206: The Fraser Family Recipe for Faking Smallpox

Episode 206:  Best Laid Schemes…

206 titlecard

Need to feign illness with smallpox?  Want to impress your friends, alarm the local harbormasters, and make a bonny prince squirm?  The Frasers have you covered!

The Fraser Family Recipe for Faux Smallpox

Ingredients:

  • Essence of Rosemary
  • Bitter Cascara
  • Mash of Nettles
  • Rose Madder

Method:

  1. Drink a concoction of essence of rosemary and bitter cascara to cause flushing and realistic ill appearance
  2. Apply mash of nettles over the area of skin where the characteristic rash of smallpox is desired
  3. Drink a small vial or rose madder to mimic blood in the urine
  4. Prepare to be quarantined!
a family that schemes together
A family that schemes together…

 

Essence of Rosemary

In Dragonfly in Amber, rosemary was used to cause redness or flushing of the skin to mimic the fever of smallpox.  Rosemary is thought to increase blood flow, though topical application rather than ingestion of rosemary may produce more redness.  Other uses of rosemary include the treatment of stomach upset and flatulence, gout, cough, headache and high blood pressure.  If its mechanism for treating elevated blood pressure is via dilation of the blood vessels, such dilation of the small capillaries may explain a mechanism for flushing and redness to mimic how one might look while febrile.

I handed him the second bottle, this one of green glass filled with a purplish-black liquor. “This is concentrated essence of rosemary leaves. This one acts faster. Drink about one-quarter of the bottle half an hour before you mean to show yourself; you should start flushing within half an hour. It wears off quickly, so you’ll need to take more when you can manage inconspicuously.”

From Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 23

 

Bitter Cascara

Cascara seems to be a popular choice with Claire and Master Raymond!  Hopefully he keeps it well stocked in the apothecary!  In Dragonfly in Amber, the use of cascara had been discussed but decided to be too harsh.

The plan took several days of discussion and research to refine, but was at last settled.  Cascara to cause flux had been rejected as being too debilitating in action.  However, I’d found some good substitutes in one of the herbals Master Raymond had lent me.

From Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 23

However, the cramping and abdominal pain will make for a realistic picture of an ill patient and as we see, Jamie had immediate symptoms just as Claire did when she drank cascara-laced wine.

 

Nettles

685px-Urtica_dioica38_ies
Stinging nettle / source

There is a reason that the medical term for hives, urticaria, comes from the Latin urtica, the word for nettle!  Also known as Utica dioica, the nettle plant is native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa and western North America.  It grows to a height of 3-7 ft tall and has stinging hairs (trichomes) along its leaves and stems which, when touched, transform into needles that can inject several chemicals including histamine, formic acid and leukotrienes.  This causes a painful stinging sensation to the victim and a characteristic rash with red itchy wheals and itchy white bumps.

His fair skin had flushed dark red within minutes, and then settle juice raised immediate blisters that could easily be mistaken for those of pox by a ship’s doctor or a panicked captain.

From Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 23

800px-Nettle_Sting
Rash from stinging nettle / source

 

Rose Madder

The root of the madder plant has been used throughout history as a source for red dye.  Medicinally, it has been used for preventing and disintegrating kidney stones.  When taken orally, it causes red colored urine, saliva, perspiration and breast milk.

Rubia_tinctorum_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-123
Rubia tinctorum with its red colored root / source

A rare and severe form of smallpox, hemorrhagic smallpox, or the “bloody pox”, causes active bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract as well as blood in the urine.  The appearance of blood in the urine would be particularly alarming for those familiar with smallpox!

And should any doubt remain, the madder-stained urine gave an absolutely perfect illusion of a man pissing blood as the smallpox attacked his kidneys.

“Christ!” Jamie had exclaimed, startled despite himself at the first demonstration of the herb’s efficacy.
“Oh, jolly good!” I said, peering over his shoulder at the white porcelain chamber pot and its crimson contents. “That’s better than I expected.”

From Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 23

 

Jolly good work, indeed, Frasers! And well executed by wee Fergus!

 

Questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions for future Outlander medicine topics?  I’d love to hear from you!  Leave a comment here or find me on twitter @SassenachDoctor.

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3 thoughts on “206: The Fraser Family Recipe for Faking Smallpox

  1. Pingback: The Morbid Sore Throat – Outlander Medicine

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