Historical Archaeology

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 56–64 | Cite as

Lash’s: A bitter medicine: Biochemical analysis of an historical proprietary medicine

  • Michael Torbenson
  • Robert H. Kelly
  • Jonathon Erlen
  • Lorna Cropcho
  • Michael Moraca
  • Bonnie Beiler
  • K. N. Rao
  • Mohamed Virji


Patent medicines were widely used during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Bitters were one important subtype of patent medicines that were typically made from extracts of bitter tasting herbs. Lash’s Bitters was a popular patent medicine that was advertised as an extract of the bark of the buckthorn tree, Rhamnus purshiana, and was sold as a laxative. Analysis of the contents of an undisturbed bottle of Lash's Bitters, ca. 1918, revealed an ethanol content of 19.2% by volume as well as trace amounts of methanol. Potentially toxic concentrations of lead, 295 mg/dl, were also found. Interestingly, the medicine contained none of the active ingredient found in Rhamnus purshiana.


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Copyright information

© Society for Historical Archaeology 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Torbenson
    • 1
  • Robert H. Kelly
    • 2
  • Jonathon Erlen
    • 3
  • Lorna Cropcho
    • 4
  • Michael Moraca
    • 4
  • Bonnie Beiler
    • 4
  • K. N. Rao
    • 4
  • Mohamed Virji
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Pathology, Room A-610University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-PresbyterianPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Department of Pathology, Division of ImmunopathologyUniversity of Pittsburgh Medical Center-PresbyterianPittsburghUSA
  3. 3.University of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  4. 4.Department of PathologyDivision of Clinical ChemistryPittsburghUSA

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