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Dragon's Blood Anyone? Our Forefathers Once Threw Back Some Pretty Strong Punch
Aug 19,2009


Photo by Kirsten Obadal/Local Kicks <br /> <br />Dragon's Blood anyone? Howard Pyle and Gretchen Bulova man the counter of the Stabler Leadbetter Apothecary Museum. <br />
Photo by Kirsten Obadal/Local Kicks
Dragon's Blood anyone? Howard Pyle and Gretchen Bulova man the counter of the
Stabler Leadbetter Apothecary Museum.

It once was the place where the likes of Martha Washington, Nelly Custis and Robert E. Lee dropped in for items like Fish House Punch, Dragon’s Blood made from an East Asian rattan plant, or perhaps a milder elixir to shake off a winter cold.
 

Photo by Kirsten Obadal/Local Kicks <br /> <br />Curator Amanda Warner offers up the latest in medical technologies: A Foot Plate Electrode Medical Apparatus, no doubt designed to shock you back awake after consuming too much Fish House Punch.<br />
Photo by Kirsten Obadal/Local Kicks
Curator Amanda Warner offers up the latest in medical
technologies: A Foot Plate Electrode Medical Apparatus,
no doubt designed to shock you back awake after consuming
too much Fish House Punch.

These days, if your desire is to see one of these curious 18th century medicinals, you need to look no further than the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum in Old Town.
 
Or WalMart, for that matter.
 
“Dragon’s Blood is made from an east Asian rattan plant,” explained museum Docent Jim Williams, “and was a popular remedy for fever, ulcers, skin problems and other common complaints.  Today, one can visit WalMart and purchase dragon’s blood incense.”
 
The museum recently hosted “An Evening of Elixirs and Edibles,” a benefit evening for one of Alexandria’s oldest and most historically intact sites.  Tickets ranged from $75 to $1,000 sponsorships, and all proceeds supported the preservation of the museum's oh-so-unique collection.
 
The Stablers and Leadbeaters, original founders of the Apothecary (or "pharmacy" in modern parlance)  were famous for bringing exotic flavors and liquors, like Jamaican ginger and Bay rum, to the citizens of Alexandria.  
 
Foods inspired by herbs and spices in the store were on offer and gala-goers savored beverages designed from imported liquors.   
 
This writer can attest that in the 18th and 19th century, our forefathers were throwing back some pretty strong punch (see attached recipe) made with rum from Jamaica, cognac, and flavored brandies and vodkas.
 
The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum is noted for its outstanding collection of medicinal herbs, shop furnishings, apothecary bottles and equipment, many still in their original location. It also has a spectacular collection of archival materials, including journals, letters and diaries, prescription and formula books, ledgers, orders and invoices.
 

Photo by Kirsten Obadal/Local Kicks <br /> <br />The manufacturing room at the Old Town apothecary. <br />
Photo by Kirsten Obadal/Local Kicks
The manufacturing room at the Old Town apothecary.

The names of famous customers appear in the documents, including Martha Washington, Nelly Custis and Robert E. Lee.  
 
If you desire one of the 18th century’s popular medicinals, you need look no further than WalMart, explained docent Jim Williams.  “Dragon’s Blood is made from an east Asian rattan plant,” said Williams, “and was a popular remedy for fever, ulcers, skin problems, and other common complaints.  Today, one can visit WalMart and purchase dragon’s blood incense.”

Curator Amanda Warner posed for a photo with a medicinal home-use battery that patients would use to deliver themselves an electric shock in hopes of giving themselves a lift.
 
“It has no basis in science,”  explains Warner, “but some believed it would give them more energy.  Really at this wattage it did practically nothing.”  
 
After competition from larger drug companies, the Stabler-Leadbetter Apothecary abruptly closed its doors in 1933, literally locking the door and walking away—leaving a treasure trove of historical documents and remedies that has gained international attention for its vast, intact collection and interior, complete with musty smell in the upstairs manufacturing room where remedies were stored and mixed for patients.

Photo by Kirsten Obadal/Local Kicks<br /> <br />About 20 different varietals of Hemlock Bark, ready to cure all that ails.<br />
Photo by Kirsten Obadal/Local Kicks
About 20 different varietals of Hemlock Bark, ready to
cure all that ails.

The recipe for Fish House Punch, first created in 1732, follows:
 
Frequently diluted with cooled black tea, ingredients were: 1 part sugar; 3.5 parts water; 1 part lemon juice; 3 parts Jamaican rum; 1.5 parts cognac and .25 parts peach brandy.  
 
Clearly not for the faint of heart. 
 
IF YOU'RE GOING....
 
The Apothecary Museum is at 120 S. Fairfax Street in Old Town Alexandria and is open Sundays and Mondays, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  
 
For more information visit www.apothecarymuseum.org


Photo by Kirsten Obadal/Local Kicks<br /> <br />The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum is noted for its outstanding collection of medicinal herbs, shop furnishings, apothecary bottles and equipment, many still in their original location. It also has a spectacular collection of archival materials, including journals, letters and diaries, prescription and formula books, ledgers, orders and invoices.
Photo by Kirsten Obadal/Local Kicks
The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum is noted for its
outstanding collection of medicinal herbs, shop furnishings,
apothecary bottles and equipment, many still in their original
location. It also has a spectacular collection of archival materials,
including journals, letters and diaries, prescription and formula
books, ledgers, orders and invoices.
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