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.
In Pliny's day the Snail (Limax) was given, when beaten up in warm water, for coughs. It has been used in medicine from very old times. The Romans were very partial to (Apple) Snails, which they fattened in special cochlearia, feeding them with bran soaked in wine until they attained quite large dimensions. Charles the Fifth of Spain died of indigestion brought on by eating immoderately of Snails. In this country the early mediciners likewise prescribed Snails. In the Arcana Fairfaxiana it stands ordered: "For one that cannot make water, take Shell Snayles, and take out the Snayle; wash the shells very cleane, drye them, and beate them into powder; then take ye powder, and drinke it in white wine, or els. in thyn broth".
Halliwell quotes a still older recipe about slugs: "Take the rede Snyle that crepis houseles, and stepe it in water, and geder (gather) the fatte that comes of thame." Mrs. Delaney, again (in 1758), advised that "Two or three Snails should be boiled in the barley-water which Mary takes, who coughs at night; she must know nothing of it; they give no manner of taste".
Apple Snails (Helix Pomatia) such as are cultivated on the Continent for the table, and for medicinal purposes, are found but seldom in England, and only where Roman remains still endure. The first importation of Snails into England has been attributed to Sir Kenelm Digby (1645) for his wife. Also the Apple Snail was brought to the South Downs of Surrey, and Sussex, as well as to Box Hill, in the sixteenth century, by one of the Earls of Arundel for his Countess, who dressed, and ate them to promote the cure of consumption, from which she suffered. Paris alone at the present time uses up about thirty-eight millions of Snails yearly. They did not come really into French vogue until the return of Louis the Eighteenth (in 1814), on which occasion the Bishop of Autun entertained the Emperor Alexander of Russia. This popular host, who was a famous gastronome, had in his service a most accomplished cook, the best in Paris at that time; they put their heads together, and hit upon Snails as the most suitable novelty for presenting to the Imperial guest. Together with this dish, which was handed round, there appeared on the card, under the heading "Escargots a la Bourgignonne," a description of the delicious seasoning with which each shell was filled up.
The same dish was straightway adopted in Paris for the "Dejeuner a la fourchette."Within the last year spurious Snails, made from calves' liver (boiled), have been found in Paris as artificially put upon the market in place of the Helix pomatia, or edible Snail; they are, of course, much to be reprobated. In 1854 M. de la Marr, of Paris, set forth the virtues of helicin as a glutinous extract obtained from Snails, and which had long been given in broth as a successful domestic remedy for pulmonary phthisis. Against consumptive disease of the lungs the Snails are not only eaten, but also crushed in their shells, and rubbed over the back, and chest, the Snail juice being deemed by some superior even to cod-liver oil. Gipsies are great Snail-eaters, but they first starve these gasteropods, which are given to devour poisonous plants, and must be rendered free from the same, for it is certain that Snails retain for a while the flavour, and odour of the vegetables on "which they feed. According to a gipsy, the common English garden Snail (Helix aspera) is quite as good to eat as the Apple Snail, but there is "less of him." In gipsy language the Snail is a "bauri." Some think that those Snails are the best for eating which have lived through the winter.
English Snails are preferred when first soaked in salted water, and then cooked, being pulled out of the shell with a pin, like winkles, to be eaten with pepper and vinegar. For consumptive persons they should be cooked in milk. Collecting Snails is carried on in the French provinces all day long, by men, women, and children, who with iron hooks search for them at the foot of thorn hedges, and under ivy, and, in winter, about old walls. If lucky, a good searcher will gather from one thousand to fifteen hundred Snails. The large white gasteropod is in special demand about Paris, whilst the garden and wood Snails are in common use among poorer consumers throughout all parts of France. In Paris the Escargots (as Snails are called), being dried, are concocted into lozenges for a cough. To help weak eyes, in Hampshire Snails are made into a poultice with soaked bread-crusts. The glutinous constituent, "helicin," may be given in broths. Snails can be made into soup, or eaten a la huitre, with vinegar, and pepper, and salt.
For soup, "first wash them, then put them into cold water quickly brought to the boil; remove the shells; add an equal part of well-flavoured vegetable stock, and directly it boils take out the Snails; thicken the soup with flour, butter, salt, and pepper, to taste; then add the yolk of an egg; boil up again; put back the Snails, and serve" (Tramps' Handbook). Again, a recipe of Dr. Walser for curing chronic catarrh orders to "take five garden Snails out of their shells, cut them up small, and put them into half a pint of veal broth in which a carrot has been boiled; cover up, and let it stew until the Snails fall to the bottom; strain through a sieve, and drink a teacupful daily. The broth will give ease against spasmodic coughing." As a curious old recipe for "Syrrop of Snailes": "Putte House Snailes in a baskett, putte fennel in the bottom, middle, and top of them; cover them very close; lett them stand twenty-four hours; wipe them very cleane with a coarse cloth; prick them with a bodkin, and stop their mouths with Lisbon sugar; putt them in a sieve with their mouths downwards, and sprinkle a little rosewater all over them. Let them stand till the sugar is dissolved, and the syrup drops clear in a dish; take it off for present use without boyling.