|Ayer's Sarsaparilla Victorian Trade Card|
The widely held opinion now is that formulations such as these were "quack" medicines. I don't know the exact sales numbers on Ayer's ... it was hugely popular though and I have not been able to find anything in the old literature deeming it "snake oil".
The ingredients in Ayer's Sarsaparilla were sarsaparilla root, stillingia, mandrake, yellow dock...
and Iodides of Potassium and Iron.
The herbal ingredients in Ayer's Sarsaparilla all had alterative properties. An excellent discussion of alterative Herbs can be found here:
be an "alterative" at that time.
That is, a blood purifier, norm-
alizing metabolism and aiding
in the assimilation of nutrients.
So even though these patent medicines of old are now roundly decried as being "quack" medicines, "snake oil", etc., I look at the ingredients here and I have no doubt that this formula was beneficial. The iodine alone is beneficial... !!
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Some testimonials from advertisements for Ayers:
“Some time since I was afflicted with a severe bowel difficulty. My vitality seemed to be rapidly diminishing, my appetite failed, my tongue was badly coated, and my strength was gone. In this enfeebled condition, I was induced to try Ayer’s Sarsaparilla. I had not taken many doses before I noticed a decided change for the better. My appetite and strength returned, and my whole system manifested renewed vigor. I regard my improved condition as due entirely to the use of Ayer’s Sarsaparilla.”
“I was troubled with a sore hand for over two years. Being informed that the cause was scrofula, I took Ayer’s Sarsaparilla and was cured.”
“ I have used Ayer's Sarsaparilla, from time to time, for fifteen or twenty years past, and have found it to be the best of blood-purifiers. I think very highly of it as a spring medicine. It cures the blood from all bad humors, and imparts a wonderful feeling of strength and vitality."
"Last spring I suffered from general debility and loss of appetite. I commenced to take Ayer’s Sarsaparilla, and soon felt much better. By it's continued use my strength was fully restored. Other members of my family have been greatly benefited by it."
" I was a great sufferer from a low condition of the blood and general debility, becoming, finally, so reduced that I was unfit for work. Nothing that I did for the complaint helped me so much as Ayer’s Sarsaparilla, a few bottles of which restored me to health and strength. I take every opportunity to recommend this medicine in similar cases."
5328. Ayer's Sarsaparilla. Take 3 fluid ounces each of alcohol, fluid extracts of sarsaparilla and of stillingia; 2 fluid ounces each fluid extracts of yellow-dock and of podophyllin; 1 ounce sugar, 90 grains iodide of potassium, and 10 grains iodide of iron. This is from a receipt given by Dr. Ayer himself.