Offal - Oil of wormwood


University of Wolverhampton



Nancy Cox and Karin Dannehl

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'Offal - Oil of wormwood', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820 (2007). URL: Date accessed: 19 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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[offill; offell; offall]

One common meaning is 'Fragments, pieces cut off' and in this sense it is found occasionally in the Dictionary Archive referring to TOBACCO as in '5 hogsheads of offell cont nett 683 lb at 6d p lb' [Inventories (1667)], and TIMBER as in 'ffor ffaggotts & Offall Wood' [Inventories (1642)]. However, the term has been noticed most frequently with reference to LEATHER, either as a substantive as in 'One paire of offalls' [Inventories (1731)], or as a descriptor as in 'neckes & offall leather' [Inventories (1685)]. In this context, a late quotation in the OED suggests, offal leather was the name given to all that part of a skin outside the BEND. Most of the examples of offal or offal leather noted in the Dictionary Archive could be of this type; for example 'butts lickred & buts drye offells lickored & offalls drye at the Curriere' [Inventories (1614)].

OED earliest date of use: 1398 in general terms; 1876 in relation to LEATHER

As LEATHER: Found described as at the Currier, DRY, LIQUORed Found describing PIECE Found in units of PAIR
As TOBACCO: Found in units of HOGSHEAD, LB
As TIMBER: Found describing WOOD

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).

Oil of almonds

[oyle sweet almonds; oyle of bitter almonds; oyle of almonds; oyle bitter almonds; oyl of almonds; ol bitt almonds; oil of bitter almonds]

OIL forced out of ALMONDs by pressing either in a PRESS designed for the purpose or in a STONE-MORTAR, although oils were also distilled from almonds. Since oil of almond was much used in medicine, the different types were usually called by their Latin names of OLEUM AMYGDALARUM AMARUM when made from the BITTER ALMOND, and OLEUM AMYGDALARUM DULCIARUM when made from the SWEET ALMOND.

The one 'press for almonds' noted in the Dictionary Archive was valued at £30, which suggests that in London at least the expression of oil was being done on a large scale [Inventories (1716)]. The OED suggests that the term oil of almonds referred specifically to OIL expressed from bitter almonds. However, the Dictionary Archive indicates that both bitter and sweet almonds were used to make the oil. John Houghton drew a clear distinction between the applications of the two types, writing that the oil 'of the bitter is used chiefly as a cosmetick or beautifier of the skin', whilst 'the oil of the sweet is very much used for medicine, for diseases of the lungs and throat,' as well as for tumours and the stone' [Houghton].

This said, early modern contemporaries did not always specify which type of almond had been used. For instance, Houghton wrote generally on the use of oil of almonds as a less acceptable alternative to OIL OF BEHEN, being less enduring [Houghton]. On the other hand, Hess argues that Gerard was referring to oil made from sweet almonds when he wrote that 'The oile of Almonds makes smoothe the hands and face of delicat persons, and clenseth the skin from all spots, pimples, and lentils.' [Gerard (1633, facs. 1975)]; [Hess (1981)]. If she is correct then the application of the two types of oil might not have been as clear-cut as Houghton suggested. A similar view about the merits of sweet oil of almonds may be found in one newspaper advertisement [Newspapers (1787)].

OED earliest date of use: 1579

Simone Clarke

Found in units of BOTTLE, OZ Found among the DRUGS rated by the POUND

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Newspapers, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Gerard (1633, facs. 1975), Hess (1981).

Oil of amber

[oyle of amber; oyle amber; oyl of amber; oyl amber]

A so-called OIL obtained by the dry distillation of AMBER. It does not appear in Lewkowitsch's 'Chemical Technology' [Lewkowitsch (1909)], and may not therefore be an oil at all, but a version of succinic acid, also originally distilled from amber and also known as spirit of amber [Lowry and Cavell (1944)]; [Inventories (1673)]. See SPIRIT OF VITRIOL and OIL OF VITRIOL for a case of similar confusion.

OED earliest date of use: 1551

Found in units of DRACHM, OZ Found contained in a GLASS Found among the DRUGS, rated by the POUND

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Rates.
References: Lewkowitsch (1909), Lowry and Cavell (1944).

Oil of earthworms

[oyle of earth-wormes]

An OIL intended for external use made from earthworms washed in WHITE WINE and then boiled in RIPE OIL and 'good white Wine, till the Wine be consumed' [Recipes (Culpeper)]. Earthworms were described by Culpeper as 'an admirable remedy for cut Nerves', while the oil 'mollifies heat and assuages pains, and is special good for such as have been bruised or hurt in the joints'. This would explain why Sir Westcomb in Mrs Delany's Autobiography used 'oil of earthworms with OPODELDOC to endeavour to dispel the lump' [OED, Opodeldoc].

OED online earliest date of use: 1746 under Opodeldoc

Found in units of OZ

Sources: Inventories (early), Recipes.

Oil of jessamy

[oils jasmin; oil, of jessamine; oil of jasmin; oil jessamin; jessamine and perfumed oils]

It is an OIL acquired with some difficulty from the flowers of JESSAMY. According to John Houghton, substantial quantities of this supposed oil were imported in the 1690s, though much of it, he claimed, was OIL OF BEHEN 'highly perfum'd with the flowers'. However, he described ways of expressing the genuine oil as well [Houghton].

Not found in the OED online

Found described as for the hair, for nourishing the Hair
Found imported from Holland, the Straits by the BOTTLE, CASK, FLASK, GALLON Found among the DRUGS in the 1784 Rate Book, rated by the POUND

Sources: Houghton, Rates, Tradecards.

Oil of jonquil

An OIL distilled from the sweetly scented flowers of JONQUIL, and almost certainly a synonym for JONQUIL ESSENCE.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Tradecards.

Oil of lavender

An OIL extracted from LAVENDER. There may have been more than one method of extraction. Nicholas Culpeper claimed that the CHEMICAL OIL was usually called OIL OF SPIKE [Culpeper (1792)].

Not found in the OED

Sources: Tradecards.
References: Culpeper (1792).

Oil of lilies

[oyle of whyte lyllies; oyle of whyte lillies; oyle of water lillies; oyle of lyllies; oyle of lillies; oyle lilles; oyle alillioru'; ol scorpion lillior; ol lillionu; ol lilioru']

Culpeper notes an OIL made from the flowers of the yellow and white water lilies, respectively Nuphar lutea and Nymphaea alba, which 'cools hot tumours, eases pains, and helps sores' [Culpeper (1653, new ed. n.d.)]. Lilium candidum was also widely used in medicine and may well have been used to produce an oil. One retailer had three types of oil of lilies, 'oyle of Lyllies', 'oyle of water Lillies' and 'oyle of whyte Lillies' [Inventories (1625)], strongly suggesting that several different plants were used to produce medicinal oils.

Found in units of BOTTLE, LB, OZ, PINT

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period).
References: Culpeper (1653, new ed. n.d.).

Oil of mastic

[oyle of mastic; olenum lentissimum; ol. mastichin]

Probably what in modern times is called PISTACHIO - OIL, being cold-pressed from the seeds of either Pistacia vera or Pistacia lentiscus. Lewkowitsch claims that it has 'very limited commercial application' except in the manufacture of SWEETMEATs [Lewkowitsch (1909)].

Oil of mastic sometimes appears in the Dictionary Archive in a Latin form as befits a largely medicinal substance, for example Ol. Mastichin [Inventories (1665)] or Olenum lentissimum [Rates (1582)].

OED earliest date of use: 1440-50

Found in units of LB Found rated by POUND

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Rates.
References: Lewkowitsch (1909).

Oil of mustard

[oil and flower of mustard]

Several oils could have come under the name of oil of MUSTARD. One of them, the volatile or ESSENTIAL OIL, was also known as ESSENCE OF MUSTARD. Oils were also extracted by pressing the seeds of both BROWN MUSTARD and WHITE MUSTARD. Each of these have rather different qualities and may therefore have been used in different ways. White mustard, which contains 25-26% oil is now used as a burning and lubricating oil [Lewkowitsch (1909)], but may have been unimportant in the early modern period as this type of mustard was mainly grown in gardens. Black mustard oil, containing 31-33% oil, is not suitable for burning, but may have been used for making SOAP and/or for culinary purposes [Lewkowitsch (1909)]. It was one of the home-grown oils investigated during Elizabeth's reign as a possible substitute for OLIVE OIL, though it seems to have been less well esteemed than the oils derived from RAPE SEED and COLESEED [British Library Lansdowne MSS 26/47 and 26/55]; [Thirsk (1978)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1844 as Mustard oil

Found in units of BOTTLE

Sources: Tradecards.
References: Lewkowitsch (1909), Thirsk (1978).

Oil of peony

This oil was one of the DRUGS made chargeable by [Acts (1704)]. Presumably it was extracted from PEONY SEED, which are fairly large and fleshy. Lewkowitsch does not refer to oil of peony, so it is presumably of no importance in modern times, while its possible applications in the early-modern period are unknown. Although Culpeper and Pechey each discussed at some length the uses of various parts of the PEONY, neither mentioned an oil [Culpeper (1653, new ed. n.d.)]; [Pechey (1694a)].

Not found in the OED

Found imported from Holland

Sources: Acts.
References: Culpeper (1653, new ed. n.d.), Lewkowitsch (1909), Pechey (1694a).

Oil of spike

[oyle spike; oyle of spike; oyle de spike; oyl of spike; olenum spice; ol spike]

Often shortened to 'spike', oil of spike is usually described as an ESSENTIAL OIL obtained by distillation from Lavendula spica or from FRENCH LAVENDER. Nicholas Culpeper considered that 'The chymical oil drawn from Lavender, usually called Oil of Spike, is of so fierce and piercing a quality, that it is to be cautiously used, some few drops being efficient ...' [Culpeper (1792)]. Perhaps because of its fiery nature, there was an alternative so-called oil of spike. John Houghton suggested that a version of it was commonly (and presumably more cheaply) made by distilling OIL OF TURPENTINE with flowers of LAVENDER. He considered that 'for a great many uses it exceeds the oil of turpentine' [Houghton]. Houghton's belief is supported by the placing of oil of spike among the turpentines and similar products in the official lists of imports that he reproduced in his work.

OED earliest date of use: 1577

Found described as prepared Found listed under COMMON oils
Found in units of LB, OZ, PINT Found rated by the POUND

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Culpeper (1792).

Oil of sulphur

[oyle of sulphur; ol sulphur; ol sulph]

The field of SULPHUR compounds is complex rendering difficult the task of establishing what historic chemists meant. Probably oil of sulphur was belonged to the group of what modern chemists call the sulphur acids, or was some mixture of them. To a greater or lesser extent, they are all flammable and so fit the definition given by Phillips of oil of SULPHUR, who wrote that 'among Chymists' it was seen as 'one of the five Principles of their Art, being a subtil, fat Substance, capable of taking fire, which usually arises after the Spirit' [OED, Oil]. Basil Valentine, a monk of Erfurth in Saxony, in the mid-fifteenth century discovered that the acid vapour produced by burning sulphur in a crucible could be collected in a bell-glass suspended over the crucible, and caught in the dish in which the crucible stood. The product could then be made stronger by boiling it in a glass vessel. It was he who gave this the name of 'oil of sulphur' [Tomlinson (1854)]. In the Dispensatory of 1746, the College of Physicians attempted to change the name in accordance with the proposed alteration of OIL OF VITRIOL to 'Spiritus vitrioli fortis' [Pemberton (1746)]. Oil of Sulphur should therefore in future be called SPIRIT OF SULPHUR, though presumably with the descriptor 'strong'.

Oil of sulphur was definitely not the same as OIL OF VITRIOL as that substance is not flammable. There is also some confusion as to whether it was the same as SPIRIT OF SULPHUR. However, Phillips made a distinction, and one retailer had both [Inventories (1730)]. The acid taste of this so called 'oil' meant that it was occasionally used in cookery to add zest, for example to LEMONADE [Recipes (Nott)] and doubtlessly it used as an adulterant for the same purpose.

OED earliest date of use: 1706 under Oil

Found in units of OZ

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Recipes.
References: Pemberton (1746), Tomlinson (1854).

Oil of swallows

[oyle swallowes; oyle of swallowes; oyl swallows]

In his 'Pharmacopoeia Londiensis or, the London Dispensatory', Nicholas Culpeper gave the official recipe, which was made from swallows, SPANISH WINE and various herbs. But he is incommunicative as to method, except for the instruction to 'make it up according to Art.'. A recipe dated 1834 and quoted in the OED under Oil is more specific and directed the maker to grind 'live swallows' in a MORTAR with the herbs. However, as an alternative to this preparation, Culpeper suggested using MAY BUTTER 'with the foregoing Simples'. Irrespective of the recipe's directions, it was 'appropriated to old bruises and sprains' [Recipes (Culpeper)]. Although found fairly frequently among APOTHECARY stock before 1660, oil of swallows appears not to have been used after 1700.

OED earliest date of use: 1834 under Oil

Found in units of OUNCE

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Recipes.

Oil of tartar

[ol. tartari]

It is an old name for a saturated solution of potassium carbonate and not an OIL at all. In the quotations given in the OED and in some in the Dictionary Archive, it was normally found 'per deliquium' (made liquid).

OED earliest date of use: 1584

Found described by p' deliquium
Found in units of LB, OZ

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period).

Oil of turpentine

[spirit of turpentine; oyl of turpentine; oleum turpentine; oil turpentine]

A volatile OIL, sometimes known as TURPENTINE OIL or as SPIRIT of Turpentine. It was prepared by distilling crude TURPENTINE, and according to Houghton was derived mostly from the FIR. There were many varieties named according to their source, which also varied somewhat in their physical and optical properties. It was frequently listed among DRUGS.

OED earliest date of use: 1597

Found described as FRENCH
Found among the DRUGS in the Rate Books, rated by the POUND
Found imported from America

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.

Oil of vitriol

[oyle of vitreall; oleum vitrioli; ol. vitrioli; ol vitriol; o vitriol]

Oil of vitriol was the common name of concentrated sulphuric acid. It is a transparent, colourless and odourless, dense liquid, of an oily consistency and greasy to the touch. It tastes caustic and a few drops renders a pint of water undrinkable [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)].

The Dispensatory of 1746 dealt with what was then usually called oil of VITRIOL along with SPIRIT OF VITRIOL, renaming the former 'Spiritus vitrioli fortis', and the latter 'Spiritus vitrioli tenuis'. The two were made in the same process by distilling calcined VITRIOL in earthen vessels for three days in a 'reverbaratory heat'. The liquor so distilled was redistilled, this time in a glass retort 'with a sand heat'. The recipe recorded that the 'weak spirit will ascend, the strong remaining behind', which is 'usually, though improperly, called oil of vitriol' [Pemberton (1746)]. Translated into present terminology, this recipe started with GREEN VITRIOL, or crude ferrous sulphide. In the first destructive distillation, sulphuric acid and water with some organic material was driven off, leaving as a residue ferric oxide, then called 'COLCOTHAR of vitriol' or CAPUT MORTUUM. In the second distillation or rectification, the distillate from the first was heated until most of the water was driven off plus some sulphuric acid giving the so-called 'Spiritus vitrioli tenuis'. What was left was concentrated sulphuric acid, still with some organic material - hence the black colour mentioned in the recipe - which was burnt off as the heat rose, giving concentrated sulphuric acid or oil of vitriol, renamed 'Spiritus vitrioli fortis'.

The College of Physicians attempted, largely in vain, to change the name of oil of vitriol. 'The term' they wrote, 'has been established by such constant use, that it might appear affectation in a private author to attempt the changing of it; but the college is not under the same restraint. Therefore the committee having resolved upon a general correction of the impropriety in names, have called this liquor, what is really is, 'spiritus vitrioli', but with the additional epithet 'fortis', to distinguish it from the weaker acid obtained from the same salt, usually called spirit of vitriol, to which they add the title 'tenuis' [Pemberton (1746)].

This method of making what was already becoming an essential raw material of industry by the mid-eighteenth century, was improved first by two French chemists, who noticed in 1740 that combusting sulphur and NITRE, which consists of 48% oxygen, in an enclosed vessel increased the volume of sulphuric acid produced, although John Houghton had already recorded that oil of vitriol will increase in moist air several decades earlier [Houghton]. The idea was taken up by Dr Joshua Ward who patented a method of making sulphuric acid in large glass receivers. He set up factory first at Twickenham and then moving it to Richmond [Patents (1749)]. The method, though it reduced the price, was still slow and hazardous. Dr Roebuck of Birmingham developed a method of using LEAD chambers instead of glass receivers in 1746, which greatly increased production, though for a while the hazards of land carriage meant his product was only available round BIRMINGHAM. Later, when the value of sulphuric acid in bleaching was established, he moved to Preston Pans on the east coast of Scotland. The firm, Messrs Roebuck and Garbett, were soon able to satisfy the home market for this important acid. In 1756 one of their workmen set up his own works at Bridgenorth on the River Severn, where water transport was available [Tomlinson (1854)]. It was not long before there were many works, like that of 'Thomas Dobbs, Maker of Oil of Vitriol ...' [Newspapers (1790)].

OED earliest date of use: 1580

Found in units of OZ Found listed under DRUGS and rated by the POUND

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Recipes.
References: Pemberton (1746), Rees (1819-20, abridged 1972), Tomlinson (1854).

Oil of wormwood

[oyle wormwood; oyle of wormewood]

According to Rees, OIL of WORMWOOD is a volatile oil of a greenish colour, but he listed it without giving any of the details given for some of the others, like specific gravity, consistency or odour [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)], suggesting that either he himself or a contributor was unfamiliar with it. Oil of wormwood is not one of the many oils covered by Lewkowitsch in his work on OILs, fats and WAXes, so presumably it was of little commercial interest by the beginning of the twentieth century [Lewkowitsch (1909)].

In the Dictionary Archive it was found included among CHEMICAL OILs, which suggests it needed more that mere distillation or expression to extract it. In excess, oil of wormwood is corrosive and hallucinogenic [Mabey (1996)], though there is no evidence to suggest that this property of wormwood was formerly exploited.

Not found in the OED

Found described as CHEMICAL
Found listed under CHEMICAL OIL Found in units of OZ

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Recipes.
References: Lewkowitsch (1909), Mabey (1996), Rees (1819-20, abridged 1972).