Patent Medicines and Home Remedies in the Steinbüchel Home

In summer 1988, after moving into Maison Steinbüchel, we tackled a pile of rubbish and sand from under the apple tree beside the garage along the alley.  A trumpet vine had taken over the area, growing up into the tree,   masquerading what was in store.
Patent Medicine Bottles and Marbles

Once the vine and rubbish were removed, we discovered a large pile of sand and soil left over from a project the former owners had embarked upon.  This was moved to the front corner to form a berm flowerbed.

As we reached ground level,  we realized this was the site of an ash pit where decades of trash were burned.  What began as a clean-up project was now an archaeological dig.

 As we sifted through the dirt, we discovered pieces of china, porcelain, marbles and cute little glass bottles.  In reading the book,  “A Living Gravestone”,  that documented the lives of the family for whom the house is named.  In the book the author, one of the daughters, talks about papa’s patent medicines he kept in small bottles in his bedroom closet.  We suspect at least some of the bottles we found are from this collection. So what were these patent medicines?
Patent Medicines Yesterday and Today
Today we would call them over-the-counter medicines, but these had little or no regulation. The term patent medicine originated in the 17th century in the making and marketing of medical elixirs.  When a particular formula found favor with royalty, it was issued a letters patent so that royal endorsement could be used in advertising the potion.  When it comes to health, healing and dealing with pain we are all quite vulnerable.  If you are like me, I just want to feel good and energetic.  This has been the case down through history.  People have reached for all kinds of substances to address this basic desire.
History tells us that these formulas ranged from the ineffective to the dangerous.  Most were alcohol based (as are some of our common OTC meds today).  In the middle were formulations of herbal extractions,  essential oils and other natural aids we are rediscovering today.  Were folks healthier?  My sense is yes, if they survived the flu, typhoid and other diseases that do not succumb to these natural remedies readily.

Papa’s Medical Plan
What particular formulas were contained in Mr. Steinbüchel’s cabinet is unknown.  Just that he brought his German sense of taking care of ones body with simple home treatments and preventative measures to Kansas.  In addition to the patent medicines the book speaks of:
  • Wearing asafoetida bags to ward off the flu and other diseases.  Apparently  these smell really bad, and some say that no self-respecting disease would hang around. That being said, modern research shows the herb to contain anti-viral qualities.
  • Papa administering small pox vaccines at home that he got from the doctor .  I do not think this would have gone over well in our home.  I cannot imagine my dad giving us shots of any kind, but then we did not live on a farm where one might have practiced doing so on the animals.
  • Buying shoemakers wax to treat boils, slivers and stickers.  Something in the mix of tallow, beeswax, pine pitch and resin caused the intruding element to surface for easy extraction.
  • Daily doses of the dreaded cod liver oil.  My grandmother did administer this to us when we visited in the winter.  I am thankful for less flavorful alternatives today!

Combing The Old and The New
Being a huge proponent of healthy diet and exercise, I turn to natural home remedies along with a dose of healing scriptures before I head to the pharmacy or doctors office.  Most of the time the latter is not necessary   The old adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is deep within my Kansas DNA.
At the same time, I am ever so grateful for medical treatments today.  Vaccinations, used with wisdom and discernment, have saved countless lives, pain and suffering.  Although the flu is still a menace and can still be deadly, we know what to do.  Annual wellness checks, twice yearly dental visits are small prices to pay.
Patent Medicine and Long Life
Herman Steinbüchel lived into his 80s, and his father into his 90s.  Their lives were normal for an upper middle class family of the time but it was not easy or convenient.   Papa’s patent medicines may have contributed to his long life although there are indications of mental deterioration in his later years as well as in his father’s.  Interesting, we grapple with this affliction today.
As I read the history of this family and dive into some of the details, both the similar and dis-similar are apparent.  The things we have in common are, to me, much more abundant than those that are different.  The latter resting simply on ease and convenience for daily living.  Knowing more accurately the why and how to care for these temples of flesh essential to life on this earth is still rooted in the basics of yesterday.
What home remedy in your family or community background do you still use today?

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