Cream of Tartar

From London's Ghost Acres

Cream of tartar is the potassium acid salt of tartaric acid, and is also known as potassium bitartrate. It can be used as a cleaning agent for metals, dyeing, and to slow the drying time of plaster of Paris. Its medical use as a purgative can be dangerous due to the exposure of high levels of potassium. (

Cream of Tartar is classified by the Compendium as an Aperient and Purgative, Diuretic, and Refrigerant. It can also be used to make Imperial, a drink given to feverish patients to cool them and keep them hydrated.

British Pharmacopoeia 1867

Acid Tartrate of Potash Potassae Tartaras Acida

Synonyms: Potasse Bitartras and Cream of Tartar[1] “An acid salt obtained from the crude tartar which is deposited during the fermentation of grape juice.”


“A gritty white powder, or fragments of cakes crystallised on one surface; of a pleasant acid taste. Sparingly soluble in water, insoluble in spirit.” Given in a dose of 20-60 grains. Used in the preparations of:[2]

  • Acidum Tartaricum
  • Antimonium Tartaratum
  • Confectio Sulphuris
  • Ferrum Tartaratum
  • Potassae Tartaras
  • Pulvis Jalapae compositus
  • Soda Tartarata

Preparations of Cream of Tartar

Tartaric Acid / Acidum Tartaricum[3]

  • “a crystalline acid prepared from the acid tartrate of potash”
  • acid tartrate of potash (45 oz), distilled water (as needed), prepared chalk (12 ½ oz), chloride of calcium (13 ½ oz), sulphuric acid (13 fl oz)
  • “In colourless crystals the primary form of which is the oblique rhombic prism. It has a strong acid taste, and is readily soluble in water and in rectified spirit.”
  • dose: 10-30 grains

Tartarated Antimony / Antimonium Tartaratum[4]

  • syn: antimonii potassio-tartras, antimonium tartarizatum, emetic tartar
  • “a tartrate of potash and antimony”
  • oxide of antimony (5 oz), acid tartrate of potash, in fine powder (6 oz), distilled water (2 pints)
  • “In colourless transparent crystals exhibiting triangular facets, soluble in water, and less so in proof spirit.”
  • dose: 1/16-1/6 grains as a diaphoretic, and 1-2 grains as an emetic
  • used in the preparations of: unguentum antimonii tartarati, and vinum antimoniale

Confection of Sulphur / Confectio Sulphuras[5]

  • sublimed sulphur (4 oz), acid tartrate of potash, in power (1 oz), syrup of orange peel (4 fl oz)
  • dose: 60-120 grains

Tartarated Iron / Ferrum Tartaratum[6]

  • syn: ferri potassio-tartras, ferrum tartarizatum
  • solution of persulphate of iron (5 ½ fl oz), solution of ammonia (10 fl oz), acid tartrate of potash, in powder (2 oz), distilled water (as needed)
  • “Thin transparent scales of a deep garnet colour, slightly sweetish and astringent in taste, soluble in water and sparingly soluble in spirit.”
  • dose: 5-10 grains

Tartrate of Potash / Potassae Tartras [7]

  • Acid tartrate of potash (20 oz, or as needed), carbonate of potash (9 oz, or as needed), boiling distilled water (2 ½ pints)
  • “In small colourless four or six-sided prisms.”
  • Dose; 60 grains to ½ oz

Compound Powder of Jalap / Oulvis Jalapae Compositus[8]

  • jalap, in powder (5 oz), acid tartrate of potash (9 oz), ginger, in powder (1 oz)
  • dose: 20-60 grains

Tartarated Soda / Soda Tartarata [9]

  • syn: sodae et potasse tartras, sodae potassion-tartras
  • Acid Tartrate of potash, in powder (16 oz, or as needed), carbonate of soda (12 oz, or as needed), boiling distilled water (4 pints)
  • “In colourless transparent prisms or halves of prisms of the right rhombic order, generally eight-sided; tasting like common salt.”
  • dose: ¼ - ½ oz

A Compendium of Domestic Medicine, 1865 Cream of Tartar

Classified by Savory as an Aperient and Purgative (411/390), Diuretic (413/392), and under Refrigerants and Colling (Remedies Which Abate Thirst or Unnatural Heat)[10]

As an aperient, cream of tartar is noted to often cause pain and flatulence. When combined with sulphur it can be used as a purgative when treating piles, and also can be combined to make Imperial, a refrigerant drink. When used to make whey it can be used to treat dropsy, and can also be included in a laxative lozenge for children. [11]

Remedies Containing or to be used with Cream of Tartar

  • Antimonial Powder: cream of tartar is included in a diaphoretic powder[12]
  • Cream of Tartar: used for making Imperial,[13] and also a component in Electuary for Pills.[14]
  • Dandelion: cream of tartar is used in the creation of a decoction of dandelion root.[15]
  • Gum Gamboge: can be combined with cream of tartar to act as a hydogogue.[16]
  • Jalap: “the diuretic qualities of jalap are much increased by combining it with cream of tartar,” and cream of tartar when combined with jalap can also be used for form an electuary that can be used to treat dropsy.[17]
  • Magnesia, Calcined: when combined with cream of tartar, it’s laxative properties are increased.[18]
  • Sulphur, Sublimed: combined with cream of tartar and a lenitive electuary to form a cooling aperient used to treat piles.[19]

Diseases Treated with

General Diseases

  • Bronchitis: cream of tartar can be administered with mucilaginous liquids when treating acute bronchitis.[20]
  • Worms: cream of tartar is part of an anthelmintic electuary used to treat intestinal worms.[21]

Medical Articles Containing Cream of Tartar

  • Decoction of Senna with Tamarinds[22]

Prescriptions Containing Cream of Tartar


  • Anthelmintic Powder: cream of tartar[23]
  • Anthelmintic Electuary: cream of tartar[24]


  • Diuretic Powder (Another): cream of tartar[25]

Cookery for the Sick that includes Cream of Tartar

  • Imperial Drink: cream of tartar combined with boiling water, lemon and orange chips (or peels), and sugar. “Use for common drink when feverish, or when the urine is scanty.”[26]


  1. General Medical Council of Great Britain, British Pharmacopeia, (London: Spottiswoode & Co.,1867), 257
  2. GMCGB, 258
  3. GMCGB, 23-24
  4. GMCGB, 41
  5. GMCGB, 89-90
  6. GMCGB, 141-42
  7. GMCGB, 257
  8. GMCGB, 264
  9. GMCGB, 284-85
  10. Savory, John. A Compendium of Domestic Medicine (London: John Churchill and Sons, 1865), 394.
  11. Savory, 50
  12. Savory, 20
  13. Savory, 50
  14. Savory, 51
  15. Savory, 53
  16. Savory, 74
  17. Savory, 89
  18. Savory, 98
  19. Savory, 147
  20. Savory, 212
  21. Savory, 287
  22. Savory, 293
  23. Savory, 315
  24. Savory, 315
  25. Savory, 326
  26. Savory, 336

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