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Definition and History.—The term "Elixir" is an heirloom, and comes to us from the alchemist. Among the alchemical vagaries none stand more conspicuous than the Elixir Vitae. The substance designated in alchemy as an elixir may be defined clearly, in the language of Boerhaave, as "An artificial body of such virtue and efficacy as that, being applied to any body of any of the three kingdoms, it shall improve its natural inherent virtues, so as to make it the most perfect thing in its kind. Thus, for instance, if applied to the human body, it will become an universal medicine, and make such a change, both in the solid and fluid parts thereof, as shall render it perfectly sound, and even maintain it in that state, until the parts, being slowly worn away and spent, death gently, and without a struggle, takes possession."

Then came Paracelsus (b. 1493 d. 1541) who is generally accredited with instituting a new era in the study. He demonstrated that alchemy, which flourished in his day, and of which he was a zealous student, could be made of value to the physician. He originated the famous concoction "Elixir Proprietatis," made of saffron, aloes, and myrrh, claiming that who ever used it would "live as long as Methuselah;" then he died in his 47th year. Following this came the era of proprietary elixirs, all of them nasty and probably all frauds. Among these we may name Doffey's Elixir, Helmont's Elixir, Mynsicht's Elixir, Vigani's Elixir, etc. These naturally were imitated and gave lines of elixirs to the early pharmacopoeias. They were first introduced under fanciful names, which spoke of their uses, not of their constituents. They were all very disagreeable and usually bitter, being, in fact, compound tinctures. Finally, the original name became secondary and thus this class of compound tinctures, favorites in medicine until recently, were established. The following list will give the original (elixir) name of a few of these compounds and the resultant compound tincture, as it is still found in our pharmacopoeias:

  • Elixir Salutis gave us Compound Tincture of Senna.
  • Elixir Paregoricum gave us Camphorated Tincture of Opium.
  • Elixir Proprietatis gave us Compound Tincture of Aloes.
  • Elixir Stomachicum gave us Compound Tincture of Gentian.
  • Elixir Sacrum gave us Tincture of Rhubarb and Aloes.

Gradually the physician and pharmacist, under the march of civilization, revolted against these villainous concoctions. No aim had been made toward making them palatable; indeed, the contrary seemed evident. The London New Dispensatory (1770), however, named one elixir containing sugar. But at present, in European pharmacy and medicine, an elixir is still an alcoholic liquid free from sugar.

In 1859, Mr. Alfred B. Taylor, of Philadelphia, published in the American Journal of Pharmacy a formula for a sweetened "Elixir of Calisaya." The Druggists' Circular of the same year states that no previous formula had been published. Immediately manufacturers of pharmaceutical preparations threw lines of sweetened elixirs on the market. These were really cordials. In 1870 to 1874, the elixir mania was at its height. In 1871, Prof. J. Faris Moore, M. D., representing the American Pharmaceutical Association, on "Unofficial Preparations," included formulae for several of these popular mixtures. In 1872, Prof. C. Lewis Diehl read a paper on the elixir subject before the Louisville College of Pharmacy, which was published generally. The agitation was continued in the American Pharmaceutical Association, but finally the elixir craze died out, not, however, until a few of its members received recognition in the U. S. P. The American Elixir is a cordial, made of sugar, spirit, flavors, and drugs. It is not as disagreeable as the European Elixir and in that regard maybe entitled to preference. Eclectic physicians have always opposed elixirs. In the following pages will be found formulae from the National Formulary, for those most important. For more extensive lists the reader is referred to the National Formulary, and Elixirs, by J. U. Lloyd.

King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.