Explore 15th-century cold and flu remedies featuring common ingredients such as stale ale, ground nutmeg, and mustard seeds! These prescriptions not only address nasal issues but also offer intriguing glimpses into 15th-century global trade dynamics.

Date: 1400–1499

Catalogue Reference: C 47/34/12/4

Remedies Transcript:

For Headache: Combine camomile, sage wood, betony, and chickweed (wild purslane), heat them together, and apply the mixture to the crown of your head.

For Congestion in the Head and Nose: Mix four parts stale ale, four parts mustard seed, and two or three ground nutmegs in a glass that fits your nose. Boil it in a pan of water, then place the pan under your nose with cloths on top of your head. The remedy facilitates the expulsion of mucus.

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15th-Century Remedies

Preserved coincidentally in the records of the Chancery, the formal writing house of the King, these remedies offer a glimpse into medieval life. They exemplify the varied records stored at The National Archives.

The Chancery miscellanea consists of records collected over the Chancery’s extensive existence, often acquired as evidence in court cases or as part of Chancery business. The preservation rationale for many of these records has been lost over time. In this instance, the origin of these medical recipes at The National Archives remains uncertain. They may have been inadvertently gathered from a medieval clerk’s desk, stored in a chest of documents, and bound into a volume with other medieval papers in the 20th century.

The initial headache remedy utilises herbs found in the English countryside. These herbs are combined, heated, and applied to the crown of the head, following a common medieval medicinal practice.

The second remedy, addressing congestion in the head and nose, involves heating stale ale, mustard seeds, and ground nutmeg in a small glass over boiling water. The ill person then covers their head with cloths and inhales the vapours.

This recipe sheds light on medieval trading routes, revealing surprising global links in 15th-century London. Notably, all nutmeg in the medieval world originated from the Banda Islands in present-day Indonesia, over 8,000 miles away from England. Venetian merchants often facilitated the trade of nutmeg across the medieval world. This humble remedy, documented on a torn piece of paper, underscores the interconnectedness of the medieval world.

Find out more with the UK National Archives

These 15th-century cold and flu remedies, along with a diverse array of medieval records, are housed at The National Archives in the United Kingdom. The National Archives serve as a repository for a wide range of historical documents. Those interested in exploring the historical context and nuances of these remedies, as well as the broader medieval record collection, can access these documents at The National Archives for a comprehensive understanding of the bygone era.

Image Source:

  • Medieval Cold Remedy – UK National Archives Record: UK National Archives