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Aqua Composita for a Surfet

Caryl de Trecesson (Carol Hanson)

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This is a medicinal cordial to be taken for a "surfet" (= "surfeit"), i.e., after eating too much food, and most of the various herbs and spices used were considered aids to the stomach and digestion. This is also an unusual recipe in that it uses "strong ale" instead of wine, so the distillate I've used is whisky rather than a vodka or brandy.

The recipe does not call for any maceration time. Also, I had recently been having a discussion with someone on the SCA-brew list who had suggested that the heat of distillation should be taken into account when preparing period cordials. And I had previously noticed that a single distillation (as in this recipe) would result in a lower proof alcohol than we usually use for cordials. I combined these three notions by heating the mixture openly on the stove for 1/2 hour to (1) extract the flavors through decoction rather than maceration, (2) mimic the heat of distillation, and (3) reduce the final proof of the cordial.

From Thomas Dawson's The Good Huswifes Jewell, 1596 (Falconwood Press, 1988):

To make Aqua composita for a surfet. [This edition says "surset"!]
Take Rosemary, Fennell, Isope, Time, Sage, Horehound, of each of these a handfull, Pennirial, red mints Margerum, of each sixe crops ["the head of a flower or herb", OED], a roote of Enula Campana, of Licoras, Annyseeds brused of each two ounces, put all these to three gallons of mightie strong Ale, and put it into a brasse pot over an easie fire, and set the Limbecke upon it, and stop it close with dowe or paste, that no aire doe goe out, and so keept it stilling with a softe fire, and so preserve it to your use as need requireth.

3/8 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves
3/8 tsp. fresh fennel leaves
3/8 tsp. fresh hyssop leaves
3/8 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
3/8 tsp. fresh sage leaves
3/8 tsp. fresh horehound leaves
3/4 tsp. fresh pennyroyal leaves
3/4 tsp. fresh mint (peppermint/spearmint) leaves
3/4 tsp. fresh marjoram leaves
1/8 tsp. dried elecampane root
3/4 tsp. dried licorice root
1 tsp. anise seeds, bruised with mortar & pestle
3 c. 80-proof scotch whisky (Scoresby)
c. superfine sugar

My estimate was that one handful was approximately 2 tablespoons of fresh herbs, and so "2 TB per 3 gallons" becomes "6 tsp. per 48 cups" which becomes "1/8 tsp. per cup" of liquid.

I was unsure of the amount of 6 "crops" since the herbs mentioned don't seem to have noticeable heads and taking the tops of the stalks could end up being less or more than "a handful." But these three herbs are even more strongly recommended for stomach ailments than the first bunch, so I decided to consider this a larger amount and doubled the quantity used for the others.

I didn't have a fresh elecampane root, and the flavor is very strong and somewhat bitter, so I used a small amount of dried root. I used dried licorice root in what seemed a reasonable quantity. Two ounces of anise seed is about cup, so " cup per 3 gallons" becomes "24 tsp. per 48 cups" which becomes " tsp. per cup" of liquid.

The sugar is not called for, but similar medicinal cordials talk about people adding sugar when drinking it: "...and maketh fat folk to becom leane, or maketh fat the leane, if they drink it mixt with sugar" (1564? recipe from Maison Rustique).

All the ingredients (except the sugar) were added to the whisky. The mixture was carefully heated in an open pot on an electric stove for 1/2 hour. The heat was kept low enough so that the mixture did not boil, but high enough so that noticeable vapors were rising from the mixture. This left about 2 cups of liquid.

A cordial "tea" of strong herbal flavor. I don't have an instrument for measuring the final percentage of alcohol, so could only guess at the length of time to heat the mix, but the result is certainly lower proof than the original whisky. The taste is truly "medicinal" to some, but others find it more like a Chartreuse liqueur.

Medicinal Qualities:
Most of the information here comes from Nicholas Culpeper's Compleat Herbal. Information marked "Grieve" comes from A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve, first published in 1931, which often references early sources.

According the general theory of humors, most bodily ills are the result of an imbalance in the body's quantities of blood (hot and moist), choler (hot and dry), phlegm (cold and moist), and melancholy (cold and dry). Culpeper more specifically assigns the production of these to the liver, and says that "Flegm is made of meat not perfectly digested." To counter phlegm, the ingredients in the medicine must be hot and dry, and Culpeper puts all of these herbs in those categories.

Culpeper: Hot and dry; to "heat the head, heat the heart, heat the joints, ease pain...It is an herb of as great use with us in these days as any whatsoever, not only for physical but civil purposes. The physical use of it (being my present task) is very much used both for inward and outward diseases, for by the warming and comforting heat thereof it helps all cold diseases both of the head, stomach, liver, and belly.... It is very comfortable to the stomach in all the cold griefs thereof, helps both retention of meat, and digestion, the decoction or powder being taken in wine. It is a remedy for the windiness in the stomach, bowels, and spleen, and expels it powerfully. It helps those that are liver-grown, by opening the obstructions thereof."

Grieve: "Tonic, astringent, diaphoretic, stimulant. Oil of Rosemary has the carminative properties of other volatile oils and is an excellent stomachic...The young tops, leaves and flowers can be made into an infusion, called Rosemary Tea, which, taken warm, is a good remedy for removing headache, colic, colds and nervous diseases...."

From Jadwiga Zajaczkowa's site "Jadwiga's Stillroom Book: On the Medieval and Renaissance Use of Herbs": "Banckes [Banckes' Herbal. Author unknown, published 1525] and Culpeper say it was used for stomach troubles and to clear the head...."

Culpeper: to "heat the stomach, heat the breast, heat the liver, expel wind, resist poison...The leaves, or rather the seeds, boiled in water, stays the hiccough, and takes away the loathings which oftentimes happen to the stomachs of sick and feverish persons, and allays the heat thereof....Both leaves, seeds, and roots thereof are much used in drink or broth, to make people more lean that are too fat."

Grieve: "On account of its aromatic and carminative properties, Fennel fruit is chiefly used medicinally with purgatives to allay their tendency to griping and for this purpose forms one of the ingredients of the well-known compound Liquorice Powder. Fennel water has properties similar to those of anise and dill water: mixed with sodium bicarbonate and syrup, these waters constitute the domestic 'Gripe Water,' used to correct the flatulence of infants."

Culpeper: to "heat the breast, heat the liver...taken also with oxymel, it purges gross humours by stool; and with honey, kills worms in the belly; and with fresh and new figs bruised, helps to loosen the belly...."

Grieve: "Expectorant, diaphoretic, stimulant, pectoral, carminative. The healing virtues of the plant are due to a particular volatile oil, which is stimulative, carminative and sudorific....Hyssop Tea is also a grateful drink, well adapted to improve the tone of a feeble stomach, being brewed with the green tops of the herb...."

Culpeper: Hot and dry; to "heat the stomach, heat the breast, heat the womb, extenuate...It purges the body of phlegm, and is an excellent remedy for shortness of breath. It kills worms in the belly...It is so harmless you need not fear the use of it....The herb taken any way inwardly, comforts the stomach much, and expels wind."

Grieve: "Antiseptic, antispasmodic, tonic and carminative....Thyme tea will arrest gastric fermentation. It is useful in cases of wind spasms and colic...."

Culpeper: Hot and dry; to "heat the stomach, heat the liver, heat the womb...Matthiolus saith, it is very profitable for all manner of pains in the head coming of cold and rheumatic humours: as also for all pains of the joints, whether inwardly or outwardly, and therefore helps the falling-sickness, the lethargy such as are dull and heavy of spirit, the palsy; and is of much use in all defluctions of rheum from the head, and for the diseases of the chest or breast."

Grieve: "Stimulant, astringent, tonic and carminative. Has been used in dyspepsia, but is now mostly employed as a condiment....It is highly serviceable as a stimulant tonic in debility of the stomach and nervous system and weakness of digestion generally."

Culpeper: Hot and dry; to "heat the breast, heat the liver, heat the spleen, cleanse, resist poison...A decoction of the dried herb, with the seed, or the juice of the green herb taken with honey, is a remedy for those that are short-winded, have a cough, or are fallen into a consumption, either through long sickness, or thin distillations of rheum upon the lungs....A decoction of Horehound (saith Matthiolus) is available for those that have hard livers...."

Grieve: "White Horehound has long been noted for its efficacy in lung troubles and coughs...."

Culpeper: Hot and dry; to "heat the head, heat the reins and bladder, heat the womb, extenuate, resist poison...Dioscorides saith, that Pennyroyal makes thin tough phlegm, warms the coldness of any part whereto it is applied, and digests raw or corrupt matter....It eases head-aches, pains of the breast and belly, and gnawings of the stomach...."

Grieve: "Its action is carminative, diaphoretic, stimulant and emmenagogic, and is principally employed for the last-named property in disorders caused by sudden chill or cold. It is also beneficial in cases of spasms, hysteria, flatulence and sickness, being very warming and grateful to the stomach."

"Red Mint"
Culpeper on "mints": Hot and dry; to "heat the stomach, heat the womb...It suffers not milk to curdle in the stomach, if the leaves thereof be steeped or boiled in it before you drink it. Briefly it is very profitable to the stomach....Simeon Sethi saith, it helps a cold liver, strengthens the belly, causes digestion, stays vomits and hiccough; it is good against the gnawing of the heart, provokes appetite, takes away obstructions of the liver, and stirs up bodily lust;...The powder of it being dried and taken after meat, helps digestion, and those that are splenetic."

Grieve on "peppermint": "the French varieties of M. piperita are not identical with those cultivated in England. The variety cultivated in France is known as 'Red Mint' and can grow on certain soils where the true Peppermint does not grow....Peppermint oil is the most extensively used of all the volatile oils, both medicinally and commercially. The characteristic anti-spasmodic action of the volatile oil is more marked in this than in any other oil, and greatly adds to its power of relieving pains arising in the alimentary canal. From its stimulating, stomachic and carminative properties, it is valuable in certain forms of dyspepsia, being mostly used for flatulence and colic. It may also be employed for other sudden pains and for cramp in the abdomen; wide use is made of Peppermint in cholera and diarrhoea. It is generally combined with other medicines when its stomachic effects are required, being also employed with purgatives to prevent griping."

From Jadwiga Zajaczkowa's site "Jadwiga's Stillroom Book: On the Medieval and Renaissance Use of Herbs": "Mint was considered sovereign for stomach aliments....Banckes [Banckes' Herbal. Author unknown, published 1525] mentions mint, white mint and red mint (garden mint). Banckes suggests a mouthwash of mint steeped in wine or vinegar for toothache, and rubbing the powder on the teeth for a 'sweet mouth'; also suggests it to restore appetite and for all digestive disturbances."

From Cindy Renfrow's excerpts from John Gerard's Herball or General Historie of Plantes, in 1633 : "Garden Mint taken in meat or drinke warmeth and strengtheneth the stomacke...and causeth good digestion."

Culpeper: Hot and dry; to "discuss, expel wind, ease pain...Our common Sweet Marjoram is warming and comfortable in cold diseases of the head, stomach, sinews, and other parts, taken inwardly, or outwardly applied. The decoction thereof being drank, helps all diseases of the chest which hinder the freeness of breathing, and is also profitable for the obstructions of the liver and spleen....The decoction thereof made with some Pellitory of Spain, and long Pepper, or with a little Acorns or Origanum, being drank, is good for those that cannot make water, and against pains and torments in the belly...."

Grieve: "Its properties are stimulant, carminative, diaphoretic and mildly tonic; a useful emmenagogue....In the commencement of measles, it is useful in producing a gentle perspiration and bringing out the eruption, being given in the form of a warm infusion, which is also valuable in spasms, colic, and to give relief from pain in dyspeptic complaints."

Culpeper: Hot and dry; to "heat the breast and lungs, heat the stomach, resist poison...The fresh roots of Elecampane preserved with sugar, or made into a syrup or conserve, are very effectual to warm a cold windy stomach, or the pricking therein...The dried root made into powder, and mixed with sugar, and taken, serves to the same purpose...The decoction of the roots in wine, or the juice taken therein, kills and drives forth all manner of worms in the belly, stomach, and maw...." The syrup is "wholesome for the stomach, resists poison...."

Grieve: "'Julia Augustus,' said Pliny, 'let no day pass without eating some of the roots of Enula, considered to help digestion and cause mirth.' ...Diuretic, tonic, diaphoretic, expectorant, alterative, antiseptic, astringent and gently stimulant....Gerard tells us: ''It is good for shortnesse of breathe and an old cough, and for such as cannot breathe unless they hold their neckes upright.' And further: 'The root of Elecampane is with good success mixed with counterpoisons, it is a remedy against the biting of serpents, it resisteth poison. It is good for them that are bursten and troubled with cramps and convulsions.' 'The wine wherein the root of Elicampane hath steept,' says Markham (Countrie Farme 1616), 'is singularly good against the colicke.' "

Culpeper: Hot; to "heat the breast and lungs...The juice of Liquorice is as effectual in all the diseases of the breast and lungs, the reins and bladder, as the decoction...." The syrup "concocts raw humours in the stomach, helps difficulty of breathing, is profitable for all salt humours...."

Grieve: "The action of Liquorice is demulcent, moderately pectoral and emollient....Fluid Extract of Liquorice is employed almost exclusively as a vehicle for disguising the taste of nauseous medicines, having a remarkable power of converting the flavour of acrid or bitter drugs, such as Mezereon, Quinine or Cascara."

Anise Seeds
Culpeper: Hot and dry; to "heat the stomach, liver, spleen, expel wind, resist poison...Annis seeds, heat and dry, ease pain, expel wind, cause a sweet breath, help the dropsy, resist poison, breed milk, and stop the Fluor Albus in women, provoke venery, and ease the head-ache."

Grieve: "Turner's Herbal, 1551, says that 'Anyse maketh the breth sweter and swageth payne.' ... Carminative and pectoral....The stimulant and carminative properties of Anise make it useful in flatulency and colic. It is used as an ingredient of cathartic and aperient pills, to relieve flatulence and diminish the griping of purgative medicines...."

Glossary for Grieve (from NutritionFocus.com):

alterative: gradually alters or changes a condition by gradually restoring health and normalcy
antispasmodic: prevents or relieves spasms of the voluntary and involuntary muscles, as in epilepsy, dysmenorrhea, intestinal cramping, charley horse, etc.
aperient: a mild laxative, causing evacuation of the bowels without irritation and griping
aromatic: a pungent agent often having an agreeable odor; acts to stimulate the appetite and gastric secretion based on the action of the volatile oil or other aromatic principle; aromatics are used to relieve flatulence, open nasal passages, improve palatability of medicines or give a psychological boost
carminative: relieves gases from the gastrointestinal tract and relieves colic
cathartic: active purgative, producing bowel movements and evacuation of the bowels
demulcent: soothes and protects the part or soften the skin to which applied; usually restricted to agents acting on mucous membrane
diaphoretic: increases perspiration
dyspepsia: indigestion
emmenagogic: promotes or assists the flow of menstrual fluid
emollient: softens, soothes and protects the part when applied locally; usually confined to agents affecting the surface of the body
pectoral: relieves chest conditions or respiratory disorders
stimulant: temporarily increases functional activity
stomachic: stimulates the appetite and gastric secretion
sudorific: promotes or increases perspiration; causes drops of perspiration on the skin
tonic: restorative; invigorates and strengthens all systems and organs

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