Sandburg's Hometown

May 12, 2014

Hartshorn's Syrup of Rhubarb Tonic

Spring Tonic

by Barbara Schock

Early in the nineteenth century, the medical profession had a theory about health which held that blood was of four kinds: high, low, thick and thin. High blood referred volume rather than pressure. It resulted in headaches and nosebleeds. Low volume of blood in the body was thought to contribute to fatigue and a poor complexion. Thick blood was viscous and contained too many waste products. Thin blood meant that an individual might feel cold and be frail.

Blood was thought to thicken during the winter when the less affluent were forced to stay indoors most of the time. Their diet was limited to salt pork, beans and root vegetables such as potatoes, rutabagas and carrots as well as cabbage.

Just as the sap in trees began to rise in the spring, humans needed to promote health by drinking a spring tonic. Early growing plants such as dandelions, rhubarb and various weeds were sources of vitality and blood cleansing. Dandelion leaves were made into salads, cooked like spinach or dried for making tea. Rhubarb stalks were cooked into a sauce or baked in pies and cakes. (The leaves of rhubarb were not eaten as they were thought, correctly, to be poisonous. Now we know they contain oxalic acid.)

A variety of spices such as ginger, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom, were made into tea. Sassafras, a weedy tree, was used by people in the Appalachian Mountains and Midwest. The roots were brewed into a tea which had purgative effects. No one was allowed to drink it for more than a week. Modern scientific analysis has found some cancer causing characteristics.

The fresh foods helped people overcome the malnutrition of the winter months and improved their vitality. With the heavy work of the summer before them, individuals needed every bit of the fresh food available to mend their bodies.

August Sandburg surely grew rhubarb in his garden, as did almost every other family in Galesburg.. In the spring, Mrs. Sandburg probably sent her boys out to the garden to pick some rhubarb. She then made a simple sauce to serve at supper time.

Rhubarb Sauce

1 pound fresh rhubarb stalks, about 3 ½ cups cut into ½ inch pieces
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
1 tablespoon butter

Put all ingredients in a saucepan. Stir and bring to boiling over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer, with occasional stirring, about 10 minutes. Serve warm or chilled.

Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
May 12, 2014 Spring Tonic
May 5, 2014 The Milkmen
April 28, 2014 Gray's "Elegy..."
April 21, 2014 Off to War
April 14, 2014 Swedish Easter
April 7, 2014 A Father's Face
March 31, 2014 Secret Societies
March 24, 2014 George A. Murdock, Merchant
March 10, 2014 Trade Cards
March 3, 2014 The Demorest Medal
February 24, 2014 Rip Van Winkle
February 17, 2014 Cabbage Soup
February 10, 2014 Lincoln's Birthday
February 3, 2014  The Colonel
January 27, 2014 The Lincoln Penny - A Little History
January 20, 2014 Walking to Work
January 13, 2014  A Small Abode
January 6, 2014 Birth of a Poet
December 30, 2013 Christmas 1880
December 23, 2013 Swedish Christmas
December 16, 2013 The Reporter Sees Santa
December 9, 2013 The Coming of Christmas
December 2, 2013 The Fire Boys Talk
November 25, 2013 Galesburg Will Feast on Turkeys and Cranberries - Thanksgiving 1893
November 18, 2013  Mary Sandburg Johnson
November 11, 2013 Carl Sandburg's Bicycle
November 4, 2013  Lace Curtains 
October 28, 2013 The Front Room
October 21, 2013 A Warm Breakfast
October 14, 2013 Marion D. Shutter
October 7, 2013 Cigars and Consumption
September 30, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke & August Sandburg
September 16, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke, Mayor
September 9, 2013 Dusty Streets
September 2, 2013 Typhoid Fever
August 26, 2013 Coffee and Water
August 19, 2013 A Horse! A Horse!
August 12, 2013 Gaddial Scott
August 5, 2013 The Racetrack
July 29, 2013 John Peter Algeld - Part II
July 22, 2013 John Peter Altgeld - Part I
July 15, 2013 Tramps, Tramps, Tramps
July 8, 2013 Lady Liberty
July 1, 2013 Galesburg's Fourth
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity