Friday, February 1, 2013

Some Wisdom from the Tacuinum Sanitatis

I was browsing a sampling of  folios from the Tacuinum Sanitatis
 published through the internet domain  Gode Cookery,
a collection of sites dedicated to medieval foods and cooking.
Access the site here:

These folios revealed some of the ancient wisdom of the Tacuinum Sanitatis,
based on the 11th century guide to healthy living.
Among other things, each page gives information on the usefulness
and dangers of each food, season, and in some cases fabric like linen or wool.
Fabric advice: wool is itchy, linen is good for summer wear.
Sound familiar?
It's amazing to me that even the simplest beliefs and behaviors
are often predicated by centuries of other humans' experience.
Times change, but humankind--and wool--apparently do not.

Here's an example of food advice:
the herb sage is good for nerve problems and paralysis,
but a side effect is that it can remove the "dark color from hair."

The Tacuinum offers this advice about beets: useful for alleviating dandruff
but "dangerous" because they "set the blood on fire."
A nice feature is that an antidote to the dangers is always provided.
In the case of beets, one can neutralize their effect
by eating them with vinegar and mustard.
Perhaps this explains pickled beets.

The Tacuinum Sanitatis is ever mindful of procreation
and advises on the foods good for increasing a man's virility.
In this regard, lettuce and asparagus are said to be bad for coitus,
while chestnuts are considered good for it.
However, raw chestnuts are dangerous
because they can "inflate," causing headaches.
An easy fix: cook them in water before eating.

photo courtesy of

For cherries, the Tacuinum says:
"good for phlegmatic stomachs burdened with superfluities."
At first I interpreted superfluities
 using today's definition "an excess of something,"
so I thought it may be referring to a cure for the after effects of gluttony,
when one overeats to the point of not wanting to move
lest a zipper break or a button pop.
But it makes more sense to interpret it using the 15th century definition:
"an overflowing."
So maybe the Tacuinum is referring to cherries
as a palliative for nausea or vomiting?
It's a possibility since the book warns that cherries take a long time to digest,
so they should always be eaten on an empty stomach.

My favorite bit of advice from the Tacuinum Sanitatis
is described on the M. Moleiro web site
The recommendation is to eat brown bread because it soothes the stomach,
yet the pages note that it may also cause irritation, a real paradox.
But the book suggests that brown bread is best consumed with "greasy foods."
To my way of thinking,
 that means brown bread should always be eaten with butter.
I may be wrong, of course,
since bread with butter may not be soothing to the stomach.
But I'm certain it's soothing to the soul.

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