Have you ever thought about what sort of remedies and preventative measures were considered effective against the plague? A few years ago my husband did a bunch of research on this topic, and here are some of the results.
Nostradamus is modernly best known as a prognosticator – a person who has predicted major political and physical events. However, he was first known as an alchemist, apothecary and physician due in large part to his association with Louis Serre. Although Nostradamus is credited with a recipe for a cure for the plague, it’s quite likely that the “cure” was part of Serre’s work. Part 1 Chapter VIII of Nostradamus’ Traite des fardemens et des confitures, 1555, 1556, 1557 — gives his plague remedy (formatting added for clarity):
“To make the basis for a perfectly good and excellent aromatic powder whose perfume is not strange, but confers an agreeable and long-lasting sweetness, though it can only be prepared once a year: Take one ounce of the sawdust or shavings of cypress-wood, as green as you can find, six ounces of Florentine violet-root, three ounces of cloves, three drams of sweet calamus, and six drams of aloes-wood.
Reduce the whole to powder before it spoils.
Next, take three or four hundred in-folded red roses, fresh and perfectly clean, and gathered before dewfall.
Pound them vigorously in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle.
When you are half through pounding them, add to them the above mentioned powder and immediately pound it all vigorously, while sprinkling on it a little rose-juice.
When everything is well mixed together, form it into little flat lozenges, as you would pills, and let them dry in the shade, for they will smell good.
And note that from this mixture may also be made aromatic soaps, cypress powder, violet root powder, aromatic balls, perfumes, ‘Cyprus birds’ and perfumed waters.
And in order to make the mixture even more excellent, add as much musk and ambergris as you either can or wish.
If these two are added I do not doubt that you will produce a superbly pleasant perfume. Pulverize the said musk and ambergris, dissolving it with rose-juice, then mix it in and dry in the shade.
Quite apart from the goodness and scent that this mixture lends to the items and mixtures mentioned above, you only have to keep it in the mouth a little to make your breath smell wonderful all day…
And in time of Plague, keep it often in the mouth, for there is no smell better for keeping away the bad and pestiferous air.”
1 part green cedar sawdust (cypress was not available to me except in dried form)
6 parts Orris root (Florentine violet root)
3 parts cloves
¼ parts calamus
½ part aloes
Rose water as needed
All of the first five ingredients were crushed together to form a powder. As I did not have a wooden pestle, I used a marble pestle and ground the ingredients finely. The roses were crushed to a powder and the aromatic mixture was added. Next rose water was added to form a paste. The paste was formed into lozenges and dried.
The lozenges should be held in the mouth and NOT chewed or sucked. Since the ingredients were NOT made of known food safe products I advise AGAINST putting the lozenges in your mouth.
This was an interesting experiment in Medieval alchemy. The lozenges actually taste fairly nasty to most people because of the modern association of the rose scent with soap. They do smell good though, and smell was believed in Medieval times to keep away the bad essences that cause illness.