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Lydia Pinkham’s Tonic

When I lived in upstate New York, a friend bought a nineteenth century home, not uncommon in that area, and discovered a stash of empty Lydia Pinkham’s tonic bottles in the attic.

For those of you not familiar with Lydia Pinkham’s Tonic, it was a mixture of various herbs, in a 40-proof alcohol base, that was sold as a curative for female complaints.

I could have used a couple cases, too.

I imagine a harried woman of that household escaping to the attic.  Maybe she had a headache from noisy children, or maybe her husband had galloped up on the horse after work, wondering why dinner wasn’t on the table.  She might have gone up to the attic for a snort of Lydia Pinkham’s.

Per a nineteenth century flyer, Lydia Pinkham’s Tonic removes faintness, flatulence, and craving for stimulants.  It also takes care of bloating, headaches, nervous prostration, general debility, sleeplessness and indigestion.  Whether curative or just wishful thinking, I could use a tonic for nervous prostration and general debility.  In fact, the next time a friend asks “how are you?” I think I will respond that I have been suffering from nervous prostration.  It seems to me this could be a campaign theme:  Are you suffering from nervous prostration and general debility?  Vote for me.  I’ll include an airline-sized bottle of Lydia Pinkham’s with the receipt for your donation to my campaign.

Probably to no one’s surprise, sale of tonics like Lydia Pinkham’s spiked during Prohibition.  And though we laugh at the tonic that cures female complaints, a bottle of Merlot shared with a friend seems to have the same effect these days.

Lydia Pinkham’s Tonic was dismissed as so much quackery for years.  And it sold well for years.  While we know well about the placebo effect, we can also imagine isolated women looking for solutions, and hoping the black cohosh and dandelion root might help, along with the alcohol.  I’ve no doubt it helped someone feel better for a little while.

Isn’t that we all would like?  A quick solution?  A tonic for what ails you?

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