“Dried herbs. Infused tinctures. Comfrey bandages…”
As I listened to our guide paint a vivid picture of medicine from the late 17oo’s in St. Augustine’s Spanish Military Hospital Museum, I realized it could’ve easily been a modern herbalist discussing treatments today- or setting the scene in an episode of The Good Witch, but our host was dressed in breeches, a long coat and cap. He looked as though he stepped off the cover of a historical novel.
St. Augustine’s Spanish Military Hospital Museum
His eyes lit up as he ventured into the darker side of Spanish Colonial days and asked for a volunteer from our group. The victim selected, Alonzo picked up a rusty antique saw and described in great detail an amputation in colonial times, chasing those Good Witch happy feelings away and pulling The Frankenstein Chronicles from the shadows. A glance across the Spanish Military Hospital operating room revealed an array of metal tools reminiscent of a blacksmith’s shop. Twisted chisels, tongs and pliers. And pokers for cauterizing wounds.
The time period of Florida’s Spanish Military Hospital (1784 to 1821) was a time of peace, the hospital- so battle wounds were rare, but any amputation procedure was a good thing to avoid. Alonzo assured us that doctors were beginning to realize the benefits of basic sanitation, but it was hard to look past the tools of their trade.
Inside the Spanish Colonial Apothecary
Our operating room demonstration over, we accompanied our guide through a wooden door and into the colonial apothecary. Glass bottles lined shelves. Each filled with dried leaves or flowers, or herb infused tinctures. Back to The Good Witch. I sighed with relief. A dabbler of essential oils and garden herbs since my mother’s struggle with cancer, this was a place I could understand.
Alonzo described the different herbs used in the colonial days- most we use even today. He passed the glass jars around for us to take a whiff of calming dried chamomile, dried rose hips, cloves, and Valerian root- but be warned the latter smells like dirty socks! He described how the herbs were treated and prescribed. Rose hips for scurvy, cloves for toothaches. Then he showed us how the first ‘pills’ came to be-paving the way for the medicine we know today.
Growing Medicine in Colonial St. Augustine
Afterwards, Alonzo led us to the final part of our Spanish Military Hospital tour- the herb garden. This newly acquired section of the hospital changes with the seasons. Mint. Oregano. Comfrey. Aloe and more- all tucked away behind a brick wall in the ancient city. Alonzo talked more about the plants, and the history of the building- perhaps trying to soothe those Frankenstein-like horrors of the operating room before sending us on our way.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Spanish Military Hospital is located at 3 Aviles Street, St. Augustine, Florida 32084
- Their contact number is 904.342.7730
- They are open from 10 am to 6 pm daily (except Christmas Day).
- Admission is $10 for adults; $5.00 for children 5-12 years old; $8.50 for seniors; and kids under 5 are free.
- Although there are two museum rooms you can view yourself by the gift shop, the rest of the hospital is only available to viewing by tour only. Your tour is included in the admission fee.
- Tours last approximately 40 minutes.
- Ticket discounts are available if you purchase them from their website online.
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