‘Potentially fatal’: Scientists warn children over Dahl concoction in George’s Marvellous Medicine

Researchers find ‘cure’ given to unsuspecting grandma contains 34 household staples and ingredients linked to heart rhythm problems

George’s Marvellous Medicine: has potentially life-threatening effects. Image: iStock

George’s Marvellous Medicine: has potentially life-threatening effects. Image: iStock


Researchers have warned children cooped-up in lockdown against experimenting with a ‘cure’ made famous in the Roald Dahl book George’s Marvellous Medicine.

A peer-reviewed study, published in the latest edition of the British Medical Journal, looks at the ingredients of the eponymous tincture and cautions it could lead to “fatal catastrophic physiological collapse”.

With unintentional poisonings a leading cause of accidental child death – most happening at home – two UK-based medical researchers and their five children read George’s Marvellous Medicine to detail the makeup of the concoction.

Graham Johnson and Patrick Davies, of the University of Nottingham School of Medicine, then examined the ingredients against Britain’s National Poisons Information Service poisons database.

The medicine – administered to an unsuspecting grandma with some unfortunate consequences in the popular children’s caper – contains 34 everyday household staples.

They include toothpaste, lipstick, shoe polish, washing powder, “extra hot” chilli sauce, engine oil and antifreeze.

Potentially life-threatening effects – including kidney injury, convulsions and damage to the stomach lining – were linked to 13 of the ingredients, the academic study notes.

The toxic effects of 16 include nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea was linked to 11, while six were associated with heart rhythm problems.

In the book, Grandma initially “shot up whoosh into the air” after taking the tincture and on landing shouted suddenly “my stomach’s on fire” before having “landed neatly on her two feet on the carpet”. She grew as tall as the house but did not die.

However, the study authors said while Dahl was accurate about some of the effects it would have had, their findings suggest, far from being marvellous, George’s medicine “is in fact incredibly toxic.”

“It is unlikely that children will recreate each step in the making of a marvellous-type medicine, but it is worth being cautious as some of the household ingredients used by George are considerably dangerous and commonly cause severe morbidity in children,” they wrote.

“Although parents might encourage scientific exploration and experimentation in their children, it would be wise to check any medicinal ingredients for potential toxicity before use.”

The study concluded: “Scientific exploration and experimentation should be encouraged in children, although any medicinal ingredients need to be checked for potential toxicity before being administered-to grandmas or anyone else.”