University of Virginia Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library

Tonics and Elixirs for Neurasthenia


Image: “Nerve and Brain Elixir,” 2008, label design by Normajean Hultman. Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, Historical Collections. Label reads: “For the treatment of Neurasthenia and all other disturbances of the nervous system. Dr. Galen’s powerful Nerve Restorative. Treatment for men and women. A spoonful a day to relieve Nervous Exhaustion.”


Physicians prescribed healthy habits for patients with neurasthenia – good diet, appropriate exercise, rest, and avoidance of unhealthy habits. They did not usually prescribe tonics or elixirs. As neurasthenia began to spread to larger and larger groups of patients, however, pharmacists and patent medicine manufacturers created and began to sell dozens of tonics and elixirs for nervous exhaustion and nervous anxiety.

Many tonics were merely the latest efforts by quacks to make quick money from gullible customers. Others were honest concoctions by pharmacists and physicians who considered that building up physical health should be part of the treatment. Many ads from the 1890s through the 1930s reflect concerns about restoring nervous energy and vigor. Long after most physicians had rejected neurasthenia as a condition, drug stores continued to sell nerve tonics. Moxie soda, a carbonated drink today, began as a nerve tonic in the 1880s.






Image: “Nerve and Brain,” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Image: “Nervousness in the Home,” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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