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In 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh, chief executive of the ill-fated Virginia Colony on Roanoke Island, was beheaded for treason against the crown of England. Legendarily, upon being permitted to examine the executioner’s axe, he remarked,
“This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all diseases and miseries.”
Raleigh, like many creative aristocrats of the time, originated a number of medicinal cordials, including Sir Walter Raleigh’s Great Cordial and Sir Walter Raleigh’s Tobacco Water. His Great Cordial involves over 30 ingredients: borage, elderflowers, marjoram, cardamom, juniper berries, coral, crushed pearls, pulverized deer’s horn, musk, ambergris.
Another recipe, recorded some three decades after Raleigh’s death in John French’s The Art of Distillation, is aqua magnanimitatis: the water of magnanimity. French describes the procedure thus:
Take of ants or pismires a handful, of their eggs two hundred, of millepedes or woodlice one hundred, and of bees one hundred and fifty. Digest all these in two pints of spirit of wine, being very well impregnated with the brightest soot. Digest them together the space of a month, then pour off the clear spirit and keep it safe.
It was said to improve deafness.