Civil War: Confederate Soldier’s Way To Relieve Asthma

As a writer of historical novels, I love to run across remedies used in past centuries. A wonderful book, Confederate Receipt Book, contains a few cures from the Civil War era.

A recipe to relieve asthma called for stramonium leaves (also known as Jamestown weed) to be gathered before the frost and dried in the shade.

The dried leaves were then saturated in a “pretty strong solution of saltpetre.” There is no indication given as to how much saltpeter (a white powder with a salty taste) makes a strong solution. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, saltpetre is used in the preservation of meat as well as in the production of explosives and fertilizers.

The Confederate soldiers then smoked the saturated leaves. Inhaling the vapors helped loosen lung congestion. The soldiers cautioned that the fumes could strangle the patient if “taken too freely.”

It is not stated whether the soldiers rolled the leaves into a cigarette or inhaled them over a fire.

I wanted to know if stramonium was still being used to treat asthma these days.

This plant is considered poisonous if improperly prepared. In modern times, the juice is taken from the plant before seeds and flowers sprout. Then the juice goes through a process of dilution process. This removes the poisonous part.

It is used today to treat a variety of complaints, including asthma. It relieves chest tightness and a wheezy cough.

The home remedy sites stress that the plant is poisonous and must be prepared properly.

The soldiers also gave specific instructions about stramonium, such as drying the leaves in the shade and gathering them before the frost. They seemed to realize that the plant must be handled carefully to work best.

I don’t suggest following the soldiers’ recipe. There are too many warnings about the poisonous plant. As always, consult physicians before using this medicinally.

I use these old cures only in my historical writing. I have not followed this recipe or tried the cure. I’m not recommending it. This is merely meant to be fun and educational.

-Sandra Merville Hart


A Compilation of Over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the Times. Confederate Receipt Book, Applewood Books, 1863.

“Homeopathy: Stramonium, Thorn Apple/Devil’s-apple,”, 2017/03/11

“Saltpetre,” Cambridge University Press, 2017/03/11

“Stramonium/Stram,” Home Remedy Central, 2017/03/11