Patent Medicine: Syrup of Tar and Wild Cherry

We have this bottle and casing of Dr. A. Boschee's Syrup of Tar and Wild Cherry in our History of Medicine Collection.

This product was a patent medicine and dates to the late 1800s. Patent medicines were sold without prescription. They often made grandiose claims about their efficacy, with a single medicine able to cure everything from a stomach ache to rheumatism.

There are no ingredients listed on the label, apart from the title. Patent medicines often contained a range of products, including morphine, cocaine, alcohol, and opium– often more than one at the same time. The phrase “snake oil salesman” came from a patent medicine, “Stanley’s Snake Oil”, which contained no snakes but did have turpentine and camphor.

Listen to Lori Loeb, History Professor at the University of Toronto, talk about patent medicine here: