This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
(And See Spirits).
As an ardent spirit Gin is obtained by fermenting a mash of malt and rye. this product being distilled, and re-distilled, whilst some juniper berries, with a little salt (and sometimes hops) are added in the final distillation. The two important varieties of Gin are Dutch "Hollands," or Schiedam, and English Gin, known when sweetened, and diluted, as "Old Tom." This last appellation was got from the fact of Gin having been sold surreptitiously by the twopennyworth, when to supply less than two gallons at a time was forbidden by law. A leaden pipe was passed cunningly through the vendor's wall beneath the paw of a cat, which animal figured outside, the money being put into the cat's mouth by illicit purchasers of the spirit, as then dispensed from inside by means of a funnel through the pipe. The tavern bearing this sign of a cat ("Old Tom") was in Blue Anchor Alley, Saint Luke's. Hollands Gin is almost free from sweetness, and is generally more pure than English Gin, which is of all spirits the poorest in alcoholic strength. Juniper berries, as used in making the best Gin, contain juniperin, sugar, resins, wax, fat, with formic, and acetic acids, also malates; they afford a yellow, aromatic oil which acts on the kidneys, and gives a sense of cordial warmth to the stomach.
In France, and Italy, the berries are eaten raw, fifteen or twenty at a time, to stimulate a flow of urine. Likewise by an old Tract (London 1682), On the use of Juniper, and Elder berries in our Publick Houses, we are told that "the simple decoction of these berries sweetened with a little sugar candy, will afford liquors so pleasant to the eye, so grateful to the palate, and so beneficial to the body, that the wonder is they have not been courted, and ushered into our Publick Houses, so great are the extraordinary beauty, and virtues of these berries." Purple, aromatic Juniper berries grow commonly in England on a low, stiff evergreen Conifer shrub, about heathy ground. They serve to make a capital liqueur, half a pound of the crushed berries being infused for a fortnight in two quarts of brandy, with six ounces of loaf sugar, closely stopped down, then strained off, filtered, bottled, and corked securely. The prophet Job has told about rude wanderers driven forth from among men to dwell in caves and rocks, who taunted him with cruel derision: "They cut up mallows by the bushes, and Juniper roots (bitter, and harsh fodder) for their meat." In much more modern times, as saith The Husbandman (1750), "When women chide their husbands for a long while together it is commonly said they ' give them a Juniper lecture,' which, I am informed, is a comparison taken from the long lasting of the live coals of that wood, not from its sweet smell; but comparisons run not upon all four." In France the Thrush is specially esteemed for table use because of the Juniper berries on which it grows fat.
When this bird is cooked its crop, redolent of the woodland Juniper, is left untouched; whilst to each plump breast an apron of sliced fat bacon is fitted, the bird being then threaded with others on a thin spit, and set twirling to roast before a brisk fire of vine trimmings. Juniper berries, besides being fragrant of smell, have a warm sweet, pungent flavour, which becomes bitter on further mastication. Sprays of the Juniper shrub are sometimes strewn over floors of apartments so as to give out when trodden-upon their agreeable odour, which is thought to promote sleep. The Prophet Elijah was sheltered from the persecutions of King Ahab by a Juniper tree; since which time the shrub has been always regarded as a place of refuge, and as a symbol of succour. The berries are said to have performed wonders in curing the stone. Evelyn has named them the Foresters' Panacea, "one of the most universal remedies in the world to our crazy Forester." In a case of any painful local swelling, rheumatic, or neuralgic, some of the bruised berries, if applied topically, will afford prompt, and lasting relief. Formerly by the use of Juniper berries one Sir Theodore Mayerne (1645) cured patients deplorably afflicted with epilepsy, when every other tried remedy had failed.
His dictum was "let the patient carry a bag of these berries about with him, and eat from ten to twenty of them every morning for a month, or more, before breakfast. The berries should be well masticated, and the husks either rejected, or swallowed. In France the Genievre (Anglice "Geneva"), from which we derive our word "Gin," is made from these berries. But at present English Gin is more cheaply manufactured by leaving them out altogether, and giving the spirit their flavour by distilling it with a portion of oil of turpentine, which somewhat resembles the Juniper berries in taste. Again, much so-called Gin is fabricated out of silent spirit tinctured with Jumper, salt and turpentine. The "Gin fizz" of Philadelphia is a drink composed of Gin, lemon-juice, and effervescing water, with, or without sugar. Gin applied externally is destructive to parasites. Carlyle was cruelly severe on Charles Lamb, against whom he attributed "an insuperable proclivity to Gin." "Poor old Lamb's talk is contemptibly small, and usually ill-mannered to a degree, a ghastly make-believe of wit! A Cockney to the marrow'.
'The famous Dr. Samuel Johnson, though often rough, and surly as a bear, had in reality a tender heart, and his charity was unbounded, though he was never rich. He would fill his pockets with small cash, which he distributed to beggars, in defiance of political economy. When told that the recipients of his money only laid it out upon Gin and tobacco, he replied that it was savage to deny them the few coarse pleasures which the richer folk disdained. Because of its diuretic action in promoting a free flow of urine, whether by reason of its admixture with Juniper, or through its containing turpentine, Gin is of signal use for helping to relieve some forms of dropsy; which affection is not of itself a disease, but symptomatic of obstructed circulation in the liver, the heart, or the kidneys. This being the case, any remedial treatment must of course be directed to the particular organ at fault in every case, whether one of those already named, or the brain, the pleura, or the abdominal peritoneum. Certain signs serve in a measure to indicate the kind of dropsy which is present; that of the kidneys declares itself by swelling at first in the face, and the upper extremities, with puffiness of the loose tissues about the eyelids; that of the heart begins with swelling of the feet, and ankles, which gradually moves upwards; that of the liver is chiefly denoted by abdominal enlargement.
In dropsy from congested kidneys it is always questionable whether diuretics are not likely to do harm by mischievously stimulating these organs already overfull of blood.