Book Title and Author: Madame Young’s Guide to Health by Amelia Young
[Available for free online as part of the Project Gutenberg. ]
Brief Synopsis: Amelia shares her life knowledge on herbs and plants native to the USA (she was once a Bostonian like me!). She studied languages, philosophy, and anatomy and also studied with a local Iroquois tribe. The goal of this book was to make natural medicine more accessible and easy to understand for other women.
[Picture from Madame’s Young Guide to Health]
Status? : Finished
My overall rating of the book : 7.5/10
How does this book relate to my magickal practice?: Green and Kitchen Witchery are core parts of my magickal practice. I am always excited to delve into new knowledge about these topics!
Things to be aware of: Project Gutenberg added this to their free collection in 2017, but the original work was published in 1858. This is one old book!
I should also note that while this book has some sections that can be enjoyed in a sit-down reading session, most of the information in the book is presented in list format.
The sections on herbs, plants, recipes, ailments are really just a big list. There is a helpful index, where key words can be searched and the reader will be directed to what they need.
However, the sections on: women’s anatomy, collecting/storing herbs and plants, the state of the medicine world back in the day, and Amelia’s other bits of history and advice are all presented in a chapter-like format.
This makes the book both a good resource as well as an interesting read!
Interesting quotes from the book:
FOR A COUGH.—Take two heads of garlic, a lemon sliced, four ounces licorice, half a pint of liquor, four ounces flax seed, three pints of water, boil down to one quart, and strain; take a tea cup full on going to bed. (66)
I thought it was interesting to see that even back in the 1800’s people were using garlic, lemon, and licorice for cough! While this isn’t my go-to cough recipe, these are familiar ingredients that have survived the test of time.
ELDER WINE.—Take sixteen quarts of elder berries, clean from the stem, put with six gallons cold water in a large tub; let them stand two days, then boil them till the berries fall to the bottom; strain and squeeze, and to every gallon liquor add three pounds brown sugar; boil and add quarter pound bruised ginger, two ounces allspice, and cloves, if you like; when cold, add a little yeast; let it work two days, then cork bottle up tight.
I love elderberries and found this recipe to be very tempting. It sounds spicy, sweet, and while a lot of the recipes she shares sound pretty icky, this ones sounded delicious!
To my beloved sex- seeing so many of you daily imposed upon by those who profess to be acquainted with prolapsus uteri, or falling of the womb, and knowing that two-thirds of the married ladies are very ignorant, as regards the structure of their own bodies, and therefore the more easily imposed upon, I will endeavor to give a full description and explanation of the living animal, which we call physiology. (115)
Amelia makes it very clear that this book was written BY women FOR women. She talks a lot about how the medical world during her time was dominated by men. The purpose of this book was to educate her fellow women and give them resources and more power over their own bodies- awesome!
Warnings: This book is OLD! The medicinal advice here should be cross-checked with modern knowledge to be sure of safety. Terminology is also very dated and terms common back then are baffling now.
- For example, in the recipe for “An Ointment for the King’s Evil” I had no idea if the “King’s Evil” refers to a type of ailment or if she is actually trying to cure the evil ways of a king. (edit: googled it- The King’s Evil refers to tuberculosis of lyphm nodes in the neck)
Amelia does dip heavily into religion at times and also has some very harsh opinions on controversial topics (such as abortion and masturbation). While they are likely a reflection on that time period, reading about these stances may be upsetting for modern folks with more liberal beliefs.
Other thoughts/opinions: All in all I thought it was powerful to read the inspiring worlds of an early leading and ambitious woman trying to empower other women and share knowledge.
On the other hand, it is a reminder that every source has it’s bias and that all reading should be done while remembering the situation of the author. Knowledge and opinions change over time. And in the context of medicine, things that were once deemed safe or okay are now deemed not okay- and vice versa!
We can show empathy to those who lived in a different situation and keep an open-mind, but also sort through knowledge presented and remain steady in the beliefs we hold dear to our hearts.
I also can’t help but wonder if Amelia’s views about certain issues would be different if she was raised in the modern day
All in all, would I recommend this book?: Yes* - keeping in mind the warnings above. I enjoyed it and there is definitely benefit in this book (at the very least for an insight into herbal medicine and early American feminism), but it should be read with a selective eye