Anxiety Treatment, or What Would Mrs. Bennet Take for Her Nerves?

Anxiety Treatment, or What Would Mrs. Bennet Take for Her Nerves?

Ever wonder what was available for Jane Austen’s character Mrs. Bennet as treatment for the lady’s “nerves”?

According to Culpepper’s Complete Herbal: Consisting of a Comprehensive Description of Nearly All Herbs with Their Medicinal Properties and Directions for Compounding the Medicines Extracted from Them, comfrey, ivy-tree, and wild valerian are recommended for nervous conditions.


Comfrey served many uses – a wonder herb, indeed. Culpepper (page 98-99) describes the virtues of comfrey as, “The great comfrey helpeth those that spit blood, or make a bloody urine. The root boiled in water or wine, and the decoction drank, helps all inward hurts, bruises, wounds, and ulcers of the lungs, and causes the phlegm that oppressed him to be easily spit forth. It helpeth the deflection of rheum from the head upon the lungs, the fluxes of blood or humors by the belly, women’s immoderate courses, as well the reds as the whites, and the running of the reins, happening by what cause soever. A syrup made thereof is very effectual fro all those inward griefs and hurts, and the distilled water for the same purposes also, and for outward wounds or sores in the fleshy or sinewy part of the body whatsoever; as also take fits of agues and to allay the sharpness of humours.” In addition, Culpepper lists the herb for use of relieving the soreness in a woman’s breasts when heavy with milk, to relieve the inflammation of hemorrhoids and gout, as well as joint pain, ulcers, gangrenes, etc.

Ivy-Tree taken internally is said to assist with bloody flux. The yellow berries are used to counter jaundice. The white berries can be taken inwardly to prevent the spitting of blood. “The berries prevent and heal the plague, by drink in the powder in wine, two or three days together, this drink breaks the stone, provokes urine and women’s courses; and the fresh leaves boiled in vinegar, and applied warm to the side of those that are troubled with the spleen, ache, or stitch in the sides, do give much ease…. It is an enemy to the nerves and sinews, being much taken inwardly.” (Culpepper 201)


True Wild Valerian is found on dry heaths and in high pastures. “The roots has a strong and disagreeable smell, warm to the taste, bitter, and a little acrid. In habitual costiveness, it is an excellent medicine, and will loosen the belly when other purgatives prove ineffectual. It is excellent against nervous affections, such as headaches, trembling, palpitatious, vapors, and hysteric complaints.” (Culpepper, page 378)

This essence is prepared with the finest natural ingredients. Langdale’s was founded in 1745 and for over 200 years has created flavours for a discerning public – all over the world. Goodness Direct

Richard M. Lucas in Miracle Medicine Herbs provides other possibilities. For nervous disorders, in India gotu kola was used (page 134) for fatigue, depression, exhaustion, rheumatism, fevers, skin conditions, stuttering, and chronic nervous disorders. Hops (page 175-176) and wood betony (page 185)  were suggested for nervous headaches. Hop tea can be used for nervous irritability, sleeplessness, hysteria, and a nervous headache. To prepare the tea, boil one ounce of hops in a pint of water. Cover the pot and simmer for 2-3 minutes and then remove the pot from the fire to steep for another 5 minutes. On the other hand, wood betony was used early on as a remedy for nearly 50 different remedies. Place two heaping teaspoons of the dried herb in and cup and add boiling water. Strain the mixture when it cools. Drink a half cup in the morning and evenings for nervous headaches.

The lance-shaped leaves of wood betony have astringent properties; use as a tea to treat migranes or anxiety, and as a poultice for cuts and insect bites. Photo by Steven Foster on Mother Earth Living

Passion flower was used as a sedative, nerving, and anti-spasmodic. In Europe it was considered a calming herb for anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and hysteria. It was described as a remedy that “brings peace to mind and body.” Passion flower would be used as a tincture with 15-60 drops administered in a little water. Meanwhile German chamomile maintains a reputation for soothing nerves, strengthening digestion, and relieving some forms of colic. Place two teaspoons of the dried flower heads in a cup and add boiling water to make chamomile tea. Cover the cup so the tea can steep for 5-10 minutes. A North American plant known as skullcap (also mad dogweed) is also a remedy for nervousness. To make the tea add one ounce of the herb to a pint of boiling water. Remove the mixture from the fire and cover it with a lid. Let it stand until lukewarm. Strain the mixture. A half cup is consumed at a time.

The Passionflower: The Sacred Symbo

Recently, one of the members of The Beau Monde, the Regency chapter of Romance Writers of America spoke of orange flower water on the loop. Kathryn Kane is the author of the information below: “During the course of my research I discovered that orange flower water was: … regularly prescribed for those with nervous dispositions as a remedy for ‘neuralgic headache’ and palpitations of the heart. Some physicians and apothecaries prescribed orange flower water for a host of minor ‘hysteroidal’ disorders which they considered to be the result of self-indulgence and indolence. … in large doses, orange flower water was often given as a sleeping draught. The full post is HERE:  if you would like more detail on how orange flower water was made and used during the Regency.  And, not only is it totally natural, it is something that was commonly found in the kitchens orpantries of many homes during the Regency.”

This essence is prepared with the finest natural ingredients. Langdale’s was founded in 1745 and for over 200 years has created flavours for a discerning public – all over the world. Goodness Direct
Skullcap Seeds

One might also consider Peruvian bark, myrrh and cinnamon as all natural treatments for anxiety/depression. These were used for centuries.

Any others of which you are aware? Leave a comment below. 

18 Responses to Anxiety Treatment, or What Would Mrs. Bennet Take for Her Nerves?

  1. I do love reading these and learning something something new. I couldn’t help chuckling a bit this time with the passages from the book. I’ve read or at least browsed through books from this time period and had no problem but this time no go. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’m reading this at 2:30 in the morning and have been up since 10 am yesterday with no rest in between. Ah well, thanks for the history lesson and small amusement.

    • Culpepper lived in the 1600s, Amanda, rather than the 1800s. Perhaps that was the difference.
      Nicholas Culpeper (18 October 1616 – 10 January 1654) was an English botanist, herbalist, physician, and astrologer. His published books include The English Physitian (1652) and the Complete Herbal (1653), which contain a rich store of pharmaceutical and herbal knowledge, and Astrological Judgement of Diseases from the Decumbiture of the Sick (1655), which is one of the most detailed documents known on the practice of medical astrology in Early Modern Europe.
      Culpeper spent the greater part of his life in the English outdoors cataloging hundreds of medicinal herbs. He criticized what he considered the unnatural methods of his contemporaries, writing: “This not being pleasing, and less profitable to me, I consulted with my two brothers, Dr. Reason and Dr. Experience, and took a voyage to visit my mother Nature, by whose advice, together with the help of Dr. Diligence, I at last obtained my desire; and, being warned by Mr. Honesty, a stranger in our days, to publish it to the world, I have done it.”

  2. As one who uses various herbs on a regular basis, and can vouch that some of them are actually quite effective, I found your post fascinating. My husband tried Valerian for insomnia and it didn’t help him a bit. I took a capsule and it knocked me out for 12 hours but left me feeling sluggish and drowsy for a full day. I won’t take it. Even with herbs, results do vary!

    • Herbal treatments got me through menopause. I could not take anything the doctor wished to prescribe. Even now, I use niacinamide for a skin condition where the white blood cells rise to the surface of the skin.

  3. I’m in Culpepper a lot for some thing I’m trying to write, in which a surgeon’s apprentice insists his patient’s sister read parts of the book after finding out she has her own ideas about how her brother ought to be cared for – funnily, they argue about comfrey. You’ve got to love Culpepper just for the writing on its own. I’m a tech writer with a rather dry job and was surprised to find medical books of the past were often opinionated and snarky, and so, not long after loaning the book, the hero finds himself dubbed Mr. Skepticism.

    “Well, I’m sure Mr. Skeptic would suggest this,” he said.
    “It’s Mr. Skepticism,” she said.
    “Why is that? Mr. Skeptic or Mr. Skeptical would make more sense.”
    “Dr. Culpeper called his ‘consultants’ Dr. Reason and Mr. Honesty, not Dr. Reasonable and Mr. Honest.”
    He laughed. “You would have me representing the worst of the company.”
    “I imagine Mr. Skepticism to be the black-sheep cousin of Dr. Reason. It’s not that he’s a bad sort, but he makes uncomfortable company, and he may be just a little too happy when he’s right.”

  4. Very interesting. My husband takes Valerian to help him sleep and it has the most awful smell, though I will say it helps him. I can imagine that the Apothecary had all kinds of remedies that maybe didn’t make it into the book. Thanks, Jen

    • Jen, WebMD says, “Valerian is most commonly used for sleep disorders, especially the inability to sleep (insomnia). It is frequently combined with hops, lemon balm, or other herbs that also cause drowsiness. Some people who are trying to withdraw from the use of “sleeping pills” use valerian to help them sleep after they have tapered the dose of the sleeping pill. There is some scientific evidence that valerian works for sleep disorders, although not all studies are positive.

      “Valerian is also used for conditions connected to anxiety and psychological stress including nervous asthma, hysterical states, excitability, fear of illness (hypochondria), headaches, migraine, and stomach upset.

      “Some people use valerian for depression, mild tremors, epilepsy, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

      “Valerian is used for muscle and joint pain. Some women use valerian for menstrual cramps and symptoms associated with menopause, including hot flashes and anxiety.

      “Sometimes, valerian is added to bath water to help with restlessness and sleep disorders.”

    • Good morning. Culpepper’s book was used at the time Austen lived. I am not certain about some of those listed in the books, but I know comfrey and valerian are still sometimes recommended by herbalists, but for reasons a bit different than “Mrs. Bennet’s nerves.”
      Valerian is an herbal medicine made from the root. Valerian is most commonly used for sleep disorders, especially the inability to sleep (insomnia). It is frequently combined with hops, lemon balm, or other herbs that also cause drowsiness.
      Comfrey, while considered an important herbal medicine, is controversial due to its toxic components which led to the banning of oral products.
      The dilemma of comfrey is how to weigh the virtues of Comfrey oil while considering the safety concerns that surround it. It has exhibited the potential to treat skin concerns and pain when used topically.Many of the beneficial properties of comfrey are attributed to its high content of allantoin, a substance that promotes new skin cell growth, along with other substances that reduce inflammation and maintain healthy skin. Comfrey ointments have been used to heal bruises and pulled muscles and ligaments.
      Previously, comfrey was used in its tea form to treat stomach problems, as well as ulcers, heavy menstrual periods, diarrhea, bloody urine, persistent cough, and even cancer and chest pain. But experts have raised the alarm on consuming it, as it contain toxic substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which damage the liver and can lead to fatality.
      In the United States, comfrey is sold only in creams and ointments; countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Germany have also banned the sale of comfrey-containing oral products.
      But this isn’t to ignore the potential healing effects of a common comfrey product, which is its oil. Comfrey oil can help you naturally address skin issues such as scratches, rash (including diaper rash), bug bites (particularly spiders), and shallow wounds. It is also deemed helpful easing pain from arthritis, muscle aches, and soreness.

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