This medication was first manufactured by Hazeltine & Co in 1864 apparently started out labeled as a remedy for consumption although it was really only ever a cough remedy and the jury is still out on that. One source says “Piso’s was essentially a pretty good cough and cold syrup” and another source says “. Piso’s Cure was poisonous and caused many deaths, especially in children. One of the main ingredients was chloroform, which can cause death or permanent damage to your liver and kidneys”.
Our bottle has an intact label that indicates chloroform at 5/8 minim per maximum dose. The maximum recommended dose for adults is 1 teaspoonful every 2 or 3 hours as required. This sent me looking for the definition of a minim.
1. Abbr. M. or min. A unit of fluid measure, as:
a. In the United States, 1/60 of a fluid dram (0.0616 milliliters).
b. In Great Britain, 1/20 of a scruple (0.0592 milliliters).
I think that works out to .064 teaspoons of chloroform in a 24-hour day for an adult. That doesn’t sound like a lot and apparently this medication also contained Cannabis Indica (marijuana), Morphine, Opium and alcohol.
Our label gives no other ingredients besides the Chloroform and that was commonly used as a preservative for oral liquid pharmaceutical preparations. As a preservative, it is included in most products at a final concentration of 0.25 per cent v/v.
[There’s another measurement—fluid drams, scruples, minims, teaspoons, v/v. I’m beginning to be grateful for teaspoons.]
Our bottle gives directions, in two different places, to shake the bottle. They obviously don’t want any ingredients to settle out.
Our bottle’s label says it is prepared by “The Piso Company” with the new package adopted in 1915. This is well after the passing, in the United States, of The Pure Food and Drug Act of June 30, 1906 that provided federal inspection of meat products and forbade the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated food products and poisonous patent medicines.” It probably means that a lot of ingredients were changed. Even the name had been changed although the embossed name Piso’s on the sides of the bottle remained. Apparently, this feature makes the bottles quite collectable because they can be identified even without the label.
There is a wonderful article written by Jack Sullivan that can be downloaded in PDF format called Piso’s Trio: One Step Ahead of the Law.