Where Did The Word “Possets” Come From?

A Posset Pot

A posset is a drink made from cream and strong alcohol (such as a bumper of sack) or highly flavored liquid like treacle, with the addition of spices, which is often curdled on purpose. It was said to be an aid in sleeping and it is mentioned in Shakespere’s Macbeth where Lady Macbeth declares that:

The doors are open, and the surfeited grooms
Do mock their charge with snores. I have drugg’d their possets
That death and nature do contend about them,
Whether they live or die.

Lady Macbeth, as all good hostesses at that time, would have served the grooms their possets in proper vessels. Possets pots were unique to that drink, and they looked like a teapot with two handles on either side. They could be quite ornate but were only used for one thing: serving possets. The reason for the spout was that it could be poured into a cup or it could be drunk from the spout by a bed-ridden patient in need of some comfort.

There was traditionally foam on the top of a well made posset, and this was called “the grace” of the posset and some would say that it was the best part of it all, creamy and aerated so that the full flavor of the mixture could be enjoyed.

Nowadays you are most likely to encounter a posset at Yuletide in the form of an egg nog. So think of that ’round the tree this year. It is a pure and proper posset indeed.

The word has been expanded, too, to mean a sort of sweet and mild pudding or custard and is often made with the addition of lemon or other citrus rind flavoring or honey. It can be a form of syllabub which is a medieval runny pudding that often is served like a sauce with fruit and based on a beaten egg.

I have run across the use of the word “posset” like cosset. In other words to attend closely to another to comfort and reassure them.

Reference to “a delightful 16th century possets mill” was made as the setting for one of the acts in the famous play “Noises Off”. I think that a “possets mill” would be more of an inn where possets were routinely made and served to guests.

I discovered the word when I was in high school studying English and also in studies of the law, medicine, and history. Mostly you would find the phrase “possets and nostrums”, possets were things like sugar pills which made medicine taste good (but had no effect of their own) and nostrums were generally regarded as false medicine which tasted very bitter and needed the assistance of a posset to get the patient to take it. I thought the word sounded appealing and so I remembered it as a nifty archaic term.

In Latin, the word posset means to be able or to have the power to do something.

But my favorite mention of possets is through the poetry of Robert Herrick in his “To The Maids, To Walk Abroad”:

What short sweet prayers shall be said,
And how the posset shall be made
With cream of lilies, not of kine,
And maiden’s-blush for spiced wine.
Thus having talk’d, we’ll next commend
A kiss to each, and so we’ll end.

In 1992 I founded an aromatherapy company named “Possets”. The blends were put in either 1 oz. amber glass bottles with droppers, or 5 ml amber glass bottles with drip caps. The company stayed in business for about a year and a half and then I stopped making them because I moved on to painting and Possets was not my main career at the time.

When I decided to make perfume, going back to the original name of my company was an easy decision. It was unique, short, I could buy a one word domain name, and there was a little story connected with the word. When people talk about Possets now I am pretty sure they are talking about my company.

So, there you have my explanation of the word “possets”. I have been asked about that, you know.