While I was in Yarmouth recently digging out material for the Minard’s story I heard several tales about the potency of the liniment. “The smell of the liniment was so strong,” one Yarmouth man said, “that people working downwind from the Minard’s plant never caught a cold.”
Minard’s was strong stuff and I have no idea how my father could drink it straight from the bottle, which I saw him do when I was a boy. I haven’t used Minard’s for at least 40 years but I can still remember its ammonia-like odor and its potency. Too strong a whiff gave you a sharp, jolting pain that reached deep into your sinuses and immediately cleared them. Minard’s applied liberally to sore muscles or joints left a lingering warmth and a lingering odor that was evident several meters away. It wasn’t an offensive odor but you definitely knew someone was using it.
I suggested in a previous column that Dr. Levi Minard may have invented his famous liniment or there was the possibility he simply discovered a good local recipe and decided to bottle it. One story from Yarmouth is that a family there has the original Minard’s formula. Handed down through three generations, the story goes, is a handwritten recipe for a product called Ferguson’s Liniment. The man who invented and at one time bottled and marketed Ferguson’s Liniment is said to have worked for Dr. Minard. This man passed his recipe on to relatives in Yarmouth and they have always wondered if this was the original formula that Minard made famous.
Belle Hatfield, the assistant editor of Yarmouth’s weekly Vanguard, wrote a story about Minard’s 12 years ago mentioning Ferguson’s recipe. Apparently the recipe was shown to Minard’s chief chemist and he admitted it was as close to the original formula as you could get. This admission lends credence to the story that Dr. Minard saw a good thing in the Ferguson liniment and decided go commercial with it.
Hatfield printed the Ferguson formula in her article (Atlantic Insight, October 1985) and it was touted as the original Minard’s recipe, which has been a secret for over 100 years. If Ferguson’s formula does contain the same ingredients as Minard’s, there’s an explanation for the latter’s potent, head-clearing odor. Some of the ingredients listed in the article were spirit of turpentine, liquid ammonia, salt of ammonia and gum of camphor.
I mentioned in the previous column that Minard’s originally claimed to be effective in treating scores of complaints in humans and animals. The old Minard’s label said the liniment could be used for “relief of minor rheumatic pains, common ordinary sore throat, neuralgia, sciatica, false or spasmatic croup. hoarseness, bronchitis, toothache, earache, headache, burns” and various bites, boils, sores, wounds, bruises and contractions. The list of animal ailments Minard’s once treated were impressive – colic, coughs, “galls of all kinds,” and a variety of hoof, foot and teat ailments.
Minard’s make no such claims today. The packaging has been modernized and sanitized and comes with suggestions that one uses it only for stiff, sore muscles and a few aches, sprains and strains, including “muscular athletic pain.” No mention is made that Minard’s can be taken internally, but that hasn’t deterred the people who still sweetening it up and swallow it as tonic.