When life gives you lemons…

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By | Digital Developments, From the Collections

We have put over 20,000 of our digitised books online and, thanks to full-text searching in the Library catalogue, our digitisation programme is starting to bear fruit for researchers. To prove the point I sought inspiration from our collections on what to do with a surplus of lemons this summer.

Here are my top five suggestions:

1. Make lemonade

Mrs Beaton’s Book of Household Management, 1861, notes that lemonade “may be freely partaken by bilious and sanguine temperaments but persons with irritable stomachs should avoid it”.

Her recipe for “nourishing lemonade” would make an interesting contribution to any summer barbecue:

Nourishing lemonade: 1.5 pints boiling water, juice of 4 lemons, rinds of 2, half pint of sherry, 4 eggs, 6 ozs loaf sugar.

2. Relieve your thirst with lemon juice pastilles

No time to make lemonade? Boroughs Wellcome and Company manufactured Lemon Juice Pastilles. A 1907 sales catalogue describes the benefits as “an excellent stimulant to salivary secretion” as well as relieving thirst and an antiscorbutic (treatment for scurvy). Aimed at the colonial market, the pastilles came in an aluminium and blue tin, similar to a range of other tabloid brand products, including ‘compressed tea‘.


3. Perfumed hair pomade

New Views on Baldness: a treatise on the hair and skin, 1863, alas offers no cures, but does provide recipes to make the most of whatever hair you have. Marrow Oil Pomade is made chiefly of lard, olive oil and palm oil and perfumed with oils of lemon, bergamot and cloves. Another book, on The Art of Soap Making, 1896, offers a recipe for scented lemon soap.

V0019909 barber shop etching after Rowlandson 1814

Macassar oil, an oily puff for soft heads. Etching after T. Rowlandson, c. 1814. Wellcome Library reference: 33387i.

4. Cure for a lame horse

The Complete Farrier or Horse Doctor, 1820, gives a treatment for “Twitter bone”, which “makes a horse very lame and unfit for work”. I don’t know what the modern equivalent is, but it is characterised by a tough white matter thrown out of “a pipe” in the leg. It can be treated by syringing the following recipe into the pipe: “Half an ounce of Sublimate in fine powder put into one ounce of Spirits of Salt; and as soon as the Spirits dissolve the sublimate, put to it the juice of a middlesized lemon”.

V0017024 John Solomon Rarey engraving

John Solomon Rarey with the stallion ‘Cruiser’, observed by onlookers. Wood engraving by Swain after J. Leech, 1858. Wellcome Library reference: 571877i.

5. Treatment for gonorrhoea

In Practical Observations on Venereal Complaints…, 1787, the author claims “I know several cases where without any remedy whatever and only by the use of simple water or lemonade as a beverage the virulent gonorrhoea has disappeared”. Sounds a bit unlikely, but his argument is that the standard cure, mercury, doesn’t work: “it has also been asserted that mercury never contributed to the cure of a clap”. Whether successful or not, this remedy is also mentioned in a later book, On the Pathology and Treatment of Gonorrhoea, 1876, where the author describes a patient who “took lemon juice in such quantities that he used to buy the lemons in Covent Garden by the hundred”.

You can find out more about our digital collections on the Library website, and search digitised items using the Refine by options in the Library catalogue. Let us know what you find!

Lalita Kaplish

Lalita Kaplish is Web Editor at the Wellcome Library. You can also find her on LinkedIn and Twitter @LalitaKaplish.

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One Response to When life gives you lemons…
  • Catja Pafort


    Regarding Point 4, and reading the whole passage, it appears that a ‘Twitter bone’ is a form of hoof abscess, formed by gravel digging into the hoof. Compared to other treatments in this book, this one is not overly barbaric.

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