Old Bottles and Cherry Bark

 I love old bottles. We have been lucky enough to find some really cool treasures around the homestead property we bought. This bottle was one of them. It is in perfect condition, and although not as old as some of the originals, it still has a pretty cool story.

The bottle says, “Dr. Wistar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry.”  This piqued my curiosity and I had to research what exactly was in this bottle and when. What I discovered is pretty interesting and I learned something I never knew before.

First off, let me say where in the world, geographically speaking, this bottle was found. My husband and I bought an 1800’s small farmhouse located in what is known as the Leatherstocking region so named for the unique leather leggings worn by frontiersmen, and made famous by the literary work of James Fenimore Cooper. So you can imagine what the area must have looked like in the 1800’s.

Dr. Wistar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry was first created in 1840 by Henry Wistar of Virginia. It was on the market for over 100 years and was heavily advertised on the east coast of the United States and in Canada as a cure for all respiratory ailments including throat, chest and lung disease including consumption! That’s right, now known as Tuberculosis which was the leading cause of death during this time in history. Made from cherry bark extract, alcohol and opiates it probably did a fine job of relieving the pain a person would be experiencing if afflicted by a serious respiratory illness. Allegedly it cost just one dollar a bottle and was quite affordable which made it even more tempting.

Cherry bark is known in history for its beneficial use to treat colds, chough and bronchitis as well as other ailments. It was revered by several Native American tribes as a powerful medicine. Cherry bark was so renowned for its remarkable healing properties that it is even documented that the explorer Captain Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) used it when he fell ill on his travels. He was reportedly back on his feet the very next day!

Today you can purchase cherry bark in dehydrated form as well as extract. One such reputable place to purchase it from is Mountain Rose Herbs ( where their guiding principles focus on sustainability, fair trade, and organic agricultural practices.

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