Food & Drink Magazine

In the Pink

By Patinoz

The further I get into family history research, the more I admire the stamina of my forebears, particularly the women. It wasn’t unusual for them to have up to a dozen children. Some married very young and produced as many as 18 offspring, with occasional twins.

Admittedly, with that many children, there were always older ones to look after their younger siblings and help out with chores. But those mothers must have had some stamina to spend half their married lives pregnant. Last babies were generally born by the time the mother was 45, at least among my relatives.


Recently I came across an old recipe book which was put out by the Lydia E Pinkham Medicine Company of Lynn, Massachusetts. If you think the name rings a bell, chances are you’ll remember The Scaffold’s hit song Lily The Pink, which in turn was based on a US folk song about Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, a herbal patent medicine – with an alcohol component – intended to relieve menstrual and menopausal pains. It was mass-marketed in the US from 1876.

At first it was prepared upon a kitchen stove, but eventually a great laboratory was needed with enormous tanks in which millions of bottles of the medicine were compounded.

The cookbook, Food and Health, probably published in the early 1920s, contained a modest collection of recipes, but it was more of an evangelistic organ recital by “many classes of women, young and old, mother and daughter” who had been restored to health by the vegetable compound. This was the time of Prohibition and no doubt the 40-proof medicine had added attraction.

Over the years, endorsements came thick and fast. In one year alone more than 100,000 letters were received.  The little Food and Health booklet was obviously intended to further spread the word.

Many women endorsing the vegetable compound had found themselves run down, unable to do their work.

One poor woman, wedged between the corn cake recipe and tea biscuits, confessed: “I was troubled with weak feelings, headache all the time, a cough, fainting spells and pains in my back and side. I could not do a single bit of work and had to be helped out to the hammock where I lay in the fresh air from morning until night and I had to be carried up and down stairs.”

Halfway through the first bottle she could walk alone and she got stronger until she could do all her work. “My baby is now six weeks old and is a big fat healthy fellow.

There were girls who could barely drag themselves to school, left weak and nervous by “monthly troubles”.  One mother who put her daughter on the compound said: “She does not have the least bit of trouble now, and we both recommend your medicine. She works in a candy-shop now and seems well and strong.

As well as the Vegetable Compound, there were endorsements for Lydia E Pinkham’s Sanative Wash for “the white flow” – leuchorrhoea and accompanying inflammation. Its praises were sung, unhappily juxtaposed in the cake-making section.

One distracted young woman admitted “even the sound of my own children playing made me feel as if I must scream if they did not get away from me. I could not even speak right to my husband.” Lydia to the rescue.

Another confessed: “Before using Lydia E Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound I was a total wreck. I had terrible pains in my sides and was not regular. Finally I got so weak I could not go upstairs without stopping to rest halfway up. I saw your medicine advertised in the newspapers and gave it a trial. I took four bottles of the Vegetable Compound and was restored to health.

“I am married, am the mother of two children, and do all my own housework, milk eight cows and do a hired man’s work and enjoy the best of health. I also found the Vegetable Compound a great help for my weak back before my babies were born. I recommend it to all my friends.”

The makers noted: “In this generation it is ‘the style’ to be healthy. Our heroines no longer languish and faint. They are all healthy girls and women who do a day’s work or play just as a man does. If some of us are not so healthy as this, we try to be and take Lydia E Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound when we feel the need.”

The original formula for Vegetable Compound included

A similar product is these days marketed in the US named Lydia Pinkham Herbal Compound by Numark Laboratories.

 Further reading:

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