Ask the Past: Cures for indigestion

With Thanksgiving and then the Christmas party season coming up, I quite often find myself eating too much and then sitting up all night afterwards with a sore stomach regretting it. Can you recommend anything for indigestion so I can overeat without fear?

I certainly can - in fact, I can recommend so many things that you will need to go to quite a few parties this year in order to try them all out. The Modern Household Encyclopedia keeps it refreshingly simple, and says that "indigestion may often be relieved by drinking a glass of very hot water". That sounds great - easy to arrange, always available - but do mind the temperature, because they go on to say that "If an emetic is desired, use lukewarm water." I'm not sure what the boundary is between the indigestion relieving temperature and the emetic temperature, but this could be a very risky cure if you don't get it right. Best keep a bucket handy in case the water is a little too cool when you drink it.

Hyleigh's Medical and Stock Book is also quite strong on the benefits of a glass of water. Their recommendation is as follows:

Mix a teaspoonful of glycerine with a wineglass of water, and take it with or directly after each meal until relieved, which may be a few days, or if an obstinate case, about a fortnight.

On a related note, it's possible that the temperature of your drinks is more of a problem than anything you're eating. According to The Ladies' Etiquette Book:

Cocoa is cheaper and much more nourishing than tea. None of these liquids should be taken hot, but lukewarm; when hot they inflame the stomach, and produce indigestion.

What to Do and How to Do It recommends alcohol as a good remedy for indigestion in horses, but in people, sadly, it has this rather less festive advice:

Tomatoes are a powerful aperient for the liver, a sovereign remedy for dyspepsia and indigestion.

In a very rare occurrence, The Domestic Medical Guide actually recommends against something that it thinks is too dangerous:

Quassia has lately been much recommended in cases of indigestion, but from its poisonous effects on insects and small animals, which it immediately destroys, I cannot consider it a safe remedy.

Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, on the other hand, doubles down on the poisons. She lists a number of different remedies for indigestion and colic, depending on your symptoms and the reason you're suffering them. This one is particularly relevant:

For colic arising from partaking of food too plentifully, nux vomica.

Nux vomica, incidentally, is also known as poison fruit, and it's where strychnine comes from, so it's bound to sort you out over the holidays.

I'm sure that will help.

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