Monday, November 12, 2012

Almonds, Onions, and Lettuce

What do these foods have in common, you may ask? Well, according to Sir Thomas Elyot (writing in The Castle of Health, in 1539), they're the early modern equivalent of Lunesta. Here are a few excerpts from Elyot's useful self-help guide, which tells users how to balance their humors by eating particular foods:

Almonds "do... clense without any byndynge, wherfore they purge the breste and lunges, specially bytter almondes. Also they do mollifye the bealy, prouoke sleape, and causeth to pysse well, fyue or syx of theym eaten afore meate, kepe a manne from beynge drunke, they be hot and moyst in the fyrst degre." (22v)

Lettuce: "AMonge all herbes, none hath soo good iuyce as letise: for somemen do suppose, that it maketh aboundance of bloude, al be it not very pure or perfyte. It doth set a hote stomake in a very good temper, & maketh good appetite, and eaten in the euennynge, it prouoketh slepe, albe it, it neither doth lowse nor bynd the bealye of his owne propertie. It increaseth mylke in a womans breastes, but it abateth carnall appetite, and moche vsynge therof, hurteth the eye syghte. It is colde and moyst temperatly." (23v)

Onions "styre appetite to meate, and put awaye lothsomnesse, and lowse the bealy, they quycken syght: and beynge eaten in great abundance with meate, they cause one to sleape soundely." (26v--theoretically. The printer had a bit of a mix-up, and labeled page 26 '29' by mistake.) (all italics mine)

So: if you're hoping to fall asleep after your Thanksgiving feast, maybe eat salad with your turkey? (Or just rely on the turkey itself. Which, as we all know, not only contains tryptophans, but is also "hot and moist.")

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sleep Advice from the Elizabethan Era

In 1636, a book called The Haven of Health was republished in London, in its sixth edition. This book, quite frankly, is a gem. After 240 chapters of recipes and helpful hints about improving your health through food (tip: "raw Creame well boiled with a little Sugar, is a good nourishing meate, and good for a weake student"), Thomas Cogan turns his attention to sleep:

" is most wholesome to sleepe first on the right side, that the meat may the better descend to the bottome of the stomacke, and be nearer to the liver. Which is to the stomacke as fire to the pot, and after to turne to the left side. For this change doth greatly ease the body, and helpeth concoction. But to lie upon the backe, causeth flegme and other humours to fall into the hinder part of the head, where is the originall of the sinewes, and by that meane the spirits being stopped, the nightmare (as they call it) and palsie, and such like maladies be engendred. Again to lie on the belly, draweth the humours to the eyes, and so hurteth the sight. Yet it helpeth them that have feeble digestion. And we must not onely regard that wee lie on the... side, but also that wee lie with our heads somewhat high, well bolstered up, having sufficient clothes upon us, least that while naturall heate is within about digestion, the outward parts be grieved with cold. It is good also to weare a kerchiffe, or some such like thing in the night on our heads. But to have the feet covered with shoes or otherwise, is very hurtfull to the sight and memory, and distempereth the whole body with heate..." (274).

Clearly, I should not be asking for those fuzzy socks for Christmas.