Juvenile Instructor » Mormon-themed Aphrodisiacs, Part 1 of 4: Damiana (Possibly NSFW)
 


Mormon-themed Aphrodisiacs, Part 1 of 4: Damiana (Possibly NSFW)

By: Edje Jeter - September 08, 2013

Tunera diffusa wikipedia 416pxNote: this post discusses sexual activity in general and erectile dysfunction in particular, though mostly with nineteenth-century language. It also contains an image of a female nude as printed on the packaging and advertising for a late-nineteenth-century aphrodisiac pill.

Two weeks back Christopher had a socks-rocking post (with great comments) on the alleged pharmacoactive properties and Mormon uses of “Mormon Tea.” At the moment I don’t have anything to add to the discussion of Mormon Tea, but I think there are some related, interesting things to say about damiana (see image at right), which also grows in the American Southwest, also affects human physiology, and was also allegedly part of the Mormon materia medica.

The name “damiana” can refer to Turnera diffusa or Turnera diffusa aphrodisiaca (aka T. diffusa Willd.), though there seems to be some confusion about how to distinguish the varieties and whether the medicinal effects are the same. Damiana has been known for centuries—early Spanish colonizers reported its use in Mexico—but it seems to not have broken into Euro-American markets until the 1870s. There were various formulations; I draw your attention to two. First, Pemberton’s “French Wine Coca,” the precursor to Coca-Cola, had three main ingredients (besides alcohol): coca, kola nut, and damiana.

CrouchFB MormonEldersDamianaWafers advert w cherub TheChemistAndDruggist 1889Nov16 quackdoctorSecond, one Franklin Bosworth Crouch began marketing “Mormon Elders’ Damiana Wafers” in the 1880s. Lester Bush addressed “Mormon Elders’ Wafers” in a 1976 Dialogue piece. [1] In the intervening decades, Google Books has made a few more images available, which I have included herein (See one image at left; [2] note that Crouch was inconsistent on the punctuation, alternating between Elders’ and Elder’s).

A pharmacological text book (1887) suggested the Mormon connection: “[damiana] forms the basis of a ‘Mormon elder’s cordial,’ from which name the peculiar properties claimed for it, as well as the propriety of its use, may be inferred.” [3] Another text (1892) identified damiana as “a drug which has acquired considerable reputation as an aphrodisiac” but asserted that “it is of doubtful efficacy, although it forms the basis of a ‘Mormon Elder’s tonic.’” [4]

CrouchFB MormonEldersDamianaWafers AmericanDruggist v15n5p46 1886May(Image reference: [5]) One Francis Evans elaborated (1884):

The Mormon preachers, who certainly use their reproductive organs more than any other class, find in damiana a panacea for their wasted energies. Indeed, it is considered so valuable as a builder up of sexual powers, that those Mormon roosterly elders take a little with their morning ‘nip,’ and go on their way rejoicing. [6]

One WB Parkinson, a non-Mormon physician in Utah, responded to Evans that he had never encountered “one single case of impotence” among the Mormons but that he could also “testify that the Mormon elders do not use the drug as our worthy brother gives them credit for doing.” [7]

Damiana was oft derided by more sober medical practitioners. For example, JL Gilbert (1899):

Damiana is a much vaunted remedy. It is most nauseating to the taste, and few will take it long, even though the goal be restored, sexual competence. The celebrated “mormon elder tablets,” I believe, were in part of damiana. The happy conception to which they owed their name, perhaps, added more to their ready sale and commercial value than the presence of actual merit. [8]

One of FB Crouch’s advertisements (see image below) asserted (1886) that Damiana Wafers

Are a safe, certain, and speedy cure for nearly all varieties of seminal and physical debility of the generative organs of both sexes, endorsed by the medical faculty, and relied upon by the heads of the Mormon Church as a remedy for Nervous Debility, and all Weaknesses which would disqualify them as members of their faith. [9]

MormonEldersDamianaWafers advert CanadianPharmaceuticalJournal v19n1p13 card insert 1885Aug

In the coming weeks I hope to address, briefly, the international distribution of Damiana Wafers, marketing techniques, their (small) role in the formation of the FDA, and the function of orientalization and otherization in their marketing. In the meantime, if you haven’t already done so, check out Benjamin Breen’s post on the “Deep History of Illicit Drugs,” which prompted Christopher’s post on Mormon Tea, and Ardis’s Keepapitchinin post from last year on Mormon Bishop Pills (“Vim Vigor Vitality, Oh, My!“).

 


[1] Lester E Bush Jr, “Mormon Elders’ Wafers: Images of Mormon Virility in Patent Medicine Ads,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 10.2 (1976 Autumn): 89-93.

[2] To the left is an image of, presumably, a chubby, cherubic Cupid with a bow and a quiver of arrows. Cupid is on his back “juggling” a barrel with his feet. The barrel has a large stylized heart on the side; the end of the barrel is marked “M. E. D. W.”—presumably for “Mormon Elder’s Damiana Wafers.” My transcription ignores formatting and capitalization: “The Mormon Elder’s DAMIANA WAFERS [¶] The most powerful Invigorant ever produced. [¶] Permanently restores those weakened by early indiscretions, imparts youthful vigor, restores vitality, strengthens and invigorates the brain and nerves. A positive cure for impotency and Nervous Debility. Prompt, Safe, and Sure. 4/6 per box, 6 for 22/6. Usual discount to the Trade. Send for Circular. [¶] F. B. Crouch, [¶] 202 Grand Street, New York City; [¶] London Depot, 51 Strand, W.C. [¶] Hovenden & Son, Sanger & Son, Barclay & Sons, Edwards & Son, and all Wholesale Druggists.” FB Crouch, “The Mormon Elder’s Damiana Wafers,” advertisement in The Chemist and Druggist (1889 Nov 16).

[3] Robert Thaxter Edes, Text-book of Therapeutics and Materia Medica (Philadelphia: Lea Brothers & Co, 1887), 206.

[4] I have found no other references to the “Mormon Elders’ Tonic.” I presume he refers to the Damiana Wafers. HT Peck, editor-in-chief, Selim H Peabody, Charles F Richardson, assistant editors, “Aphrodisiacs,” in The International Cyclopædia: A Compendium of Human Knowledge, in fifteen volumes, revised edition, Volume 1 (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co, 1892), 550.

[5] To the left is an image of, presumably, a chubby, cherubic Cupid with a bow and a quiver of arrows. Cupid is on his back “juggling” a barrel with his feet. The barrel has a large stylized heart on the side; the end of the barrel is marked “M. E. D. W.”—presumably for “Mormon Elder’s Damiana Wafers.” My transcription ignores formatting and capitalization: “The Mormon Elder’s DAMIANA WAFERS [¶] The most powerful Invigorant ever produced. [¶] Permanently restores those weakened by early indiscretions. Imparts Youthful Vigor. Restores Vitality. Strengthens and Invigorates the BRAIN and NERVES. A positive cure for IMPOTENCY and Nervous Debility. Prompt, Safe, & Sure. [¶] DAMIANA is beyond a doubt the most reliable, useful, and permanent tonic to the genital organs of both sexes known; acting as it does, directly upon the nervous system, it restores, as it were, the debilitated functions of the principal organs of the human frame, and is unsurpassed as a nervine. Its merits are well established as a powerful, permanent and determined aphrodisiac, as well as an alterative aperients of remarkably fine quality.—John J. Caldwell, M. D., in New York Medical Record, Nov. 3d, 1877, page 694. [¶] The Mormon Elders’ Damiana Wafers have acquired the distinction of being, not only a simple, pleasant, and convenient vegetable compound, but one that is indorsed [sic] by the medical faculty, and relied upon by the heads of the Mormon Church, as a remedy for Nervous Dyspepsia, Debility, and all Weaknesses which would disqualify them as members of their faith, of which we can speak more fully in our special circular, giving testimonials and quotations from medical reports. Price $1 per box. Send for special Circular. [¶] F. B. Crouch, [¶] Sole Agent for United States [¶] 202 Grand Street, New York.” FB Crouch, “The Mormon Elder’s Damiana Wafers,” advertisement in American Druggist 15.5 (Whole No. 143; New York, 1886 May): 46.

[6] The preceding lines were: “Damiana, though introduced to the profession but a few years ago by Dr. John J. Caldwell, is really an old remedy in domestic practice. Father Juan Marie de Salvatierra, a Spanish missionary, reports its use among the Indians over two hundred years ago, as a tonic to debilitated sexual organs and other weaknesses.” Continuing after the quote in the OP: “F. B. Elmer, late U. S. Consul to La Paz, Mexico, says the country people of Mexico have unbounded confidence in it as a potent remedy for renal and vesical diseases. Damiana seems to act on the basilar portion of the brain, and in this way stimulates the reproductive organs. It is a heart tonic to some extent, and in this way, like cactus, influences the renal organs. It is more efficacious in cases marked by a want of tonicity—atony. In painful menstruation it is often serviceable.” He goes on to give cases and a recipe. Francis A Evans, credited to Keystone Medical Journal (1884 June), “Damiana,” reprinted in The Therapeutic Gazette 8 [New Series 5.8] (Detroit, 1884 Aug 15): 382.

[7] Rather, Parkinson attributed the result to Mormon sexual restraint once a woman was pregnant. “I notice that in your issue of April 10th, you copy an article from the Keystone Medical Journal, by F. A. Evans, M. D., on the use of damiana, in which he accredits the Mormon elders with using the drug extensively to keep up ‘their wasted energies.’ I simply wish to state, in behalf of a much-abused people, that I have practised medicine among them for three or four years, extensively, and have never had one single case of impotence. Have only had one case of syphilis and one of gonorrhea, and they occurred in ‘black sheep.’ Have known the benefits and uses of damiana, and, I with many other physicians, can testify that the Mormon elders do not use the drug as our worthy brother gives them credit for doing. The object they have in marrying more than one woman is to rear a stronger progeny. When a woman becomes pregnant, they let her alone and cohabit with another. I say fair play—‘Give the devil his due.’ The Mormons are often misrepresented.” WB Parkinson, “Damiana and the Mormon Elders,” The Medical Record 28.8 (Whole No. 772; New York, 1885 Aug 22): 200.

[8] Continuing: “The name of the remedies which have been proposed for the renewal of sexual life is legion. Few of them have real merit. Hygiene, moderation in gratifying sexual appetite, and the exercise of manly virtue, which in itself is a powerful factor in restoring confidence, the loss of which so often is the sole cause of impotency. Moreover medicine has its value too.” JL Gilbert, “Impotency,” The Medical Brief 27.7 (St Louis, 1899 Jul): 1015 (1014-1015).

[9] My transcription ignores formatting and capitalization: “The Mormon Elders’ Damiana Wafers [¶] The most powerful invigorant. [¶] Permanently restores Impotent Men to Perfect Manhood, Sexual Power, and Procreative Ability. [¶] They cure every trace of Debility, Spermatorrhea, and every form of Seminal losses and weakness whether due to Youthful Folly, Abuse, or Natural Failure. [¶] Damiana is beyond a doubt the most reliable, useful, and permanent tonic to the genital organs of both sexes known; acting as it does, directly upon the nervous system, it restores, as it were, the debilitated functions of the principal organs of the human frame, and is unsurpassed as a nervine. Its merits are well established as a powerful, permanent and determined aphrodisiac, as well as an alterative aperients of remarkably fine quality.—John J. Caldwell, M. D., in New York Medical Record, Nov. 3, 1877, page 694. [¶] Damiana Wafers [¶] Are a safe, certain, and speedy cure for nearly all varieties of seminal and physical debility of the generative organs of both sexes, endorsed by the medical faculty, and relied upon by the heads of the Mormon Church as a remedy for Nervous Debility, and all Weaknesses which would disqualify them as members of their faith. [¶] For Sale by all Leading Druggists. Price $1 per box. Send for special Circular. [¶] F. B. Crouch, Sole Agent for the U. S. [¶] 202 Grand Street, New York.” [below the female figure at left is written, “Trade Mark.”] FB Crouch, “The Mormon Elders’ Damiana Wafers,” advertisement, card insert, Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal 19.1 (1885 Aug): between pages 12 and 13.



12 Comments

  1. Barely relevant, the non-Mormon doctor William Brigham Parkinson, an Englishman, married a Mormon and shares posterity with Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Hiram B. Clawson, and other Mormon, er, potentates.

    As always, Edje, a completely unexpected and superb post.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 8, 2013 @ 10:21 pm

  2. Wow, Edje. I think I read Bush’s Dialogue article awhile ago, but had completely forgotten about it now. This is really something else—thanks!

    Comment by Christopher — September 8, 2013 @ 11:00 pm

  3. Cool stuff, Edje. I love reading the ads in nineteenth-century church publications. Many resemble these in some respects.

    Comment by WVS — September 8, 2013 @ 11:49 pm

  4. Great post. Really looking forward to the next installment!

    Comment by Natalie R — September 9, 2013 @ 12:32 am

  5. Thanks, Ardis, Christopher, WVS, and Natalie.

    Ardis: that’s interesting to know about Parkinson. Also: +3 points for “potentates.”

    Comment by Edje Jeter — September 9, 2013 @ 6:33 am

  6. Thanks, Edje, this is great.

    Comment by Nate R. — September 9, 2013 @ 8:35 am

  7. As always, informative and delightful to read. Thanks, Edje!

    Comment by J Stuart — September 9, 2013 @ 8:49 am

  8. Bravo, Edje.

    Just one question: whatever does the poor guy do when all the wives are pregnant???

    One of the blogs I follow is “The Quack Doctor.” Fun stuff. I see that the author has treated Damiana Wafers briefly; in fact, it looks like her area of expertise is “charlatanry in the treatment of male sexual dysfunction in Britain, 1850-1870.” (Wondering if this comment is going to make it through your filters.)

    Looking forward to the rest of the series!

    Comment by Amy T — September 9, 2013 @ 8:56 am

  9. Thanks, Edje, this was great.

    Comment by Saskia — September 9, 2013 @ 11:57 am

  10. Thanks, Nate, J, Amy, and Saskia.

    Amy: Maybe he goes on a mission? I don’t know. Thanks for the link.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — September 9, 2013 @ 9:53 pm

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