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Tuesday, 11 August 2015


The prevailing medical theory in Tudor and Stuart Britain was the humoral system, which was based on the writings of the Greek physician Hippocrates. Arising from this in the 16th and 17th centuries a large number of health texts were published for home use outlining the intricate relationship that was believed to exist between foods and medicine. Each person was supposed to have his or her own dominant humor or temperament: Blood, choler (yellow bile), melancholy (black bile) or phlegm; melancholia for instance was thought to be particularly characteristic of writers and thinkers.

In a healthy body, these fluids were in equilibrium and sickness resulted from losing that balance. It was believed that an imbalance of the humors could be treated by diet as just as individuals were characterized by one temperament, so too was food and drink. Home remedies utilizing garden herbs, meats, spices, vegetables, and wines were used to recover unbalanced humors.

When chocolate arrived in Europe from the New World in the 16th century, it initially gained popularity as a medicine. The immediate concerns of many was to classify the new drink according to the humoral system. The royal physician to King Philip II of Spain, Francisco Hern├índez,  classified it as cool and humid, and therefore beneficial as a fever reducer or to relieve discomfort in hot weather.

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