Meg Favreau came into possession of a vintage recipe booklet that was actually an advertising scheme for Lydia E Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound. Sprinkled among the candy recipes were graphic -and sometimes terrifying- testimonials about how the tonic cured various maladies of the female reproductive system. There are excerpts: three recipes and one testimonial. And we get the story of Lydia E Pinkham and her famous compound. It turns out that the candy booklet was only one of many such publications that advertised the product and passed along important information.
Despite the good the company did with these (wildly successful) marketing efforts, 1906 also was the year of another setback for the Vegetable Compound. That was the year that the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, requiring the company to be more transparent about its ingredients. The original Vegetable Compound included black cohosh, life root, unicorn root, pleurisy root, and fenugreek seed. (Black cohosh is still used today to help relieve the symptoms of menopause — studies have shown that it might have some short-term helpful effects). That’s all gravy, but the company was forced to reveal that these herbs were attached to a base of almost 20% alcohol — which shocked the non-drinkers who used the tonic and likely explained why many people thought the stuff worked so well. I notice my cramps less when I’m drunk too.