The Nose, Cold Feet, “Tobacco” Heart, and Convallaria Majalis

nasal-incandescenceOne of 1900′s top contenders for “Article Title of the Year”, in the medical category, must have been The Nose, Cold Feet, “Tobacco” Heart, and Convallaria Majalis, by H.S. Purdon of the Belfast Hospital for Skin Diseases. Published in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science (August 1900), vol. CXX, pp. 110-112, the title may sound like one of those colorful novels about the quirky inhabitants of a small Southern town, but it’s actually a discussion of the side effects of smoking.

The injurious effects of the excessive use of tobacco — both smoking and “chewing” — on the general state of health is well known. There are, however, two symptoms connected with the weakened heart and “soft” pulse, viz.– a congested or dusky red color of skin of nose, generally cold to the touch; and also, especially in winter, cold feet; in other words, a condition due to feeble circulation.

Circulatory feebleness is a worry for sedentary cigar or pipe smokers, whether elderly, infirm, or simply men of leisure, but is unknown in smokers of vigorous occupation. How to combat this weakness of the heart? Calisthenics, maybe. But what really works for Dr. Purdon is the extracts of the wildflower called lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), noted for the elegant drooping of its flowers, its persistence in European myth and legend, and its intense toxicity.

Gerrard, the herbalist and surgeon, A.D. 1570, gives the following curious formula, and which, as well as the subsequent quotation, is interesting in a historical point of view — “The flower being close stopped up in a glass, put into an ant-hill, and taken away again a month after, ye shall find a liquor in the glass which being continually applied helps the gout.” Old Nicholas Culpeper, Surgeon Apothecary, writing in A.D. 1630, remarks in his “Complete Herbalist” — “The spirit of the flowers distilled with wine, restores lost speech, helps the palsy, comforts the heart and vital spirits.”

Purdon also cites a couple more recent endorsements.

But what if you think your heart is fine, or at least that you wouldn’t benefit from ill-defined plant extracts intended to strengthen your cardiac contractions? All you want, to be honest, is to get your nose looking like a nose again instead of a stoplight. Well, that can be arranged.

[F]or the cold feet and in all cases of any redness of the nose, especially in those of the female sex, no matter how caused, a mustard foot bath at night for ten to fifteen minutes, followed by brisk friction, and in winter a “hot jar” in bed is most useful as well as comforting. For the local treatment of redness of nose a sulphur and calamine lotion rubbed into that organ stimulates the skin circulation and does good in restoring a natural appearance to that prominent and important organ.

If nose redness advances this far, it may be incurable.

If nose redness advances this far, it may be incurable.

Unlike most prescriptions of 1900, sulfur and calamine lotion is still used for skin conditions. But now, a sulfur-based acne medication can be marketed as “Pure & Clear”, “holistic” and “gentle”. Lily of the valley is no longer used in mainstream medicine; though still believed to be a herbal remedy, medical references only mention it as a source of poisoning.

As for the “hot jar”, we’re not sure what it is, but it should be applied to the feet.

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