Plague Remedy

A quick diversion of the blog to post my plague remedy as found for the Lady Mary scavenger hunt, as posting it directly to FB was ending poorly. 🙂

There were many suggestions of plague cures over the three centuries that the Black Death periodically ravaged Europe. Some medical, most religious, but one enterprising German physician in the early 16th century decided to turn to alchemy to assist his patients. Enter Doctor Caspar Kegler (ca. 1461 – 1537) He was amongst the earliest to promote his ‘secret recipes’ as a sure fire (provided God’s will was with you) plague preventative, most especially his aqua vitae and his “Doctor Caspar Kegler’s Electurary”, made with genuine unicorn horn! Electurary refers to a paste like concoction, generally taken by spoon.

One of Dr. Kegler’s plague pamphlets https://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/~db/ausgaben/zweiseitenansicht.html?id=00028840&seite=1&fip=193.174.98.30

A 1529 plague pamphlet (shown above) of his offered this recipe:

First wash and cut the celandine and place the parts in a pot with as much wine or wine vinegar as will fit. Next take a different glass vessel that is specially fashioned so that it can be turned over on the first edge of the pot, so that its bottom stands at top. Make a gum from beaten egg whites and flour and seal it well. Set it near a fire’s coals so that it dries well at all places. Then place the pot in a circular fire so that the coals do not touch it but are at a distance of a half ell. Let it boil without interruption for six hours. When these six hours have passed, take it from the fire, let it grow cold, and break the seal. Place the plant with the root in a clean cloth and wring it out little by little until complete. Hold the liquid in glasses prepared so that no smell is allowed to enter. Keep this until it is needed.

Kegler, Eyn Nutzlichs vnd trostlichs Regiment (1529), fol. 20v

It is unclear on if this is a cure or a preventative, but he assures us that it has been used to help more than three hundred people over four epidemics and was recommended for monks and country gentlemen looking to treat large groups.

Celandine could mean either of two plants, Chelidonium majus (greater celandine) or Ficaria verna (lesser celandine). The former is part of the poppy family and has been used for herbalism as far back as Pliny as a detox plan. (The 21st century follows a long line of ‘detox plans’, nothing new under the sun.) The latter plant is part of the buttercup family, and was commonly used to treat hemorrhoids, and seems far less likely than the great celandine. The purgative nature of that plant fits in with the common themes of plague cures of the time, in preventing blockages of the natural flow of the body.

So clearly, if one is faced with the black death and you cant’ get your hands on some genuine “Doctor Caspar Kegler’s Electurary!”, you might just have to try some water of celandine, or preferably some antibiotics.

Reference: Heinrichs, E. (2012). The Plague Cures of Caspar Kegler: Print, Alchemy, and Medical Marketing in Sixteenth-Century Germany. The Sixteenth Century Journal, 43(2), 417-440. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24245417

A Modern Herbal: Celandine, Greater https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/c/celgre43.html

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