense of the word, involving communication with some sort of spiritual force that was not simply a hidden but natural influence. Such charms were common at the time and unless they also contained letters and numbers that implied communication with a spiritual "intelligence" (angel or daemon), they were considered a legitimate if debatable form of medical treatment. Hollerius was the French physician, Jacques Houllier (c.1500?- 1562).

1:59 (15) It is certaynlie and constantlye affyrmed that on Mydsomer Eve, that is the daye before the Nativitie of Saynt lohn Baptist: there is founde under the roote of the Mugwoorte a cole, which preserves or keepes them safe from Plague, the Carbuncle, lightnng, the Quarteyn ague and from burning, that beares the same upon them. And Mizaldus, the wryter hereof sayth, that he doeth heare that it is to be the same daye under the roote of Planten. Which I know to be of a trueth, for r have founde them the same day under the roote of Planten. Which is especially and chiefly to be founde & had, at noone.
Midsummer's Eve (June 23) was an occasion around which many superstitious and magical traditions were clustered, hence the appearance of fairies in Shakespeare's Midsummer s Night Dream. The "cole" or coal found under the mugwort plant (Artemisia vulgaris) was widely believed to have the power to protect the bearer from harm, and appears in several herbals. Mugwort was one of the herbs of St. John The Baptist, who wore a belt of it while wandering in the wilderness. Smoked over a St. John's Day fire, a mugwort coal was used to drive out demons. The "coles" found on this special date under mugwort or plantain (another of St. John's herbs) were not pieces of actual coal, but rather the old blackened acidic roots of the plant. A carbuncle in this usage is a tumor of the skin or sort of pimple, while the quarten ague is a malarial fever, common in the fenlands of eastern England and in New England, which was characterized by a paroxysm or fit every fourth day.

1 :63 (16) Aqua vite with whyte Sugercandy finely powdred, so that it be not too thick therof, but indifferent, and a spoonefull theroftaken last at nyght for the space of three or fowre nights, doth presentlie helpe the cough, and horsenes, & breakes the fleame, marvelouslye. this is a tryed thing. The 1yke effect hath the powder of the Enulacampana mixt with the powder of Lyqueris and of whyte Sugar candy, if it be oftentymes used and eaten a spoonefull at one time. Which I have proved.
This Pilgrim-era cough remedy might actually have done some good. Powdered sugar mixed in "aqua vitae" (a kind of raw brandy in this instance, of the sort which the Pilgrims offered to Massasoit, which caused him to "sweat all over") with an infusion of elecampane (Inula Helenium) and liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) would have a soothing effect on the throat.

1 :64 (17) They are Iyke to be gowtie, or to have the Siaticia, or paines !n ye ioyntes, in whose Nativitie Saturne or Mars is in the syxt house, or In the twelfth house infortunating the Lord of the sixt house. Especially, if the sygne of the sixt house be Capricorne, Aquari or Pisces. Iatromath. Guat. RyfJ
This is one of the strictly astrological receipts that occasionally turn up in Lupton. It should be understood that the Pilgrims, while quite opposed to mundane or judicial astrology, i.e., the common version of the art in which horoscopes are cast for individuals, would have no difficulty with medical astrology. Worldly events such as weather and crop conditions were predictable through astrology to the extent that the almanac was part of every householder's regular resources. Harvard published the first colonial almanac in 1639. (Almanack Calculated for New England,) and written by "Mr. [William] Pierce Mariner." This may well have been the Master of the Anne (1623) and the second Mayflower (1629) who received land in Plymouth in 1623. Leading contemporary astrologer William Lilly "received a pension of 100 pounds from Cromwell's council of state, and who, in spite of some awkward incidents, had no little political influence with Charles II." The sixth house is the house of "sickness, its quality and cause," according to Lilly In his Christian Astrology (1647). How exactly gout and sciatica are related to the various planet and signs I can't begin to say, not being an astrologer, but the basic concept that with astrology doctors could diagnose disease and prescribe treatment was universally accepted. I can't identify Lupton's source, but the author is apparently Gualtherus Ryff (otherwise Walther Ryff,fl. c. 1550) who wrote books on medicine such as the Anatomica omnium humani corporis (1545) and the Phlebotomiae canones aliquot maximae 1541, and also on cookery - Confect Buechlin/ vnd Haul3Apoteck. Frankfurt a.M. (1544).

1 :70. (18) If the corners of the eyes bee annoynted with an oyntment of Saffern, If after the spetle doth saver therof, the partie is not barren; but apt to have chyldren. Plynius.
. The concept here is that a fertile woman could taste saffron in her spittle if it was applied to the eyes, whereas a barren one could not as her proper channels of circulation were blocked. The ancient belief that women's fertility could be tested by the circulation of strong tastes or smells through the body was widespread. In another example found in the very popular 17th century sex manual Aristotle's Masterpiece (1684) that was reprinted in numerous editions into the 19th century, if crushed garlic was placed "beneath" a fertile woman, she could taste it in her mouth. Saffron is still the base of certain eye-salves. This example comes from Pliny's Natural History, the great classical encyclopedic source of much of what was "received knowledge" in the 17th century.

1:73 (18) Cautharides wrapt in a spyders webbe and hanged over one that hath the Quartyn ague, it is sayde it cures or delyvers him or her therof perfect¬ly. Mizaldus.
"Cautharides," or more correctly "cantharides" (they got the "n" upside down) is Cantharis vesicatoria or Spanish Fly, which is a powerful irritant and blistering agent. It was used externally to irritate the skin and theoretically draw excess humors out of the body. As the OED explains, cantharides is an actual beetle, which is ground up and used "externally as a rubefacient and vesicant; internally as a diuretic and stimulant to the genito-urinary organs, etc. Formerly considered an aphrodisiac." It is dangerous and potentially deadly taken internally. Hung in spiders' silk, it was at least harmless.

I: 80 (19) Planten is iuged by Hermes, to be the herbe of Mars, and therefore good against the diseases and paines of the head: because that ye signe Aries which is one of the houses of Mars, doth gouverne the head. And also Planten is very good against the griefe & diseases of the stones, and the Ulcers of the blad¬der: and also Gonorrha pasio, and Hemerods, because Scorpio the other house of Mars, doth rule that parte of the body. Lyke iudgement maye be had of other herbes of the planets. Myzaldus.
Plantain (Plantago major), a common weed in our experience, was highly regarded in the past as an herb of healing. It was, as "waybroed," one of the nine sacred herbs of the Anglo-Saxons. Here we find its efficacy has been adduced through its astrological attribution to the planet Mars as "judged by Hermes [Trismegstus]." As Mars rules both the signs of Aries, which is supposed to govern or influence the state of affairs of the human head, and Scorpio, which governs the lower abdomen, plantain is suggested as a cure for headache as well as for "the grief' (apparently some sort of venereal complaint), diseases of the testicles, the bladder, "Gonorrhea passio[n]" - literally "the flux of the seed" (they thought it was a morbid discharge of semen) or the "running of the raines [kidneys]," and hemorrhoids. The appropriate uses of herbs, as the last sentence suggests, could be identified by simply studying their astrological associations without experiments or chemical analysis. Plantain was added to a number of traditional ointments and decoc¬tions simply on this basis. At least, it did no harm.

1 :82 (20) If a marryed man bee let or hyndered through Inchauntment, Sorcery or Witchcraft, from the acte of generation, let him make water through his mary age Ring, and he shalbe lowsed from the same, and their doinges shall have no further power in him. Guilel. Varignana, and Arnoldus de villa nova affyrmes the same.
An almost universal belief in traditional cultures in Europe, Asia and Africa is that witches could and did frequently cause impotency in men. This baldly magical recipe, in which the man is advised to urinate through his wedding ring so that he may be "loosed" or freed from the spell and also from any subsequent attempts by witches, is classic folklore.

1:83 (20) Who use to rubbe their fingers betweene theyr toes of their feete when they go to bed, especially, when they smell most, and then smell the same at their nose: it is a perfect remedy to put awaye the crampe. This was affyrrned to me as a tried thing.
Here we have another typical bit of medical folklore, such as actually survived in New England into the 19th century (see Clifton Johnson What They Say in New England (1896/1963) for other examples). Perhaps we should imagine our Pilgrim ancestors hoping to avoid a bout of cramps in the night by inhaling the odor of their own feet at bedtime.

1 :84 (20) A Candle burning, holden or put to a hole or place wherein a peece of Saltpeter is put, the sayde Candle wyll soddenly be blown out. And the same Candle immediately put to another place wherin us Brimstone, wyll be Iyght and burne againe, to the great marvayle of them that standes by, if they be ignourant of the secret. Mizaldus. But the snuffe of the Candle must not be cIeane out.
This entry isn't strictly a medical receipt, but rather the sort of "magical trick" that fascinated people then as now. When a candle flame is placed near the piece of saltpeter (one of the constituents of gunpowder), it would flare up and apparently blowout the flame. If the candle wick (which had to be still glowing) was then touched to a bit of sulfur, it would we are told burst back into flame. A nice trick for around the fireside on a winter evening.

1:86 (21) Cut or breake a whyte loafe in the myde when it comes hotte out of the oven, and layest it to the eare of such as have any quicke thing in their head, and it wyll bring it out, shyfting it styll with hotte breade untyll all the quicke thinges be come foorth. This is proved to be true.
There seems to be considerable concern in the past about vermin getting into a person's head through the ears and nose. Earwigs for example got their name from the belief that they crawled into the ears and laid their eggs in the brain. "Quick" in this instance means "living." This is a remedy for those anxious individuals who thought something had gotten into their brain, who might therefore be seen holding hot pieces of fresh bread at their ears or noses to lure the invaders out. Note that is the better quality white or manchet bread is called for rather than the less expensive cheat or meslin breads.

1:88 (21) A Lytle peece of the tongue of a foxe, being moystened and made soft in vinegar, (if it be drye) draweth out a thorne or any other thing deepe in the flesh, if t be layde upon the place where it is. It is and excellent and true thing.
In this example it is alleged that a piece of preserved fox tongue is able to draw a thorn or splinter out of the body. In all probability this is because of some belief that associates the fox with its cleverness and ability to get out of traps or something similar as being able to extract physical objects out of a wound, almost as if the fox's proverbial cleverness was in the tongue and it "spoke" the object out. Many old remedies have no more obvious a symbolic basis than a physical one and appear entirely arbitrary, but presumably there was some rationale behind these connections.

1:92 (22) The head of a Catte that is all blacke, burned in a newe potte, and fine ashes or powder made therof, and some of the same, thrice everie day, blowne of a quyl [quill] into I eye that hath eyther Web or Perle, or any other evyll or griefe in the same, is a most excellent helpe and remedy therfore. But if the party feele any turning in of his or her eye (especially in the night) let three or fowre Oken leaves styeped or moystened in water, be layde together upon the sore or grieved eye, and let the same be afterwarde turned and alyd on againe. The Author of this secrete, sayd: that the syght is restored with this remedy, after a whole yeres blindnesse. This was told to Mizaldus.
This cure for "web" (i.e., pterygium - a fleshy tissue that grows in a triangular shape over the cornea in the eye caused by exposure to sunlight and dry dusty conditions) or "pearl" (pinguecula; any white lesion of the eye, especially a corneal opacity or cataract) appears to have been chosen for the belief that cats have good eyesight and clear eyes. The effect may well have been quite the reverse. "Turn eye" or strabismus is a problem caused by one or more improperly functioning eye muscles, resulting in a misalignment of the eyes. With intermittent strabismus, the eye turn might occur only occasionally, because of stress or illness, so the poultice might seem to be effective. It would also work far more often on children under six than with adults. While the majority of the remedies are herbal, organic animal substances were also an important part of the materia medica of the time. Black cats, which are thought to be ominous in America, bring good luck in England.

1 :96 (23) Here followes an excellent remedie for al wounds and easie to be made. Thake greek Pytch, Brimstone and whyte Olibanum, which is a kinde of frankencense, of all a lyke quanti tie: let them be stamped and mixt with the whytes of egges then (the wou(n)d being first washt, and the Iyppes therof well ioyned together) laye the same mixture on a Iynnen c1oath, and apply it to the wounde, and tye the same fast on with cIoathes, or broade bandes: and let it lye so certaine dayes unremoved. A marvelous thing, and proved sayeth Mizaldus.
The classic manner for treating wounds was to cover them as airtight as possible with an adhesive ointment such as pitch mixed with other drugs and bind the whole together with bandages. The sulphur (brimstone) and olibanum (a resin from the Boswellia serrata tree) may have had some antiseptic properties. Cleaning and closing the wound (as we would use stitches) might help as well. This sort of mixture was also used in oil painting: Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks have a recipe for "Four ounces virgin wax, four ounces Greek pitch, two ounces incense, one ounce oil of roses, first melt the wax and oil then the Greek pitch then the other things in powder" for painting images of plants and flowers. The wound might also suppurate under these conditions, but that was looked on as a good sign in that it was believed the bad humors were being drawn off and healing enhanced. Nicholas Culpeper gives a similar ointment for wounds in his famous herbal (The English physitian: or an astrologo-physical discourse of the vulgar herbs of this nation. London: Peter Cole, 1652). "Poor man's plaster," an ointment for wounds, skin diseases and sore muscles composed of tar, resin, and yellow wax and applied with a paper covering, was popular in the 19th century.

1 :99 (24) Whosoever is annoynted for the Neopolytane disease (com(m)only called the french pocks) if he hold in his mouth a Ryng of golde, or els an other peece of gold, and rowles the same about with his tongue, the quicksylver that is in body by the meanes of oyntment, is drawne of yC sayde gold, and is so wrapt about the sayd Ryng, or golde: that when the same is taken out of his mouth, it shall seeme as though it were all Sylver. And the same Ring or other golde wyll not be restored to his former brightnesse or cullom, except it be put into the fyre. Lernnius wrytes this.
The "Neapolitan disease" or "French pox" were popular English names for syphilis. The name for the disease was taken from a poem by Hieronymus Fracastorius (1483- 1553) about a shepherd named Syphilus, who is ostensibly the first sufferer from the disease, which is caused by the Treponema pallidum bacteria. In most European countries this new disease (which may have originated in America, although this theory is currently under debate) was usually attributed to some other nation with the inference that loose foreign morals contributed to the spread of venereal disease. Pox are eruptive pustules on the skin. They occur in non-venereal diseases as well, such as smallpox, chicken pox and cowpox, but syphilis was "the great pox." The standard treatment, which was apparently effective in the early stages of the disease, was mercury taken either externally in an ointment or by heated vapor, or internally in pill form. Although the latter is poisonous, it could hold the disease in remission. This recipe appears to be a test for the presence of mercury in the body, which a nervous lover might employ to see if their partner was in fact taking a cure for this dread disease.

1: 100 (24) Snayles without their shelles, or otherwyse with their shels stamped & myxed with sometimes with Chelleppe or Rennet, do drawe out thornes or any other thing out of the fleshe though never so deepe, if they be applied to the place. And also being layde to the bellye of them that have the Dropsie they sucke out the water. But the same must not bee lowsed [removed] rom the bellye, untyll all the humour or water bee sweat foorth, or else the same plaster of Snayles both fall away of him selfe.
The use of snails in this remedy may be related to their moist "humor" or nature, while the fact that snails can draw themselves in and out of their shells, hence their crushed bodies are thought to possess the analogous ability of drawing out things like thorns from the human body. To make a plaster, ointment was smeared onto a piece of cloth or paper and then applied to the skin like an adhesive bandage. The plaster for "dropsy," an old term for the swelling of soft tissues due to the accumulation of excess water, is made from crushed snails and chyle or rennet, i.e., milky, partially digested contents of an animal's stomach, which was also moist and apparently thought to be a diuretic that would help draw out water retained in the body. Rennet is found in the stomach of an unweaned [sic] calf, and is used to curdle milk in the making of cheese.

James Baker is Acting Executive Director/Curator of the Alden House Historic Site in Duxbury, Massachusetts. His comprehensive history of the Thanksgiving holiday, Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday will be publish by the University Press of New England in the fall of 2009. These articles previously appeared in the Alden Kindred of America newsletter.


Have you ever tried to figure out the squiggles and scrawls on the prescriptions forms you get from your doctor?

If not, you may be cheating yourself and endangering your health. You need to know exactly which drugs you are taking so you can comparison shop for the best buy. And you need to. know the details of the dosage to avoid taking the wrong amount of medicine at the wrong time.

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A recent study, reported in an unsigned article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, indicated that one reason people don't read prescription forms is that they can't read doctors' handwriting.

The study analyzed the handwritten orders of 47 doctors in a 500-bed teaching hospital. It found that more than one-third

of the physicians had writing that could be classified. as illegible or barely legible.

No one has tried to figure out whether the prescriptions doctors write for their patients are easier to read than the orders they leave for other medical professionals. If you can't understand your doctor's writing, ask him or her to spell out the instructions again.

Once you can read the letters, words and phrases, you should be able to translate the prescription by learning a few simple abbreviations.

The drug will be listed either by brand or generic name. In many cases, the generic drug ­ which is chemically equivalent to the brand-name product ­ will be cheaper.

The dosage form - if there is a choice - will be indicated on the prescription by an abbreviation: "cap" for capsule, "tab" for tablet, "el" for elixir, "sy" for syrup, "sol" for solution or "gtt" from the Latin "gutta," for drops. The strength of the dose will be in metric measures - "50 mg," for example, for 50 milligrams.

Refill information also will be listed in a sort of shorthand. "Refill 2X," for example, means you can get the same amount of medicine from your druggist a total of three times.

Most doctors use Latin when writing directions for use of a particular drug. The same information, in English, is included on the label of the drug container, but it's a good idea to become familiar with some of the more common terms. Here is a list:

-ad libitum, abbreviated as "ad lib," meaning freely or as needed.
-ante cibos, abbreviated as "a.c.," meaning before meals.
-bie in die, abbreviated as "b.
i.d.," meaning twice a day.
-ter in die,
abbreviated as "t.i.d.," meaning three times a day.
-quater in die,
abbreviated as "q.i.d.," meaning four times a day.
-hora somni,
abbreviated as
"h.s.," meaning before bedtime.
-per os, abbreviated as "P.O.," meaning to be taken orally.
-quaque 4 hora, abbreviated as "q.4h," meaning every four hours.
-ut dictum,
abbreviated as "Ut dict." or "UD," meaning as directed. 

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