Case 122 --
Lash's Bitters: Biochemical Analysis
of a Historical Proprietary Medicine
The contents of Lash's Bitters illustrates the typical contents of proprietary medicines of the late 1800's and early 1900's. Principally, the product contained large amounts of alcohol. Like most proprietary medicines, it was based on a herbal remedy. It was advertised to contain Rhamnus purshiana, an herbal laxative that was known and utilized by Native Americans. Many herbal remedies of this time did have medicinal value, but even those that did often had little, if any, of the active ingredients, as illustrated by the analyses of this bottle of Lash's Bitters. We also detected trace amounts of methanol and large levels of lead that could have posed serious health hazards to those who regularly used large amounts of Lash's Bitters.
Special thanks to Mike Sendek and Pat Arndt for capturing the images of Lash's Bitters and the trade cards.
- Cramp, Arthur. Nostrums and quackery. Vol II. Chicago, Illinois: American Medical Association, 1970:741-754.
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- Ring, Carlyn and Sheldon Ray Jr. For bitters only: Up-date and price guide. Privately printed, 1984.
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- Young, James Harvey. The toadstool millionaires: a social history of patent medicines in America before federal regulation. Princeton, New Jersey:Princeton University Press, 1961.
- Fowler, Gene. Mystic healers & medicine shows, Santa Fe, New Mexico: Ancient City Press, 1997.
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Some other useful books
Blasi, Betty. A bit about balsams: A chapter in the history of nineteenth century medicine. Louisville, Kentucky: Farley-Goepper Printing Company, 1974.
- A nice reference on balsams with much detailed information about many
Kovel Ralph and Terry Kovel. Kovel's Bottle price list, 10th edition. New York, New York: Three Rivers Press, 1997.
- An example of a price guide to many types of bottles, including nostrums
Young, James Harvey. American Health Quackery. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992.
- A collection of lectures and essays by an expert in the area of American proprietary medicines who has written several enjoyable, scholarly books on the topic