One patent medicine that worked

On Sunday I put up an article dealing with patent medicines in widespread use in the Old West – most of which were utterly useless, of course.  It attracted quite a bit of attention, judging by some of the comments.

As I continue my research, I’ve just discovered that my mother used one of those same patent medicines in South Africa, where a local version was produced.  Dating back to the 1880’s, it was known as California Syrup of Figs, and was marketed as a laxative.

Mom used to dose all of us kids with it whenever we needed ‘assistance’.  It tasted fairly pleasant, and I presume it worked satisfactorily, because I can’t recall her ever using anything else.

To my further surprise, I found that a modern version of the stuff is still available.  I hadn’t expected a 19th-century patent medicine to be still around in this day and age.  I’ll have to try it, and see if it works as well as the stuff produced under license in South Africa.  If it doesn’t, well, there’s always the old children’s doggerel from the country of my birth:

“Is the bottom falling out of your world?
Take Eno’s – and the world will fall out of your bottom!”



  1. This, rrom Godey's Lady's Book magazine, was popular in the South up to the 1930s:
    Blackberry and Wine Cordial
    Godey's Lady's Book 1860

    To half a bushel of blackberries, well mashed, add a quarter of a pound of allspice, two ounces of cinnamon, two ounces of cloves; pulverize well, mix and boil slowly until properly done; then strain or squeeze the juice through homespun or flannel, and add to each pint of the juice one pound of loaf sugar; boil again for some time, ake it off, and while cooling add half a gallon of best Cognac brandy. Bottle and cork well. Dose: for an adult half a gill to a gill, for a child, a teaspoonful or more according to age. This is recommendd as a delightful beverage, and an infallible specific for diarrhoea or
    orninary disease of the bowels.

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