Activities from Home #4: Mixing Medicine and Media (Grades 6-8)

Greetings Museum of Health Care Friends! In light of ongoing efforts to limit the transmission of COVID-19, this activity has been modified from the original version for offsite, home use. (Normally, this activity is completed as part of the “Mixing Medicine & Media” education program offered at the Museum of Health Care at Kingston.)

For Educators

Learning Outcomes:

Students will apply their knowledge of the evolution of pharmaceutical medicines in health care and the function of medicinal ingredients to create their own tincture in alignment with historical practices. Students will also apply their understanding of past pharmaceutical advertising methods, and prevalence of Patent Medicine in historical societies to create their own Patent Medicine trading card.        

For Parents

This activity is a fun way for children to discover how medicines were created and advertised in the early 1900s. They will create their own bottled tinctures or “cures” by mixing spices from home with vinegar and then create a trading card to “sell” their product.

Pre-Activity: Welcome to mixing class!

Have you ever wondered how people would deal with their sickness or injuries before the day and age of medicine?

As it turns out, early doctors would use the plants and ingredients that they could find in their local communities to treat their patients’ illnesses. These plants would be used to make tinctures, which were early forms of medicine that were made by dissolving plants in alcohol! Thankfully we’ll be using vinegar today instead.

Many of these old-fashioned tinctures didn’t always quite do the trick, but thanks to modern science, some of these potions are still used today in medications you can find in your local drug store or pharmacy!

A time traveling doctor!

Your job now is to make your own medicinal tincture using one of the ingredients listed below. Once you find an ingredient to make your tincture with, use the ingredient’s description to discover what illnesses you now have the power to treat with your tincture!

The example tincture made for this activity uses Ginger and Nutmeg to relieve nausea diarrhea and pain.

Supplies Your Will Need

 1) 1 Bowl

2) 1 Spoon 

3) Vinegar

4) 1 Herb or spice you can find in your kitchen or from a store. Examples:

  • Ginger: helps nausea, pain, loss of appetite.
  • Chamomile: tea can help with sleep, boosting immunity, skin irritations.
  • Licorice Root: helps sore throats, fighting infections, stomach pain.
  • Mint: helps indigestion, bad breath, clearing of stuffy noses.
  • Dandelion: balances blood sugars, digestion, boosts immune system.
  • Basil: can treat insect bites and stomach spasms.
  • Coffee: increases mental alertness, increases low blood pressure.
  • Nutmeg: relieves diarrhea and nausea.
  • Cardamom: treats bad breath and prevents cavities.
  • Mustard Seed: oil created can relieve pain.
  • Cinnamon: can treat symptoms of bronchitis.
  • Oregano: can help with nail fungi.
  • Thyme: can relieve symptoms from swollen tonsils and sores in the mouth.
  • Garlic: can regulate blood sugar, help with ear infections.

Instructions: how to make your tincture

1) Find 1 of the ingredients listed above from your kitchen or the store to use in your tincture.

2) After you find an ingredient, use the descriptions of each ingredient, to find out what illness your tincture can cure.

3) Gather your bowl, spoon, vinegar and your medicinal ingredient onto a flat surface or table.

4) Pour a few tablespoons of vinegar into your bowl.

5) Add a spoonful or two of your medicinal ingredient to your vinegar mixture.

6) Use your spoon to stir the mixture together.

Need some inspiration! Here are some historical examples!

Activity: Make a Patent Medicine Trade cCard!

Now that you’ve made your very own “cure-all” tincture, it’s time to get some customers into your pharmacy! Tinctures belong to a group of medicines called patent or quack medicines when they were popular hundreds of years ago. A lot of the laws we have in the 21st century to protect patients from being sold dangerous medicines and stop drug companies from lying to patients about what’s in their medications did not exist yet. Instead pharmacists would often lie to their patients about how good their medicine was and what the medicine in the first place. Because there were no laws to stop them from lying, these quacks could promise anything they wanted, get as much money as they could, and completely get away scot free!

Quack pharmacists often used trading cards to advertise their new medicines, which were small advertising cards that would be passed out as flyers. In the late 1800’s, pharmacists would usually aim their advertising at the sick and poor in hopes that they would be easily tricked. Because reading was a lot less common with poorer audiences, pharmacists would use bright images and fonts to capture their attention.

Here’s some examples: 

As an old-fashioned quack druggist that has time traveled to the 21st century, your job now is to make a trading card to sell the medicinal tincture that you have made to a modern-day audience.

Eye catching colors, flashy slogans and outrageous promises about your medicine are sure to grab your audience’s attention… and have them reaching for their wallets!

How to make your trading card

1) Gather 1 piece of paper (any color you choose), 1 pencil, 1 pair of scissors, and pencil crayons/markers.

2) Cut the paper into the shape you would like your trading card to be.

3) Create a name for the medicinal tincture you made earlier, (idea: use the name of your medicinal ingredients to create a new and unique name). Draw the name on your trading card.

4) Use the ingredient list above to identify what ailments your medicine can cure. Include these to advertise your medicine’s abilities on your trading card.

5) Choose 3 or more of the marketing strategies listed here from the Mixing Medicine and Media lesson to include on your trading card:

  • Famous celebrities
  • Catchy slogans
  • Cure-all claims
  • Expert or celebrity testimonials
  • Eye catching logos
  • Bright colors
  • Pictures of cute kids or animals

About the Author

Meaghan McDougald

(Public Programs Assistant, Summer 2020)

Meaghan recently completed an undergraduate degree in history at Queen’s University, with plans to return to Queen’s in the fall to begin her Bachelor’s of Education! Her main areas of interest include the history of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, and the history of psychiatric medicine. Meaghan’s experience of quarantine during the COVID19 pandemic has allowed her to expand her cooking skills, and discover the many hiking locations that Kingston and the surrounding region has to offer.

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