A Series on Bitter Botanicals
New York Times Review of Doctors and Distillers

The Virtues of Aqua Vitae, from a 1512 Book

A very important early book on distillation is Hieronymous Braunschweig's The Virtuous Book of Distillation

It is otherwise known as the Large Book on Distillation, and it was first published in 1512, after the Small Book in 1500. I believe it was first printed in German, then translated into Dutch, then translated into English I think in 1527 but I'm not positive. 

You can read some about it in Doctors and Distillers

The full title of the book is actually: The vertuose boke of distyllacyon of the waters of all maner of herbes with the fygures of the styllatoryes, fyrst made and compyled by the thyrte yeres study and labour of the moste co[n]nynge and famous mayster of phisyke, Master Iherom bruynswyke. And now newly translate[d] out of Duyche into Englysshe Nat only to the synguler helpe and profyte of the surgyens, phisycyens, and pothecaryes, but also of all maner of people, parfytely and in dewe tyme and ordre to lerne to dystyll all maner of herbes, to the profyte, cure, and remedy of all maner dysseases and infirmytees apparant and nat apparant. And ye shall vnderstande that the waters be better than the herbes, as Auicenna testefyeth in his fourthe conon saynge that all maner medicynes vsed with theyr substance, febleth and maketh aged, and weke. Cum gratia et preuilegio regali.

And as you can tell, it can be a challenge to read in this old English style and spelling. 

But in preparation for my Tales of the Cocktail seminar this year, I decided to "translate" from olde English spelling into modern spelling an important section: The Virtues of Aqua Vitae.

The old English text is archived here. For the page scan of this page, it is here.


The Virtues of Aqua Vitae

The aqua vitae is commonly called the mistress of all medicines for it eases the diseases coming of cold. It gives also young courage in a peron and causes them ot have a good memory and remembrance. It purifies the five whites (?) of melancholy and all of the uncleans when it is drunk by reason and measure. That is to understand five or six drops in the morning fasting with a spoonfull of wine using the same in the manner afforsaid the evil humors cannot hurt the body for it will dry them out of the veins.

It conforts the heart and cause a body to be merry. It heals all old and new sores on the head coming of cold when the head is anointed therewith and a little of the same water held in the mouth and drunk of the same.

It causes a good color in a person when it is drunk and the head anointed therewith the space of 20 days. I heals alopecia or when it is drunk fasting with a little treacle it causes the hair well to grow and kills the lice and flees.

It cures the Reuma (?) of the head when the temples and the forehead therewith are rubbed and a spoonful taken in the mouth. It cures Litargiam (lethargy?) and all ill humor of the head. It heals the rosome (rosacea?) in the face and all manner of pimples. It heals the fistula when it is put therein with the luce of Celandine (?).

Cotton wet in the same and a little wrung out again and so put in the eyes at night going to bed and a little drunk thereof is good against all deafness. It eases the pain in the teeth when it is a long time held in the mouth. It cause a swell breath and heals the rotting teeth. It heals the canker in the mouth in the teeth, in the lyps, and in the tongue when it is long time held in the mouth. It causes the heavy tongue to become light and well speaking. It heals the short breath when it is drunk with what when (?) as the figs be sodden in and vanishes all flumes (?)

It causes good digestion and appetite for to eat and takes away the bulking. It dries the winds out of the body and is good against the evil stomach. It eases faintness of the hart, the pain of the milte (?), the yellow jaudice, the dropsy the ill limbs, the gout in the hands and in the feet, the pain in the breasts when they are swollen, and heals all diseases in the bladder and breaks the stone.

It withdraws venom that has been taken in meat or in drink with a little treacle is put thereto. It heals the flanks and all diseases coming of cold. It heals the burning of the body and of all members when it is rubbed therewith by the fire 8 days counting.
It is good to be drunk against the sodein dede (sudden dead?). It heals all scabs of the body and all cold swelling anointed or washed therewith and also little therof drunk. It heals all shrunk sinews and causes them to become soft and right.

It heals the tertian and quartan fevers when it is drunk an hour before, or the fevers become on a body. It heals the venomous bites and also of a mad dog when they be washed therewith. It heals also all stinking wounds when they be washed therewith.


The virtues of aqua vitae


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