Sunday, June 6, 2010


425,000,000 bottles sold, the website says. It’s today called a “mouthwash,” with ads which tout its strength, and if memory serves, yea, these decades since I’ve smelled that blast of boozy-mint alcohol aroma, strong it is.

During the Civil War, Dr. Tichenor received a serious wound to his leg, and with the hardships and dearth of proper medicines, the only course was to amputate. He refused the treatment, left the field hospital and somehow found the ingredients to brew up his own “Antiseptic” which, in application to the injury, killed off the gangrene and totally healed the leg.

He began making the stuff in earnest, and it saved many a limb and life during the duration of the War, but his loyalty to the South caused him to flatly deny its use to treat any Union prisoners. I understand loyalty to Country and Cause, but what kind of doctor WAS he, to so go against the precepts and the oath? People were suffering and dying, and he just would not relent.

A wide market for his brew, which originated in Canton, Mississippi, has lasted in one form or usage or another, ever since, with a great heyday for the first hundred years---the Patent Medicine era in our country. I remember it well, for one of the slender flat bottles sat in every medicine cabinet, used for man and beast. It was applied to any kind of ailment or injury, and I do not doubt that it killed the germs, at least. Its 70% alcohol formula would sear the hide off a buffalo, and was widely popular as a “lin-a-mint” and rub for sore muscles, as well as a germ-fighter, before most people were even aware of the little critters.

Oil of peppermint and arnica (which sounds like something Nellie Oleson would have worn for perfume) were the only other ingredients. The label features the famous "Confederate soldiers" picture, and the uses are listed on the other pictures---one "for wounds of any nature" which would not seem to include giving a big dose to a horse, but that remedy is apparently, from all I can make of the label, for "Botts and Foot Ew." Diseases whose time has come and gone, we trust.

And does anyone else think that baby is looking WAY too happily at that BIG spoon?

I don’t think I was ever directly involved in any usage of the antiseptic, but I well remember seeing countless bottles bought and used and tossed on the ground out back of Aunt Lou’s store. I do believe a bottle cost fifteen cents or so when I was very young, and a Co-Cola was a nickel. So gentlemen in need of a little toddy would line up at the store every morning for their bottle of TISHNER’S.

They’d pay for it, with a nickel laid down for the Coke, then detour by the big red cooler wherein resided ranks of glass Coke bottles, the six-ounce size, standing up to their necks in the iciest water in the county, afloat with great shards of just-chipped ice from the big blocks in the ice-house out back. That green linoleum floor would be wet with the heedless trail of the dripping bottles, and Uncle Jake would hit it a few licks with the mop as the morning went on.

And unless the Preacher or a vigilant wife were in sight, the men made no secret of their imbibing---they whsssssssssssped the cap off the Coke at the handy opener, took one big swallow out of the bottle standing right there, and barely made it out the flappy-screen door before pouring in most of the fiery TISH to foam up the Coke and add that ticket to temporary bliss. Depending upon the urgency of their need, they were away to the back yard to the shade, or standing right out there as big as you please, gulping down the undiluted remains of the little flat bottle right there on the porch before drinking down the foaming Co-Cola mixture.

It was a dry county, and “for medicinal purposes only” could cure a lot of ills. I think of those drinkers sometimes, those twenty-cent drunks---their drug of need, if not of choice, was a strange, unappetizing one, like upending the Vitalis bottle or the Turpenhydrate, an equally-noxious concoction, prescribed for my Grandpa’s emphysema.

I think of their hot, nervous mornings, up before the sun, a-jangle with the urgency of their need, waiting in the heat of that gravel road for the jingle of the front-door’s opening bell and the cheap, corrosive gulps of the day’s first drink. And I think of their hot nights of fitful, restless dreams, muttering a presage of that Clarice's memorable last line, "Dr. Tishner---Dr. Tishner--- Dr. Tishner. . ." I wonder what Dr. T. would have thought of that employment of his concoction.

About what I think of his fitness to be a doctor, I expect. Scientist, yes. Doctor----no.


From the Kitchen said...

I just found your blog and feel like I've taken a trip "down home"! I don't know where you are in the south, but there you are. I was born and raised a child of the south but have wandered away.

Very nice to meet you!


Southern Lady said...

Gotta love it, Rachel. I didn't realize that Dr. Tichenor's brew orginated in Canton! I'll have to google it and read more about it.

Jeanne said...

Dear Rachel, I just read two of your posts and I am thrilled to pieces to know your kids are coming. What fun it is to have our family around us. I missed the previous post and missed your visit too. Now I know why. Please have a wonderful time and do not think about having to answer this comment.

Your medicine/alcohol story made me laugh. I bet you are right about the addiction of that stuff on all counts. HA!

Love you my friend and have a great week.

parTea lady said...

This post about Dr. Tichenor's anitseptic was really interesting. I'd never heard of this stuff. That is quite a label - can't imagine applying this to wounds with a feather. :-)

Anonymous said...

My husband introduced this to me. If he feels a cold coming upon him, he will use Dr. Tichenors. Sometimes I slip a little dab in my tea for a cold

chelle said...

Chelle. A friend of mine told me about Dr. Tichenor's mouthwash. I had a toothache that was killing me. She told me to use that, &, of course, I did! That stuff knocked that pain out so good, &, so fast. But I can't find it anywhere, any more. I live in K.C., Mo. Please tell me where I can find it again!!

Anonymous said...

JC Johnsong says ...

I am a Northerner ... suburbs of Manhattan (Long Island, NY to be exact if anyone is familiar with the area). I had never heard of Dr. Tichenor's until today.

I went to Walgrees to buy some other mouthwash that I could not find and noticed this for the first time. It said ORIGINAL FORMULA SINCE 1864 ... well a sucker for old products that are still the ORIGINAL FORMULAR I took it.

I really like the Dr T's ... not the taste so much ... too strong a peppermint-y taste (even diluted as instructed) ... but you get used to it. Google PEPPERMINT BENEFITS its not just in here to flavor it that is why it is so strong. It seems to work well as a mouth wash.

It is good for a lot of things. I am using it as a body splash. I made too much and had some left over so I used it to clean the bathroom mirror faucet and metal stopper in the sink.

Looked great so I diluted more and went crazy cleaning with it.

Much healthier than all the toxic cleaners we buy today. And the peppermint smell is nice and clean and cheerful. I'm going to dilute it 50/50 and put it in a decorative spray bottle and keep it handy for cleaning around the house.

I used a little on my hair to freshen it up because I did not shampoo it today.

I love testing out old time products that say they can do anything and everything ... and seem TOO GOOD to be true ... YES, many are just hype but this one seems pretty truthful ... but ... full strength on an open wound ... OUCHHHHHHHH ... haven't tried that yet ... hand me a bullet to bite on.

Not sure how true DR T's bio is ... the first antiseptic surgery is credited to Dr. Lister a British surgeon in the summer of 1865 (a few years after Dr T claims to have started experimenting with antiseptic surgery).

The first to do something does not always go down in the history books though ... who knows. A job for the PBS History Detectives ... see what documentation they can come up with to back his claims. I would find that an interesting episode.

But one way or the other I think the product is good & will continue using it... even if I some day find out that ol' Doc T wasn't the first to use antiseptics in surgery.

Oh ...
As far as him being a BAD doctor for not using it on Union Soldiers ... even though I am a Northerner myself I don't know ... one has to understand and place it in the time it happened.

There were many doctors for YEARS after antiseptic surgery was introduced who REFUSED to perform it. None of the NORTHERN civil war doctors were using it. So their own doctors would not have used it on these soldiers. In a way he is just following the current accepted standard procedures of the Union medical establishment by NOT using it ... You could say at the time that using it could have been seen as more of a violation than not using it on the enemy.

If anything usually doctors EXPERIMENTED ON THE ENEMY and used standard procedures for their own side because the experiments were seen as the DANGEROUS UNTESTED option. UNION Doctors in the field hospitals had no notion of antiseptic surgery. If you were a soldier who had been captured by the ENEMY and THEY wanted to use a procedure on you that was NOT accepted by YOUR UNION doctors you might not even have wanted it done to you.

Dr T wasn't refusing to do an accepted procedure on them he was refusing to do an experimental procedure on them ... VERY different.

And ...
To the person who doesn't know where to find it if you have a Walgreens near you in your state try them. If not ... you can find it online ... WalgreensDOTcom

Anonymous said...

US doctors didn't even use antiseptics on President William McKinley after his shooting in 1901 so how can you blame a doctor for not using antiseptics on Northerners back in the 1860s???

Too bad US President William McKinley's doctors didn't have Dr Tichenor's Mouthwash in their medicine cabinets that day. I am a fan of Teddy Roosevelt's Presidency ... he may have never become president if not for McKinley's shooting ... VP was not a stepping stone to the presidency then it was were you put party members you didn't want doing much of anything ... a way for the party to keep them out of their hair and not give them any power but look like they were giving them an important job.

But as much as I liked Teddy's Presidency it would have been nice if he had become president another way.

Anonymous said...

You are thinking of the shooting of President Garfield in 1881 ... American doctors rejected the idea of germs and refused to use antiseptics in Garfield's surgery... He should have survived the wounds were it not for the lack of use of antiseptics.

As a side note although he did not develop it the Mouthwash Listerine ... It would later be named for the British surgeon Joseph Lister who pioneered surgery (and who US doctors pretty much thought was a 'Quack' at the time Garfield was being operated on ... germs ... Bahhh there is NO such thing as germs ... germs don't cause deaths after surgery ... US Doctors subscribed to the miasma theory, the 'fact' that bad air caused disease and illness, not germs. They didn't believe in germs - "germs you couldn't see." That was the thought of the typical US doctors of the day in 1881).

But 1881s are still later than 1860s civil war time so your statement still makes the point even though I think they used antiseptics with the McKinley surgery.

And the point is Dr Tichenor was not denying enemy soldiers accepted medical care of the day he was providing that ... he was doing everything for them their own doctors would have done.

It would be like if were in a war today with Russia say ...
There are some Russian scientist who claim de-ionized, or “dead,” water (water that has been freed of metal ions, microorganisms, and other junk) can CURE CANCER.

You can not use that in America to treat Cancer. So ... if US soldiers were Russian prisoners and Russian Army Doctors did not use the de-ionized water treatment on US prisoners with Cancer but used it on Russian soldiers ... would that be considered wrong IF they treated the US soldiers with radiation or chemo instead???

That is the way this should be looked at to understand this in a modern equivalent example of what Dr Tichenor did during the civil war.

Anonymous said...

Whooooops ... meant to say...
Joseph Lister who pioneered ANTISEPTICS in surgery

racheld said...

To J. C. Johnsong,

What a wonderful group of comments---I just love when a reader has something to say on any subject I've tossed out there, and I'm so glad you dropped in at Lawn Tea!

Ole Tish was quite the staple of my childhood, as accepted as the Cardui and the Pinkham's in Mammaw's medicine cabinet.

And my history genes have faded mightily away in lo these many years since school---I do confess to a dicey relationship with dates---anything to do with numbers of any kind just puts a hazy thumbprint into my brain, like the opaque effect over the faces of the innocent on TV cop shows.

My real thought was not of the experimental nature of the treatment, but of something that had worked for HIM, and for those he considered his fellow soldiers, and was denied to others whose suffering and losses MIGHT have been alleviated.

It's like I think of CPR---all the instructors say "If you don't know HOW, don't try it." Well, HECK---the guy's DYING, for Heaven's Sake---KICK him in the chest if it will get him to breathe---couldn't be as bad as dead.

Delighted to have you join us, and I hope you'll return---I so enjoyed what you had to say.


racheld said...

PS I, and all Mamas, whether we know of him or not, give thanks for dear Dr. Semmelweis.

Anonymous said...

Hi Racheld ...

JC Johnsong here ...
another possibility to consider is the ingredients might have been hard to come by in enough quantity during the Civil War battlefield conditions to treat BOTH Confederate and Union soldiers ... so using it on Union soldiers may have meant forfeiting the lives of Confederate soldiers.

It's sort of like how Japan after WWII was criticized for how their prisoners of war were staved. Have you ever seen photos of Japan own soldiers after the war ended ... they looked pretty much as boney and starving as the prisoners. I don't know that they were treating the prisoners that badly they just did not have food enough for everyone .... both their own soldiers and the enemy were starving.

It was war time ... they did not have enough food because the forces fighting Japan were stopping food from getting to them whenever possible to force them to surrender. The tactic not only effected Japan's soldiers it also effected the prisoners that were in their custody.

There may have been factors that are not appearent when one just looks at the fact that Dr T was refusing to use antiseptic on the enemy soldiers that were wounded. The full story may show him in a different light than how it is interpreted from what we know ... it is possible that is all I am saying.

If it had NO effect on his own soldiers that Dr T was treating ...then refusing to use it on Union soldiers was cruel actions that go against the core healing mission of a Doctor ... but if it was a matter of saving one life or the other ...then it becomes a lot grayer ... just a choice that he had to make that would mean someone would die one way or the other because of inadequate supplies to treat everyone that needed the life saving care.

I'm just saying without knowing all the facts it can paint a picture that is not an accurate presentation of the mans morals or character. We don't really know ... not knowing all the facts.

Oh and I enjoyed stumbling on this site while googling Dr T ...

(& in recognition of the 70% alcohol content -- even though I only drink a glass or two of wine on special holidays when the meal seems to be enhanced by it and never touch the alcoholic stuff the rest of the year ... I will close with ...)

Cheers ...
JC Johnsong
(and lift a bottle of Dr T's in the air while saying it)

Li Li said...

Hello, I found Lawn Tea while researching Dr. Tichenor's Mouthwash and I just wanted to say, thank you for the history lesson and I enjoyed your delightful blog.

Anonymous said...

Hello. Ran across this researching Dr. Tichenors. I had been told all my life the old alcoholics that couldn't scrape up enough money for the day would go buy a bottle and chug it. I experimented with it a few times growing up and I tell you what, the combination of 70% alcohol and peppermint, if you chug it straight it's like swallowing liquid fire. But do not make the mistake of sucking in a breath of air after you swallow, it'll burn twice as bad.

Anonymous said...

I discovered this in my local drugstore in El Segundo, California in the early 70's as a youth chasing an alcohol buzz. It had much better results than stealing the wine or vodka under my parents kitchen sink, or the beers I could talk older friends out of. Quick trip to drugstore was all that was needed. Was always afraid the clerks would question me or wonder why I was always in buying my 'Tishners'. Awful taste, great effects.