Salts Of Lemon And Slaying Dragons


My daughter is sick and I am trying to kill time by reading online. I went and read a short thread on Facebook that had been linked to my page (thanks Tony). Salt of Lemons. It is the image posted here. Hallie Larkin had found the note in the Middlesex Journal, Aug 31, 1771.  It was posted on Facebook on the Hive group. I love how much groups like that inspire me to read and learn.


There are other mentions of Salts of Lemon is in Every Woman her Own House-Keeper (1796)-

“When linen is stained by claret or other red wine soak the stained part in hot milk three or four times a day for several days. Or a little salt rubbed on the part immediately, will prevent the stain from becoming injurious, and it may afterwards be washed in hot milk. Spots of Ink will absolutely ruin the finest linen : — •

Lemon juice, and the essential salt of lemon, will by no means answer the purpose of taking them out : the spots will indeed disappear, but the malignity of the ink still remains to corrode the linen and finally produce a hole : it has been recommended in this cafe to lay the stained part of the linen in fresh chamber-lye, for three or four days together, rubbing the stained part every time you change the lye. But the most effectual way is to take a mould candle, or some very pure tallow, melt it, and dip the spotted part of the linen in the melted tallow, then put it to the wash, when it will come perfectly white, nor will there ever be any hole in, the spotted part. This is, given from experience.”

First Newspaper Reference

The first reference I find in ads is in The Pennsylvania Gazette April 17, 1799. It is not on any of the import lists. Makes me wonder if it was being produced here, and if it was not worth the mention.

REMOVAL GEORGE ABBOTT “GEORGE ABBOTT, Apothecary and Druggist. HAS removed from No. 69 to 85, Market street, lately occupied by Owen Biddle, deceased, and has for sale, as usual, a general assortment of fresh DRUGS and MEDICINES, of the first quality.

Also a valuable assortment of PATENT MEDICINES, amongst which are Robberds’s Balsamic Elixir, Church’s Cough Drops, For consumptions. Hill’s Balsam of Honey, Coltsfoot Lozenges, for coughs and colds, Steere’s Chemical Opodildock, for sprains, bruises and rheumatism. Jesuits Antivenerial Drops and lectuary. Keyser’s ditto Pills. Ching’s Worm destroying Lozenges. Gowland’s Lotion for the face and skin.

Salt of Lemon , for removing spots and stains, &c. Likewise Dying and Colouring Drugs, Paints, Oil and Glass. Prescriptions from medical practitioners particularly attended to, and orders from the country executed with care and dispatch. April 15.”

Ass u me

I assumed like everyone else that it was in reference to lemons that were dehydrated and ground up. It is very possible make assumptions when participating in this hobby. I grew up in an area with a lot of citrus. The neighbor had lemon and orange trees in her yard. One year we had dehydrated them and made them into a powder we would use in drinks.

Jumping to conclusions based on our own experiences is very human. It is something I am constantly trying to check myself on. I try to remember just because something makes sense does not mean it is so. These jumps in logic make for some amazing stories. Those stories spread. My daughter and I just had a discussion about how I suspect dinosaur bones were the seed for the tales of dragons  throughout time. I then found I  just made the same kind of mistake.

Adjusting Thoughts

I corrected my leap in logic as a result of an 18th century recipe reference to Lemon Salt in England. It turns out, Lemon Salt has very little lemon in it. It is mostly wood sorrel. Most kids have eaten or chewed on sorrel. It is commonly known as false shamrocks, or sourgrass. It is the pretty bright green “clovers” growing all over the world.

Another Reference

The reference is in and 18th century review of “Annals de Chimie” (a French book written in 1789). The review book was written in 1798 by Tobias George Smollett. It is called “The Critical Review, or, Annals of Literature”.

“The fourteenth volume begins with an account of the methods practised by the peasants of the black forest, in Suabia, to procure the salt of wood sorrel. It is generally known that what is sold in England as the salt of lemons is only the salt of wood-sorrel, flavoured with the essential oil of lemon rind. The error, or the deception, is not great for the salts are nearly the same. We fear , however, from what we have lately observed, that a worse sophistication is sometimes practiced and cream of tartar is substituted in a large portion.

The true salt of wood-sorrel is, we believe, occasionally prepared in this country; but much of it is imported from Germany. and chemists find that the cost of labour and fuel is considerably greater than what is paid for the salt. The true process is therefore of importance. We cannot transcribe the whole, but may observe that the plant is not the acetocella, but the rumex acetoca foliis fagittatis; and that the peasants separate the mucilaginous parts by water, in which fine clay has been diffuse; these afford, in burning, not an atom of alkali. Two crystalisations render the salt sufficiently pure.”

A Recipe

I found a reference to a recipe for Lemon Salts on a website.  Several websites have this exact wording and no citation on where they got it from. If anyone runs into a reference please tell me so I can cite it here.

“Salts of Lemon, as well as Oxalic acid, can be obtained from Wood Sorrel: 20 lb. of fresh herb yield about 6 lb. of juice, from which, by crystallization, between 2 and 3 OZ. of Salts of Lemon can be obtained and used for many medicinal purposes”

Dragon Stories

I love dragon stories,  however as a reenactor trying to share history, it is important that I do not make the mistake of losing history to our own communal history. Just because things have always have been done does not make it the right interpretation. No matter how much time it takes and how monotonous it gets re-evaluation is not a bad thing, no matter what all of us want, history is changing with all the new information becoming available. The way to attract more people to this hobby is through being open to new understanding and change. I strongly believe the reason we see so many young people as progressives is because they want to be accurate, they are the children of the information age.

When I make assumptions and let myself settle I want to kick myself. I think the key to keeping young people in the hobby is being careful and using the information we can find to reform our ideas of the period. Keep kicking ourselves out of assumptions, and question things. Don’t feel bad asking for a source. This whole self evaluation thing came up because of just that. People looking for information. Slay the dragon!

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