I have written on an earlier occasion how people of my parent’s generation seemed to be obsessed with ‘inner cleanliness’ and indigestion. They used to take Beecham’s Pills and Andrews Liver Salts, both laxatives, and available over the counter. Half a spoon of the latter would have a cup of water fizzing furiously. I loved to lean over the cup and let the bubbles envelop my face.
Andrews Liver Salt is a powder that relieves upset stomach, indigestion and symptoms of over-indulgence. Still available today.
Children didn’t escape the ‘constipation’ malady. If you were ever given Caster Oil, you know just how unpleasant it was. That vile lingering taste has been banned from my home forever. We didn’t have ‘naughty steps’ then and I still have a lingering suspicion that the oil was used as a kind of deterrent for naughty boys. “If you don’t behave, you’re going to get a dose of Caster Oil!”, me Ma would threaten.
If I ate a lot, a regular occurrence, she would say that I had tapeworms and produce another remedy … worm cakes, small circles of flavoured laxative chocolate. Mary Poppins had the right idea when she sang that ‘a spoonful of sugar would help the medicine go down.’ Does anybody remember those?
The cakes were made a little more palatable with the addition of a sprinkle of hundreds and thousands. You can still purchase ‘worm cakes’ at any Ye Olde Sweet shops on some high streets. I avoid them like the plague! I remember that, like the Caster Oil, they caused my bowels to cramp up, and I sometimes experienced embarrassing and explosive diarrhoea accompanied by some terrible side effects.
What you find when metal detecting can often evoke a load of childhood memories, not all of them pleasant! The catalyst for that rather long introduction was a find made by an American ‘treasure hunter’ recently. Known as Rabid Digger, he has kindly allowed me to share his bounty, ”My first token of the year and a strange one … never seen the likes of this before!” Here’s the token he found.
The advertising token was for Cascarets, a sweet-coated ‘cathartic’ (i.e. laxative), popular at the turn of the 20th Century. The main ingredient was produced from the cascara or buckthorn tree of the Western States long known to Native Americans as an effective ‘aid’ in regulation. Cascarets were launched in 1894 with a big (for the time) advertising campaign.
Cascarets advertisements included every American as a potential customer: men and women, old and young. Even nursing infants (it was said) would benefit if mum would take them! The real benefit in the new candy cathartic was the banishment of the old remedy: castor oil. It wasn’t until 2002 that the US Food and Drug Administration banned Cascara as an anti-constipation treatment.
The token was also known as a ‘flipping coin.’ Heads, Cascarets logo always win; tails, angel sitting on pot; all going out, nothing coming in. Can’t get more specific than that! The adverts of the time were equally frank.
”Are you keeping your bowels clean with Cascarets, or merely forcing a passageway every few days with salts, pills or caster oil? Cascarets work while you are asleep; cleanse and regulate the stomach, remove the sour, undigested and fermenting food and foul gases … carry out of the system all the constipated waste matter and poison in the intestines and thirty feet of bowels.”
As Nick Ross used to say at the end if every Crimewatch television programme, “Don’t have nightmares!”
1900s Blue Enamel Cascarets Pill Box
Box shows turquoise Blue Scripted Lettering and Lapis Blue Enamel on corners with beautiful scrolled repousse floral detailing. The Victorians would have loved this!
Feeling the Strain?
Recently I was taking morphine, a medicine that caused lots of side effects, including constipation. Maybe Cascarets would have helped me. Or was it a quack medicine and that’s why it was taken off the market?
I read today that constipation cost the NHS £162m in 2017-18. The same report revealed, of which £71m was caused by unplanned, avoidable emergency admissions and £91m was spent on prescription laxatives. In the same year, 71,430 people in England were admitted to hospital with constipation – that’s equivalent to 196 people a day – with women accounting for about 60% of admissions. That’s quite a statistic. Ate you feeling the strain?
For ‘Tender Bowels’