Of Queen Elizabeth I’s many courtiers, Sir Walter Ralegh was probably the most interesting and unusual. The man was a pirate, a prisoner, an adventurer and eventually an inhabitant of death row. One of his lesser-known claims to fame was as the inventor of Sir Walter Ralegh’s Great Cordial, a fantastical cure that seems to be part magic, part medicine. With over 40 ingredients, it’s a complicated tonic which you probably can’t get through the NHS.
Many of the cordial’s 40 ingredients were those which are in very common use today: lemons, cardamom, cinnamon, mint, clove, nutmeg, juniper, rosemary, mace and oranges. Many of these ingredients, such as cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, formed classic combinations that can still be found in meals today. However, there were also a few far less pleasant ingredients which would produce a nastier taste, especially when all of the ingredients were mixed together with wine. These unpleasant ingredients included:
- One pound of a male deer’s antlers;
- Six ounces of vipers’ flesh, hearts and livers;
- Bezoar stones (a solid mass of indigestible material that accumulates in your digestive tract, sometimes causing a blockage);
- Dissolved red coral.
Making up for the cordial’s foul taste, its curative properties claimed to cure any ailments and evils troubling its drinker. And it probably did have some benefits – certain ingredients in the cordial have been found to have genuine healing qualities, and are still used in remedies to this day. For example, the recipe called for twelve handfuls of holy thistle, which does help with gastrointestinal issues. This ingredient is still used in Chinese medicine in the form of teas.