I recall that my mother, Alice, would complain about her nerves. After a long day of work in her beauty shop she would often go to her medicine cabinet, pull out a blue bottle, and take a spoon full of liquid. She said that it calmed her nerves. At times, when she felt she was going to have trouble sleeping, she would do the same thing.
I never thought much about this until I reached my teen years. On occasion when she thought I was nervous or on edge, she would insist that I take a dose of the elixir “Miles Nervine”. It had a terrible taste which lasted a long time.
On the night before Clara and I married, she insisted that Clara take a good dose of the stuff to assure that she had a good night’s rest. Clara did not like the taste at all. I have since wondered about this over-the-counter elixir, what it contained, and did it really work. So, I did a little research.
Miles Laboratories was founded as the Dr. Miles Medical Company in Elkhart, Indiana, in 1884 by Franklin Miles, He was a specialist in the treatment of eye and ear disorders, but also had an interest in the connection of the nervous system to overall health.
By 1890, the sales success of his patent medicine tonic, Dr. Miles’ Nervine, in treating various ailments led him to develop a mail order medicine business. Miles also published Medical News, a thinly disguised marketing vehicle for Nervine. The tonic remained on the market as a “calmative” until the late 1960s. In 1935 the name of his company was changed to Miles Laboratories.
Dr. Miles’ Nervine was said to treat “nervous” conditions, including nervous exhaustion, sleeplessness, hysteria, headache, neuralgia, backache, pain, epilepsy, spasms, fits, and St. Vitus dance. The active ingredient in Nervine was bromide. Bromide was once used as a sedative and an effective anticonvulsant, and until 1975 it was a major ingredient in over-the-counter products such as Bromo-Seltzer. But the drug had its bad effects on the human body. Bromism (chronic bromide intoxication) was once very common, accounting for as many as 10% of admissions to psychiatric hospitals. Bromide, as a drug, is now rare, although it is occasionally used to treat epilepsy. One source said that a touch of chloroform (an extract of opium) was also used in the tonic. It is no wonder that the authorities clamped down on it.
Considering all the ingredients in Nervine, I am surprised that my mother lived to age 96, though I do now understand why she felt the tonic calmed her nerves. She must have been disappointed when it was taken off the market.
In1979 Bayer AG purchased Miles Laboratory and in 1995 eliminated the Miles brand name from all products. So, say ‘goodbye’ to the elixir that guaranteed “steady nerves” to millions of people in its day, including Alice.
“DR. MILES’ NERVINE”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
107 HEMLOCK STREET
PO BOX 511
SAN AUGUSTINE, TX 75972