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Effective Remedies

A Remedy Approved

While we do not recommend that you try any of these recipes at home, there is much testimony to the effectiveness of some of them. Not only were the same or similar recipes found in many different womens recipe books, they regularly had marginal notations next to them indicating that they were effective. Often recipes were given to someone after having been tested, reflected in the fictional example of the recipes that Shakespeares Helena receives from her physician father. Other women provide evidence of experimenting in their own practice by writing notes in the margins or revising their own recipes. Recipes may then have undergone further experimentation by those receiving them.

Elizabeth Grey. Choice manual. London, 1682

The posthumous publication of A Choice Manuall demonstrates well how a recipe does not die with the person who originates it, and how women’s recipes did not necessarily remain within the female sphere. The book pictured above contains “Several experiments made of the Countess of Kents Powder . . . by a Professor of Physic,” thereby recording the continued use of the countess’s powder as it is taken into someone else’s practice.  The practitioner adds his experience to the recipe, recording differences of dosage for various ages and an array of additives to suit a variety of ailments.


Some recipes bear the notation “probatum est”—Latin for “It is proved”—or the English version “proved.” Women not only shared recipes, but experimented with them and often noted what worked, or who had success using the remedy.

Francis Wheatley. Helena and Count Bertram before the King of France. Oil on canvas, 1793

Grenville Family. Cookery and medicinal recipes of the Granville family. Manuscript, ca. 1640-ca. 1750

Katherine Packer. A book of very good medicines for several diseases wound and sores both new and old. Manuscript, 1639

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