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Spoonful of Sugar: Medicinal Preparation in the Domestic Sphere

Meredith E. Torre, Guest Curator
December 1, 2006 - February 28, 2007

Domestic medical preparation was routine long before the manufacture of pharmaceuticals became a scientific pursuit. Medicinal preparation often culturally intermingled with herbal lore, ritual practice, .Spoonful of medicine posterand magic. It was often difficult to separate the myth from actual therapeutic properties. The gathering of certain potent plants, such as the mandrake, with dual properties of benefice and harm, were accompanied by traditions of plant lore familiar to us even today

In the home, the conditions in which people lived merited knowledge concerning how to take care of their bodies and care for illness. Wives were encouraged to be good helpmates to their husbands. Mothers needed to be familiar with matters of hygiene and health for their children’s well being. Men, regardless of their status, were expected to take up the informal study of medicine as managers and heads of the household. The close nature of medicine preparation with that of the domestic sphere caused lines between cookery and medicine preparation to be distilled.  This relationship can be evinced in recipe books.

Preparing medicine was not solely a means of curing illness, but an integral part of diet, cookery, and cosmetic making. Spells and potions to procure youth and everlasting beauty were just as frequently coupled with hot teas and cures for the headache. Plant recognition was crucial, and mistaken ingredients could cause fatal catastrophes. The lay public consulted sources in which they could learn about medicine or cookery and its preparation. Gentleman and ladies prepared the most popular recipes of the day and described new technical equipment or inventions that aided the process of medicine making.  These works were commissioned by nobles and royalty alike.  This exhibit features books from the Special Collections of the Ebling and Memorial libraries and artifacts from the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. They demonstrate components of medicinal cookery as depicted in illustrations and text.

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About the Curator, Meredith E. Torre

Bibliography of books used in exhibition

This online exhibit has been brought to you by Historical Services at the Ebling Library, University of Wisconsin Madison.

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