202: Master Raymond’s Apothecary: Catnip and Crocodiles

202: Not in Scotland Anymore

202 titlecard

There are a few interesting medical discussions to be had in this episode but we’ve got to start with the amazing Master Raymond!

We are introduced to the much loved Master Raymond and his amazing apothecary.  I do hope we see more of this amazing space.

apothecary interior with crocodile

He is exactly as expected from Claire’s description:

For Master Raymond resembled nothing so much as a large, genial frog.  A touch over four feet tall, barrel-chested and bandy-legged, he had the thick, clammy skin of a swamp dweller, and slightly bulbous, friendly black eyes.  Aside from the minor fact that he wasn’t green, all he lacked was warts.

From Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon


master raymond

Jamie suffers from terrifying nightmares as he works through healing from his experiences at Wentworth. Claire has sought out Master Raymond in hopes of obtaining something to help him sleep.

Claire initially requests Nepeta cataria, which is actually catnip!

Nepeta cataria / source

The flowering tops of catnip are medicinal and known to have calming effects on humans.  It has been used for insomnia, anxiety, gastrointestinal ailments and migraine headaches.  Catnip is famous for the euphoric state it induces in cats, though some question whether this same effect occurs in humans.

Instead, Master Raymond suggests an alternative: Valeriana officinalis combined with a touch of Humulus lupulus.  I suspect he has chosen a more potent medicine for Jamie.

got em

Known as “herbal Valium,” due to its ability to calm the central nervous system and relax muscles, valerian root acts in a similar fashion to benzodiazepines like Valium and Ativan. These enhance the effect of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain, resulting in sedative, hypnotic (sleep-inducing) and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects.  Claire, of course, is familiar with valerian root as this is the same herb she used at The Gathering to sedate Angus and Rupert so she could attempt escape from Leoch!

Valeriana officinalis / source

Master Raymond has combined the valerian root with Humulus lupulus, or common hops.

Humulus lupulus / source

Hops is a species of flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family, along with Cannibis.  In addition to its use in most beers, when taken orally, the dried fruiting part of the plant provides sedative and hypnotic effects.  Indeed, Master Raymond knows his business!

What about Master Raymond’s “Sang de Crocodile” (crocodile blood)?  While his was not true crocodile blood and was used more for impressing the French nobility, perhaps by claiming to enhance virility, freeze-dried crocodile blood capsules are sold in Asia today as a supplement.  Supporters of it claim it increases hemoglobin levels in rats and is advertised as a supplement for patients with anemia.

sang de crocodile

More interesting though is the fact that crocodile blood actually holds promise for the development of medications to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria!

Crocodiles sustain significant wounds in the course of hunting and killing prey and in fights with each other for territory, food and mating rights, but as scientists noted, despite these significant wounds, the crocodiles return to their habitat of bacterial laden swamp water and never seem to become ill from wound infections.  Researchers took samples of crocodile blood and exposed it to 23 different strains of bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant MRSA.  It turns out that while human blood could only kill off 8 of these strains, the crocodile blood killed ALL of the samples of bacteria!   Further tests showed it was also effective at killing HIV!  The potential application of this in developing antibiotics is pretty amazing.


That Master Raymond is a man ahead of his time.  Or before it?  Hmm…


Further Reading:

BBC News – Crocodile Blood Antibiotics Hope 19 August 2005


104: Quite a Show of Force for a Pig Hunt!

Episode 104:  The Gathering

All of Clan Mackenzie is making their way to Leoch for the Gathering and Claire hopes the crowds and excitement of this will mean an easy escape for her.  She busies herself with learning the lay of the land and leaving crumbs for herself in the form of hair ribbons, all under the guise of childsplay as the sentries watch on.

If only she could figure out a way to lose Angus and Rupert who have been tasked with watching her every move.

claire's shadows
Claire’s ever-present shadows / source: Starz

Geillis surprises Claire in her surgery one day amidst all of the preparations.  She has brought a bottle of port Claire requested.  Geillis notices that Claire seems to have a very large supply of valerian root and explains that she doses her husband with it so make him sleep so in turn she can too.  Claire’s plan for diversion for her ever-present shadows Angus and Rupert is becoming clear.

Valerian root is known as “herbal Valium” due to its ability to calm the central nervous system and relax muscles.  In fact, valerian root contains a chemical that activates parts of the brain similar to those affected by benzodiazepines like Valium and Ativan.  Benzodiazepines act by enhancing the effect of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobytryic acid), resulting in sedative, hypnotic (sleep-inducing), anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and muscle relaxant effects.

Claire indeed has a plan.  She has added valerian root to the port she has obtained from Geillis.  The addition of a sedating medication like valerian root to alcohol will make the sedative effect even stronger.  After Angus takes his oath before Colum, Claire begins to head back to the surgery, to prepare for the hunt, she says.  Poor Angus does not want to miss out on the festivities and begs Claire to stay at least until he “bags a lass for the evening.”  Our smart Claire seems to surrender and takes a swig of the port she has in her pocket and then offers it to Angus but she spits out the doctored port while Angus is too busy drinking a good half of the bottle in one swig to notice.

claire offers port
Bottoms up! / source:  Starz

Ah, Angus.  Gotta love him.

“That’s no Rhennish!”
“Its port. Very expensive.”
“Port. ‘Tis very strong.”
“Canna seem to keep my legs!”
“Its a sedative.”
“Is that Spanish?”

silly angus drinking
‘Tis verra strong!  / source: Starz

Claire offers Angus the bottle of port to share with his friends and he is quickly off into the crowd.  Claire can now escape to the surgery to gather her supplies and disappear from Leoch.

But alas, her plans again are foiled when she literally stumbles upon Jamie in the stable.  He points out that there is no hope of escape tonight, when Dougal has reinforced the guard around the castle during the Gathering.  Back to the castle they head and Jamie is unexpectedly presented to take his oath as well.


Early the next morning after the oath taking, the men are preparing for the boar hunt. Claire in unimpressed. “Quite the show of force for a pig hunt.” Little does she know… A healer will be needed!

source:  Starz

We spy the hairy beast and its sharp tushes (actually the long, sharp, continuously growing canine teeth of the animal) and shortly after, we have our first victim. A hunter is off of his horse with a leg wound.  Claire examines him and reports that the wound needs to be sutured but as she does not have any sterile instruments out here, he should be brought back to the castle for Mrs Fitz to provide hot broth and blankets and await her return to suture up the leg.

Asepsis, or performing medical procedures under sterile conditions, was not developed until the 19th century.  Claire would be well versed in it, of course, having trained in the 20th century, and while her Highland companions likely think her ideas bizarre, they have a gift in Claire who is likely making a significant improvement to the outcomes of their traumatic injuries.


Claire then hears screaming and is off running.  She hears the grunting of the boar.  It is near.  The animal comes charging at Claire but she is saved by a clean shot from Dougal, dropping the beast at her feet.  They then hear the cries of an injured man.

dougal holds geordie
source:  Starz

Claire finds Dougal holding a dying Geordie.  He has been gored and has a large wound to his thigh.  Blood is rushing out of it in a steady flow, but not spurting.  Claire feels confident it is not an arterial bleed and likely can be stopped.  A tourniquet is applied above the leg wound, but then we see the extent of his other injuries.  Poor Geordie suffers from a substantial penetrating wound to his abdomen, which has resulted in eviscerated and punctured small intestine.  This is a life-threatening injury, even now, and Claire knows that with this horrifying injury, Geordie will surely die of infection.  Even at the end of World War 2, with the availability of antibiotics and surgical repair, mortality from penetrating abdominal trauma was as high as 36%.  Perforation of the intestine leads to bacterial contamination of the abdominal cavity.  This in turn leads to sepsis, multi organ failure and death.  Indeed, during that era, mortality of penetrating abdominal wounds with involvement of the small bowel was about 100%.

Dougal loosens the leg tourniquet and allows Geordie to bleed out.  He dies in the fresh air, quickly, of blood loss, rather after spending days in the castle with a festering abdominal wound and a slow painful death.

A better death, perhaps, was what Dougal was giving him – to die cleanly under the sky, his heart’s blood staining the same leaves, dyed by the blood of the beast that killed him.
From Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 10.


The somber hunting party arrives back at Leoch amidst a game of shinty.  Claire watches on, no doubt counting the casualties she will soon see in her surgery as all of the men limp inside at the conclusion of the game.

Claire watching shinty
Counting the shinty casualties /  source: Starz

Dougal arrives in the surgery and, in his own way, praises Claire’s healing work with Geordie and the other residents of Leoch.  He intends to bring her along on the rent party. “I think it would be wise to have a healer along.  Especially one that does well under strain and there’s a lot of that on the road.”

Claire sees this as an opportunity to escape.  Ever the optimist, little does she know what lies ahead.



Malick, MJ.  (2014).  21st Century Herbal:  A Practical Guide for Healthy Living Using Nature’s Most Powerful Plants.  New York, NY:  Rodale.
Orr, S.  (2014).  The New American Herbal.  New York, NY:  Clarkson Potter.
Porter, R (Ed.).  (1996).  The Cambridge Illustrated History of Medicine.  Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press.
Pruit, BA. (2006). Combat Casualty Care and Surgical Progress. Ann Surg, 243(6): 715-729.
Rignault, DP.  (1992).  Abdominal trauma in war.  World Journal of Surgery, 16, 940-946