Monday, February 11, 2008

backyard treasures

The Not Boyfriend rushed in excitedly amidst digging postholes for the new fence. In his hand he held a small amber medicine bottle bearing the inscriptions “Morses Indian Root Pills”, W.H.Comstock” and “Dose 2 to 4”. For years the garden has yielded endless oyster shells, the odd bit of ceramic and other suggestions of prior inhabitants of this turn of the century terrace.

Being a bit of an historian and having more than a passing interest in plant medicines, the find peaked my interest.

Indian root is likely Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus), a common herb in Native American medicine used as a laxative. Most cure-alls from the 18th and 19th centuries were alteratives, blood cleansers and the like – meaning they largely worked on the bowel or other eliminative organs. The Morse would be “Dr Morse” the patented name used by the maker Comstock. Interestingly it appears there really never was a Dr Morse who formulated the pills. The originator appears to be a Mr Andrew B. Moore. Comstock and Brother even went to the lengths of fabricating the story of the fictitious Morse discovering the elixir, complete with photographs of the good doctor and his family. The fascinating history of “The Comstock Patent Medicine Business and Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills” is available online care of the Gutenberg Project.

Comstock’s Morses (sic) Indian Root Pills were first manufactured by the American firm in the mid-1850’s but their popularity peaked in Australia in the 1920’s. An Australian calendar for 1927 bore an advertisement for the pills claiming them to be "Australia’s National Remedy”. Perhaps too much white flour, lamb and lard makes this a constipated nation?

But we won’t be calling “Time Team” just yet, as the Comstock Indian Root Pills are one of the most common bottles found in Australia, with minimal value.

If you are interested here is
Another Aussie site
featuring the pills.

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Anonymous Gillian Polack said...

Thank you for linking to me.

I'll be in Melbourne in April and can meet you for coffee if you want to see my leaflet advertising the pills. I wouldn't mind getting a look at that bottle, myself - what a lovely find!


10:14 pm  
Blogger Dysthymiac said...

You have a man who can and will dig a posthole?
way to go Ranty!

9:33 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

yes - and it's not even valentines day yet :)

9:44 pm  

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