Elixirs and Flavoring Extracts

Their History, Formulae, and Methods of Preparation


J. U. Lloyd



THROUGH the courtesy of Dr. Charles Rice, to whom application was made by the author for notes on the derivation of the word "elixir," we are enabled to present his reply verbatim, and  in addition presume to say a few words concerning the "elixir" of the past and of the present which may interest the  reader:

DEAR FRIEND:—In reply to your inquiry concerning the etymology   of   the   word   "   elixir,"   I   would   say   that   the   word    is proximately  derived  from  the  Arabic                                            , being composed of the
article          (al or el) and              .

The  latter  is  an  arabicized  form  of  the  Greek  word               (xirion, the           (    ) being pronounced like ee ).  This  derivation  was    first recognized and announced by Fleischer in 1839, but it  seems  to  have been  overlooked  by  later  writers.     Hermann  Kopp,  the  historian     of chemistry, in his "Beitrage zur Geschichte der Chemie" (1869, p. 209), quotes a number of passages from later Greek authors and from writers of the alchemistic school, in which he shows that the Greek              and the  Arabic                   are  identical  in  signification,  but  he  fails  to notice their  etymological  identity. The  Arabs  cannot  pronounce  an  initial       (x)  without  placing  an  auxiliary or supporting  vowel in front of the double consonant, thus making                .   This peculiarity of avoiding  an initial double consonant (sc, sp, etc.) occurs also in other languages, for instance in Spanish, where we have espera, escila, espiritu,  etc.
The word, in medical works, means any "dry powder" (from, dry), such as is used for dusting wounds. In alchemy it was used to denote the magical transformation powder so much sought after, a pinch of which would convert a whole mass  of  base metal into gold. IksÎr, in this sense, is identical with another interesting Arabic term, viz.,           (kimiya, from which our word chem-istry is derived, but which is itself derived from the Greek). This was also applied to a concrete thing, namely, the substance supposed to be capable of making gold. For instance, we meet such expressions as
                                                                            the same thing. "themakingofthekimiya,"and

                                                                            ,  "  the  making  of  the  iksÎr,,"both    meaning the same thing.

In later, technical language, "Elixir"  was  used  to  denote various preparations more or less alchemistic. It was, for instance, synonymous with " Liquid  Tincture,"  the  first  step  in  the  preparation of the philosopher’s stone; and there was a white and a red elixir distinguished. Or, it  designated  any  compound  preparation of supposed " sublime " properties, reputed to prolong life and to ward off disease.Sincerely yours, CHARLES RICE.

By referring to the letter of Dr. Rice it will be seen that at an early period the term elixir designated "the magical transformation powder so much sought after, a pinch of which would convert a whole mass of base metal into gold." Afterward the word was used " to denote various preparations more or less alchemistic," and it is to be presumed that curious or potent liquids were gradually introduced and included among powders. Finally, the word elixir was applied only to liquids, but these, like the original magical powder, were supposed to possess the power of transmuting base metals into noble metals.
Dr. Rice states that particular emphasis was once placed on a white and a red elixir. From a curious little work in our possession, bearing date 1682, we present, for the reader’s inspection, a facsimile of the processes recommended for making these preparations; and that the quaint formulæ may be rendered more intelligible, we give a facsimile of a table which explains the characters employed in the book, as follows:

An Explication of Characters used in this Book."

1This name was applied to Tin when the book was written
2This name was applied to Copper when the book was written.

It will be observed that the white elixir, “Elixir Album,” can only produce silver, while the red elixir, “Elixir Rubrum,” will transmute mercury into pure gold. We call attention to the red powder which is formed near the completion of the process in making elixir rubrum, and which is used to prepare the magical “oyl,” and to the assertion that this same red powder “cureth most diseases in man’s body.” Here we have an approach to the elixir of life (elixir vitæ) of the alchemists, together with the properties ascribed to the philosopher’s stone. In this connection, a quotation from the writings of that celebrated author of the eighteenth century, Boerhaave, is of interest concerning the elixir vitæ, which, in Boerhaave’s language, was “one of the chief things which the alchemists promise.” Their aim was to “discover an artificial body of such virtue and efficacy, as that being applied to any body of any of the three kingdoms, it shall improve its natural inherent virtues, so as to make it the most perfect thing in its kind. Thus, for instance, if applied to the human body, it will be come an universal medicine, and make such a change, both in the solid and fluid parts thereof, as shall render it perfectly sound, and even maintain it in that state, until the parts being slowly worn away and spent, death gently and without a struggle takes possession.”
We find, therefore, that the alchemists, by the term elixir, intended to designate substances which could either convert base metals into gold or silver, or could prolong life and heal the sick, or embody both properties; and also, that this substance might be either a liquid or a solid. We do not generally accredit the alchemists with a desire to heal diseases after the manner of physicians of the present day, and doubtless the majority searched only for riches. However, while they mostly desired gold and silver, they realized that the use of only an ordinary amount could be enjoyed in the usual lifetime allotted to man. Again, many of these infatuated men were on the brink of the grave when their hopes seemed most likely to be realized, and of vital importance would be the possession of a substance which could prolong life. Hence we find that some of them were searching directly for gold, or the philosopher’s stone by means of which all base
metal could be changed into gold, while others desired most the elixir of life, “elixir vitæ.” which could extend life and change old age into youth. Indeed, as incentives to their labors were the assertions that these wonderful elixirs had been discovered by others, and we quote from “The Birth of Chemistry” that “S. Thomas Aquinas was, like his master (Albertus Magnus), a magician. We are told that between them they constructed a brazen statue, which Albertus animated with his elixir vitæ.”
Culi asserted that “he converted fifty thousand pounds weight of base metals into gold,” and is said to have furnished his king with six millions of money. Paracelsus (born 1493, died 1541) is generally accredited with instituting a new era in the study, for he was prominent in showing that alchemy, which flourished in his day, and of which he was a zealous student, could be of value to physicians, and that the knowledge derived from their investigations could be turned to advantage in the treatment of disease. Like the old alchemists, however, Paracelsus surrounded his process with mysterious expressions, and disjointed them until they were incomprehensible.

            Paracelsus undoubtedly borrowed freely from those who preceded him, and failed to credit them for such instruction. Good authorities trace the application of chemistry in the healing of diseases far back of the day of
Paracelsus. “M. C. Clerc thinks there are indications of chemical medicines in Thaddeus the Florentine, who lived in the thirteenth century, in Albertus Magnus, Friar Bacon, and Isaac Hollandus. Helmont has taken pains to show that Basil Valentine was prior to Paracelsus by a hundred years” (Boerhaave).. Of Basil Valentine the same author remarks: “He would seem to have been the first who applied chemistry to medicine; for after every preparation he never fails to give some medicinal use thereof. Paracelsus, Helmont, the elder Lemery, and many others of modern fame, owe a great part of what is valuable in them to this autllor; so that it is not without reason that he is judged the father of the modern chemists and the founder of the chermical pharmacy.” “About the middle of the fifteenth century lived Basil Valentine, a German Benedictine monk, who led the way to the internal administration of metallic rnedicines by a variety of experirnents on the nature of antimolly”

He originated the “Elixir Proprietatis,” stating that it was so potent as “to continue health and long life to the utmost possible limits” (Boerhaave). This wonderful elixir was concocted by cumbersome processes from such simples as saffron, aloes, and myrrh; and notwithstanding Paracelsus claimed that by using the vaunted elixir proprietatis “he should live as long as Methuselah,” he died a broken wreck in his forty-seventh year. We find that this elixir, which is a
record of Paracelsus’ egotism, has been recognized in our dispensatories and in the older pharmacopoeias, with more or less alteration, even to the present day. Boerhaave gave five different processes for making it, each of which produced, in his opinion, a most potent remedy. As a curiosity, and to illustrate the wonderful properties attributed to these concoctions in those days, and to the virtues of which even such a chemist as Boerhaave could certify, we reproduce from his “Elementa Chemiae,” which was published in 1724, the formula and uses of his


“Take choice aloes, saffron, and myrrh, of each half an ounce, cut and bruise them, put them into a tall bolt-head, pour twenty times their own weight of the strongest distilled vinegar thereon, let them simmer together in our little wooden furnace for twelve hours: now suffer the whole to rest, that the fæces may subside, and gently strain off the pure liquor through a thin linen; put half the quantity of distilled vinegar to the remainder, boil and proceed as before, and throw away the fæces. Mix the two tinctures together, and distil with a gentle fire till the whole is thickened to a third; keep the vinegar that comes over for the same use; and what remains behind is the Elixir Proprietatis, made with distilled vinegar.


“Thus we obtain an acid, aromatic medicine, of great use in the practice of physic; for when externally applied, it cleanses and heals putrid, sinuous, and fistulous old ulcers, defends the parts from putrefaction, and preserves them by a true embalming virtue; it also heals ulcers, and cures gangrenes in the lips, tongue, palate, and jaws.
It has the same effects in the first passages, when used internally, as often as putrefied matter, corrupted bile, concreted phlegm, worms, and numberless distempers proceeding from these four causes, are lodged or seated therein. Again, it has nearly the same effects in the blood and viscera, as may easily appear from knowing the virtues of the three ingredients when dissolved in a subtile vinegar. It is to be taken in a morning upon an empty stomach, at least twelve hours after eating; it is given from a drachm to two or three for a dose in sweet wine or mead, or the like, walking after it, or having the belly gently rubbed. If taken in a larger dose, and with a somewhat cooler regimen, it always purges; if in a less dose, and often repeated, it cleanses the blood by secreting thick urine; and generally performs both these operations successively. But if taken plentifully, while the patient is in bed and the body well covered, it acts as an excellent sudorific; and afterward usually purges, and proves diuretic, and thus becomes very
useful; whence I conceive that this is the best acid elixir proprietatis, good in numerous cases, and at the same time safe.
“Paracelsus declared that an elixir made of aloes, saffron, and myrrh would prove a vivifying and preserving balsam, able to continue health and long life to the utmost possible limits; and hence he calls it by a lofty title ‘the elixir of propriety’ to man, but concealed the preparation, in which Helmont asserts the alcahest is required.”
Through the eighteenth century elixirs were numerous, and although their former alchemistic properties were cast aside, physicians seemed to attribute to them virtues scarcely less than those ascribed to the famous elixir vitæ. They were also surrounded with mysteries, and their compositions were most carefully concealed. Prominent physicians individualized themselves by attaching their names to tinctures of herbs extracted with spirit of wine or with acid solutions, and these names have been handed down to us and are still in use. It must not be inferred, however, that these men gave their treasures openly to competitors, for we find that great care was employed to cover their processes and to conceal the constituents of these compounds, and at the present day we find it difficult to decide as to
the authenticity of such as Daffey’s Elixir, Helmont’s Elixir, Mynsicht’s Elixir, Vigani’s Elixir, etc., etc. Indeed, many of the old works give several formulæ for preparing a single elixir, and often all the processes were impracticable. Thus we find that with each revision of the older pharmacopoeias and dispensatories these formulæ have been altered
and simplified, and as the outcome we refer to some of our well known tinctures, which have sprung from and are modifications of ancient elixirs:

ELIXIR SALUTIS gave us Compound Tincture of Senna.
ELIXIR PAREGORICUM gave us Camphorated Tincture of Opium.
ELIXIR PROPRIETATIS gave us Compound Tincture of Aloes.
ELIXIR STOMACHICUM gave us Compound Tincture of Gentian.
ELIXIR SACRUM gave us Tincture of Rhubarb and Aloes.

With one exception the name elixir has become obsolete with the foregoing tinctures, and that one, paregoric, will doubtless, in a moderate period of time, exist as a relic of history.
The elixir of the period we have just considered was in reality a compound tincture, or a modification of what we call a compound tincture. Hooper’s Medical Dictionary of 1820 defines the elixir as “a term formerly applied to many preparations similar to compound tinctures.” We find, also, that the old elixirs were disagreeable and bitter. There was no desire to render them pleasant; indeed, the aim seemed to be the concoction of mixtures as nauseating as possible, and the physician who could produce the nastiest, and which were followed by the most severe torture to the patient, seemed the best man. His motto might well have been—
“I puke. I purge, I sweat ’em,
And if they die, I let ’em.”
In connection with this phase of the elixir question, we find that of the elixirs named in the “New Dispensatory,” London, 1770, but one contained sugar or any form of sweetening. This view of the elixir is still prevalent in Europe, and the German Pharmacopoeia of 1879 recognized twelve preparations under the name of elixir, none of which were sweetened. The idea accepted in our country at the present time regarding what should be the attributes of an elixir is strictly an Americanism. The term Cordial would better define the sweetened and flavored pharmaceuticals which we shall now consider historically as AMERICAN ELIXIRS.

Elixirs and Flavoring Plants

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