Cod-Liver Oil

From London's Ghost Acres

Cod-liver oil is extracted in laboratories in London, the North of England, and in Scotland, from cod caught in Newfoundland and the Northern Seas. The oil is used by some for the treatment of scrofula and pulmonary consumption (tuberculosis), and was also used to treat rheumatism, gout, and rickets. It is included in the Compendium as an Alternative and a Tonic, and is also included in an appendix that goes into greater detail of the extraction, and treatments provided with cod-liver oil.

British Pharmacopoeia 1867

Cod-Liver Oil Oleum Morrhuae

“The oil extracted from the fresh liver of the cod, Gadus Murrhua… by the application of heat not exceeding 180°.”[1] Characteristics

“Pale yellow, with a slight fishy odour, and bland fishy taste.” Given in dose of 1-8 fl drachms.[2]

A Compendium of Domestic Medicine, 1865 Cod Liver Oil

Cod-liver oil is classified by Savory as an Alternative (Remedies Mildly Acting Upon the Secretions) [3], and also as a Tonic (Remedies Which Increase the Tone and Vigour of the Body Producing their Effects More Slowly Than Stimulants) [4]

The Seventh Edition of the Compendium (1865) also includes an appendix on Cod-Liver Oil, reprinted from the Sixth Edition. Cod-Liver Oil: Its Purity, Mode of Preparation, and Administration includes accounts from English and Continental doctors during the mid-nineteenth century advocating the curative properties of cod-liver oil when treating consumption and scrofula. Also included are the methods of extracting the oil, and quality of different oils that are extracted from different cod species and from different locations.

Cod-Liver Oil: Its Purity, Mode of Preparation and Administration

  • The original use of the oil was to treat “rheumatic and gouty affections.” (432/3)[5]
  • Since 1841 English doctors have been using the oil to treat scrofulous disease, and more recently as a treatment for pulmonary consumption. [6]
  • Oil is regularly extracted from cod-fish arriving from fisheries in Newfoundland and Northern Seas. The oil is extracted in laboratories in London, the North of England, and in Scotland. [7]
  • “Pure cod-liver oil… is a clear fluid of the palest straw colour. The smell is slightly fishy. The taste is sweet, and also a little fishy, like the cooked liver sent to table.”[8]
  • Dr JH Bennet and Dr Williams are “two of our greatest authorities on the action of the oil.” [9]
  • Dr CB Williams: “the pure, fresh oil from the liver of the cod is more beneficial in the treatment of pulmonary consumption than any agent, medicinal, dietic, or regiminal that has yet been employed.” [10]
  • In a report published in 1849, Brompton Hospital for Consumption noted a marked improvement in 63% of the 542 patients treated with cod-liver oil. The disease was arrested in 18% of the patient body, “but on a more perfect classification, it is seen that, when taken in an early stage, the disease was arrested in 18 per cent.” These results can be compared to the average percent of individuals who displayed no symptoms when not treated with cod-liver oil, which Savory reported to be 5%.[11]
  • A writer for the “Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science”: “it is not demonstrated to be the most efficient agent in controlling the symptoms of pulmonary consumption that the profession is at present possessed of.” [12]
  • “Next, perhaps, to consumption, the good effects of cod-liver oil are best seen in the scrofulous disease which usually manifest themselves in infancy and childhood.”[13]
  • Dr Bennett has recorded instances were treating a patient who is paralysed due to scrofula in the bones and spine has been cured of the disease [14]
  • Rickets is also treated with cod-liver oil.[15]
  • Strumous ophthalmia (eye disease) has also been treated with cod-liver oil, often saving the sight of the patient. [16]


  1. General Medical Council of Great Britain, British Pharmacopeia, (London: Spottiswoode & Co.,1867), 225
  2. GMCGB, 225
  3. Savory, John. A Compendium of Domestic Medicine (London: John Churchill and Sons, 1865), 389.
  4. Savory, A Compendium of Domestic Medicine, 395
  5. Savory, John, Cod-Liver Oil: Its Purity, Mode of Preparation and Administration (London: Savory and Moore, 1865) 3,
  6. Savory, Cod-Liver Oil, 4
  7. Savory, Cod-Liver Oil, 5
  8. Savory, Cod-Liver Oil, 8
  9. Savory, Cod-Liver Oil, 10
  10. Savory, Cod-Liver Oil, 13
  11. Savory, Cod-Liver Oil, 18
  12. Savory, Cod-Liver Oil, 19
  13. Savory, Cod-Liver Oil, 21
  14. Savory, Cod-Liver Oil, 22
  15. Savory, Cod-Liver Oil, 22
  16. Savory, Cod-Liver Oil, 23

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