And then -- and then -- I was visiting the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, more than half of which consists of old bottles of herbs and medicines one would have bought in a 19th century pharmacy -- and then, it all came together! On a shelf was a bottle of an orange substance called Red Precipitate, circa 1890-1930. Now, a pharmacy museum in New Orleans you can bet has its own section of magical formulas and herbs on display, there's even a John the Conqueror root in a glass case on the second floor, but this was not lumped in with them. Eke, I noticed the English version of the name as peculiar, since magically it's generally always known as Precipitado, never Precipitate. So, I looked it up.
Red precipitate (Old. Chem), mercuric oxide (HgO) a heavy red crystalline powder obtained by heating mercuric nitrate, or by heating mercury in the air. Prepared in the latter manner, it was the precipitate per se of the alchemists.
White precipitate (Old Chem.) (a) A heavy white amorphous powder (NH2.HgCl) obtained by adding ammonia to a solution of mercuric chloride or corrosive sublimate; -- formerly called also infusible white precipitate, and now amido-mercuric chloride. (b) A white crystalline substance obtained by adding a solution of corrosive sublimate to a solution of sal ammoniac (ammonium chloride); -- formerly called also fusible white precipitate.
There it is, there it is! And no wonder it's more popular in Latin American countries, where the thought of handling mercury doesn't make people shudder to the same extant that it does in the states. And no wonder it's the formula for a rush-job -- the Roman god Mercury was known for his swift movements. Mercury Oxide is "not combustible but enhances combustion of other substances" which is probably why gunpowder is used to mimic it, and since it "gives off irritating or toxic fumes (or gases) in a fire" which cause a person to cough, that's probably why cayenne pepper goes in there as it does much the same when inhaled.
Now, the fact is that as long as you don't eat it, it doesn't appear to be any worse for you than smoking a cigarette -- bad if you do it all the time but meaningless if kept to occasional; which means of course I now shall have to get my hands on this and see if it alters the effect at all when used in a spell...