Sarah Jackson, on Treating ‘Yellow-Jaundice’ with Pippins… etc.

“Take a Kentish Pippin, cut the Core clean out, then scrape as much of the Apple out as conveniently as you can, to which add three-pennyworth of Saffron well dried and pounded, and (if for a Man) eleven Sows, or Wood-Lice, if they be large, (if small, thirteen;) if for a Woman, nine large Wood-Lice, or eleven small ones ; bruise them with a Knife and mix them in the Meat of the Apple with the Saffron, put it into a Shell, and beat it thoroughly, and let the Patient eat this in the Morning fasting ; do this three Mornings together, then forbear three Mornings, and then do it for three Mornings again.”

Sarah Jackson, The Director or Young Woman’s Best Companion (1754)

What’s that? You’re not feeling too good? Your skin is looking a bit yellowish? The whites of your eyes are yellowish as well? Oh dear. You could be suffering from jaundice.

Not to worry, Sarah Jackson’s book of Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Pastry Preserving, Physick and Surgery – it’s a bit of a leap from the kitchen table to the operating table, but let’s go with it – might just include a remedy.

We’ll skip through the cookery bit – maybe we can come back later for something tasty to help with your recuperation – and focus on finding an actual cure. Ah, here we are: a nice, apple-based remedy for yellow-jaundice. Perfect! Right, so, you just need some apples: pippins, they have to be Kentish ones, for some unspecified reason. Mix those with a few strands of saffron and, let’s see, what else..?

Wait, what? Wood-Lice?

Eww! And also: Yuck! That’s a weird one, even for the eighteenth century. I expect the specified three day gap after the first three days of treatment is because that’s how long it’ll take the patient to stop throwing up crushed insects before they start again.

Let’s try to unpack it though, shall we? Jaundice, as we now know, is generally a symptom of some sort of disease or disfunction of the liver, gall bladder or pancreas. The most obvious effect is a yellowing of the skin, so it’s easy to see how – according to the terms of the very-popular-in-the-renaissance-era ‘doctrine of signatures‘, in which plants were thought to have been imbued by God with a beneficial effect on the parts of the body that they most resembled – bright yellow saffron might have been considered helpful in treating a condition that involves your skin and eyes turning yellow.

The addition of the woodlice though? Ummm… Nope, I’ve got nothing. Any ideas from the room? Please do feel free to drop them in the comments if you have anything to share with the group.

So, what do you reckon? Keep the yellowish look, or eat the crushed woodlice? Or phone NHS 111 and hope that whoever picks up the phone has a more modern book of cures and remedies to refer to. I know which one I’ll be opting for. That’s right! I’ll just need to have a furtle through the log pile and I reckon I’ll be good to go…

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