Cures and Quackery: The Rise of Patent Medicines

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Bottle
IPECACUANHA WINE
1850-1900, 19th century
Glass
11.9 x 3.9 x 2.9 cm
Gift from Mrs. William R. Bentham
M21681.25
© McCord Museum
Description
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Keys to History

Ipecacuanha, or ipecac, is an exotic medicinal that has been around since the 18th century. It contains an extract made by soaking the root of a Brazilian shrub in water or alcohol, which is then added to medicinal wines or syrups.

In high doses, its active ingredient, emetine, causes vomiting. The belief was that this rid the body of excess bile, thus restoring the balance of the humours. Most often, it was used in small doses as an expectorant and diaphoretic (sweat-causing) agent in treating colds and flus.

Ipecac mixed with various wines and syrups was still very popular in the late 19th century. One curious recipe recommends combining mutton fat with ipecac in hot milk for use as a chest poultice.

References
D. Goulet and A. Paradis, Trois siècles d'histoire médicale au Québec. Chronologie des institutions et des pratiques médicales (1639-1939) (Montreal: Éditions VLB, "Études québécoises" series, 1992), pp. 211, 215, 224-225.

G. Bilson, A Darkened House: Cholera in 19th Century Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), pp. 48, 118, 128.

  • What

    This small bottle contains a highly alcoholic medicinal wine laced with an extract of ipecacuanha, or ipecac.

  • Where

    The ipecacuanha wine in this bottle was prepared by S. J. Lyman & Co., located on Place d'Armes in Montreal. Ipecacuanha and quinine wines were sold in pharmacies, drugstores and some shops.

  • When

    Ipecac came into use in the 17th century in Europe and was popularized in secret remedies beginning in the 18th century.

  • Who

    Ipecacuanha wines were generally used by people with gastro-intestinal problems, bronchitis or pneumonia. In low doses, they were also recommended for children with diarrhea.