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source. click for larger version.

My attention was drawn to the advert for "PE-RU-NA":

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PE-RU-NA | Cures Catarrh | and all Catarrhal Diseases

Peruna was a medicine patented by the quack Samuel Brubaker Hartman, and endorsed as a panacea by a lot of politicians, says the the Wikipedia article.
According to the Library of Congress page on the scandal the product caused, "Peruna company claims that half of the human illnesses are catarrh in nature, and that Peruna cures all forms of catarrh. Many people have endorsed the product."

What tickled my fancy is that 'peruna' is the Finnish word for potato. Was the name taken from the Finnish, and, if so, is there evidence that this is a hint as to what the 'medicine' contains? Could this tonic's base have been potato vodka?

According to an article behind a paywall here, it contained 28% alcohol (to 18%, later on), even though this was dismissed in the papers:

"There are a great many catarrh cures in the world. [..] ..a large number of these catarrh remedies [..] contain narcotics of some sort. Cocaine, opium, whisky and other narcotics are used."
"One reason why Peruna has found permanent use in so many homes is that it contains no narcotics of any kind. Peruna is perfectly harmless. It can be used any length of time without acquiring a drug habit."
source: The San Francisco call. [volume], February 05, 1905, Page 28, Image 28

I have not encountered a link to the Finnish language, nor to the contents of the drug.

[Side note: the journalist Samual Hopkins Adams, who fought for stricter regulations surrounding these products, in an article here substitutes a similarly fraudulent product for "cottage cheese", which makes for a fun read.]

  • 4
    Did a quick bio check, and it seems quite likely Hartman knew German, perhaps fluently, but the German word for potato is "Kartoffel". I saw nothing indicating he ever had any kind of exposure to Finnish.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 16:12
  • 2
    Is there any reason to suspect a link other than the coincidence of the names?
    – Mark Olson
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 21:34
  • 1
    You could equally say the name coincided with Italian per una (for one)
    – Henry
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 13:47


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