This section of the book is from "The Complete Herbalist" by Dr. O. Phelps Brown. Also available from Amazon: The Complete Herbalist: The People Their Own Physicians By The Use Of Nature's Remedies.
MAN is an omnivorous creature, partaking of the nature both of the carnivorous and herbiverous animal. Hence, it is reasonable to suppose that man should subsist on a mixed diet, consisting both of animal and vegetable substances. To settle this matter, we must appeal to man's organization. His structure will tell us something we need not mistake. All the works of the Creator show design. Everything he has made has a use, and is so contrived as to be adapted to that use. Lions, tigers, and other animals, for example, which feed on flesh alone, have a short alimentary canal -- it being only about three times the length of an animal's body. Animals which eat no flesh -- a sheep for example -- have very long second stomachs; while the duodenum, or second stomach of the human being, is of a medium capacity; which fact, in connection with the peculiar formation of his teeth and his erect or upright position, prove conclusively that man was destined to adapt himself to any clime, and to partake of any kind of food, animal or vegetable, as may be naturally supplied for his subsistence by the hand of Providence. For instance, the inhabitants of the Polar regions subsist principally on animal substances, and that, too, of the most oleaginous or fatty sorts.
Those tribes of men, laborers, hunters, etc., living in cold climates, who subsist almost wholly on flesh, fish, or fowl, devour on an average about seven pounds per diem. In fact, the quantity of animal food consumed by some human beings, who are flesh-eaters in practice, seems almost incredible. Captain Parry relates the case of an Esquimaux lad, who at a meal, which lasted twenty hours, consumed four pounds of skins as well as four pounds of broiled sea-horse flesh, one and a half pints of gravy, besides one and three-quarter pounds of bread, three glasses of raw spirits, one tumbler of strong grog, and nine pints of water. Captain Cochrane states, in a "Narrative of Travels through Siberian Territory," that he has repeatedly seen a Yakut or Largoude eat forty pounds of meat in a day; and it is stated that the men in the Hudson's Bay Company are allowed a ration of seven or eight pounds of ordinary flesh meat per diem.
Charles Francis Hall, in his work called "Arctic Researches and Life among the Esquimaux," relates his strange experiences among the tribes of the country, with whom he became, as it were, naturalized. Speaking of the kinds of food they used, and the enormous quantity consumed, Captain Hall remarks: -- "The skin of the Mysticetus (Greenland whale) is a great treat to the Esquimaux, who eat it raw. The 'black skin' is three-fourths of an inch thick, and looks like India-rubber. It is good eating in a raw state, even for a white man, as I know from experience; but when boiled and soused in vinegar it is most excellent." The Captain afterwards saw the natives cutting up the krang (meat) of the whale into such huge slices as their wives could carry; and as they worked they kept on eating, until boat-load after boat-load was sent over the ice to be deposited in the villages of the vicinity. All day long were they eating, which led the Captain to exclaim: "What enormous stomachs these Esquimaux have!" He came to the conclusion, however, that the Esquimaux practice of eating their food raw is a good one -- at least, for the better preservation of their health. To one educated otherwise, as we civilized whites are, the Esquimaux custom of feeding on uncooked meals is highly repulsive; but eating meats raw or cooked is entirely a matter of education. "God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the whole face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitations." Take the Esquimaux away from the Arctic regions, and they would soon disappear from the face of the earth.
The Esquimaux are a hardy and happy people; are comparatively free from diseases, and are never known to die of scrofula or consumption, as one of the consequences of eating so enormously of oleaginous or greasy animal substances.
On the other hand, in contrast to the gormandizing propensities of the Esquimaux, there are many examples of people living in cold climates subsisting on coarse bread, not exceeding the average amount of one pound of wheat, rye, or corn, daily; but such persons, unless exceedingly active in their habits, seldom escape form the penalties of scrofula and consumption, for the simple reason that they soon fail to supply themselves with the meats or fatty animal substances necessary for the heat and life of the body. The Canadian teamsters live almost exclusively upon bread and fat, which, in a temperate climate, would produce nausea and skin eruptions.
In warm climates, as in China, Hindoostan, Africa, and the tropics, the food of the natives is principally composed of vegetables and fruits -- rice being the general diet, with only animal or other food enough to amount to a condiment or seasoning. Though the amount of food consumed by some of the nations is very small, and their habit s very temperate, we do not find that even they are any the less liable to many of the diseases which afflict those who eat largely of a mixed diet. It is reasonable to suppose, however that less food and lighter clothing are required in warm or hot climates than in those of the temperate and frigid.
The negroes on the plantations of Mississippi and Alabama grow sleek and live to an advanced age by subsisting largely on fat pork and hominy, corn bread, sweet potatoes, rice, etc. In the pampas of Brazil and Buenos Ayres, where immense herds of wild cattle are found, the hunters catch these bovines, strip them of their hides and horns, and, if hungry, will cut out a huge chunk of beef, half roast it, and eat it without salt or bread. In some parts of Brazil the natives feed on a flour made from the roots of a certain plant or tree, moistening the same with the juice of the orange or lemon. Others find support in the yam, the banana, or plantain, etc., while they are hugely addicted to drinking a species of whiskey called aguardiente.
In Asia and Africa many of the natives derive their staple nutrition from gum acacia, and among us many an invalid has derived healthy nourishment from preparations containing gum acacia, when his stomach would neither bear nor digest any other article in the shape of food. In Peru the Indians will subsist for a month at a time by chewing a plant called erythroxylin coca, and in the mean time perform journeys of hundreds of miles. The Hindoos live principally on rice, and are considered a long-lived and a very docile people. On the other hand, many of the Indian tribes of North America, who live on roots, barks, berries, etc., are very savage and warlike in their habits. The Chinese drink strong tea, and the Turks coffee equally as strong, without apparent detriment to their general health. The laboring Scotch thrive partially on oatmeal porridge, without using a particle of meat. The Irish want nothing better than plenty of potatoes, cabbage, and buttermilk. The English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and other civilized people of Europe live upon mixed diet, though each have their peculiar likes and dislikes in the shape of dishes, and the average health of each nation is about the same. So in America they eat everything and anything, without particular injury to the constitution, except when eating too fast and too much at a time, which is a proverbial national error.
People are liable to eat what they have been taught or educated to eat, without stopping to inquire concerning any physiological laws on the subject. Scrofula is the most prevalent of all diseases, -- this fact being justly attributed not to pork or food of any kind, but to the manner in which the people are lodged, living in small or unventilated apartments, crowded together and breathing foul air and the pestiferous effluvias of their own bodies.
There can be no doubt that many of the maladies incident to the human race are produced through the agency of improper food, over-feeding, etc., on the internal organs; yet it can be readily shown that a far greater amount of maladies are induced through the medium of atmospheric impressions and vicissitudes on the external surface of the body. More diseases arise from breathing foul air, or from lack of the natural atmospheric air, than from the worst or poorest kind of food. Disease, therefore, is not so much a result of the kind of food we eat, as it is in the quantity and quality. What may be excellent for one man may be very injurious for another; custom, habits, idiosyncrasies, temperaments, etc., having a great deal to do in the digestion of food, and converting it into wholesome or nutritious blood, capable of supplying all the tissues of the body with their natural needs or stimuli. Very few people seem to know what their stomachs were intended for, or even know where they are situated. All sorts of deleterious substances are crammed into the stomach by thousands of people. When any article of food is repulsive to any of the senses, it had better be avoided as an article of diet. This antipathy is so intense in some as to amount to actual idiosyncrasy. The sympathy and antipathy displayed by some persons with regard to alimentary food or drinks are extremely curious. Some notable instances are on record. BOYLE fainted when he heard the splashing of water or liquids. SCALIGER turned pale at the sight of water-cresses; ERASMUS became feverish when he saw a fish. ZIMMERMAN tells us of a lady who shuddered when touching the velvety skin of a peach. There are whole families who entertain a horror of cheese; on the other hand, there was a physician, DR. STARKE, of Edinburgh, who lost his life by subsisting almost entirely upon it. Some people have been unable to take mutton even when administered in the microscopic form of pills. There is a case of a man falling down at the smell of mutton, as if bereaved of life, and in strong convulsions. SIR JAMES EYRE, in his well-known little book, mentions three curious instances of idiosyncrasy: the case of a gentleman who could not eat a single strawberry with impunity; the case of another, whose head would become frightully swollen if he touched the smallest particle of hare; the case of a third, who would inevitably have an attack of gout a few hours after eating fish. We ourselves know of a lady in Connecticut who will turn pale and faint at the smell of an apple. She could certainly claim innocence with reference to tempting any Adam.
This ignorance of the uses of the stomach, or rather abuse of the functions, is sometimes the source of much suffering and disease. Besides the gastric tubes which supply the stomach with the gastric juice, which is necessary to dissolve the food before it can be converted into blood, it is extensively covered with a net-work of nerves and blood-vessels, rendering the stomach very sensitive and very liable to inflammation. This inflammation sometimes becomes very active, producing vomiting, pain, fever, etc., all caused by imprudence in diet. It is a warning. If the warning be not heeded, this inflammation becomes chronic; the nerves lose their sensibility; the stomach becomes inactive, and that most distressing of all diseases, dyspepsia (and often epilepsy or fits), takes up its abode as a permanent guest. Most frequently it comes on more slowly and without apparent warning.
The food we eat has to be properly digested. People are apt to suppose that digestion is performed in the stomach only. This is a mistake. The stomach performs the greater part of the work, but it is greatly assisted by other organs besides. Digestion really begins in the mouth. Besides the teeth, which are the true organs of digestion, there are situated in the cavity of the mouth three small bodies called salivary glands, which pour out a fluid called saliva (or spittle), which is just as necessary to the proper digestion of food as the gastric juice itself. The more thoroughly the food is mixed with saliva, the more perfect will be digestion. This should teach us to eat slowly, and to chew so well that every mouthful of food may contain a proper amount of it. It should also teach us that this saliva is too valuable a substance to be contaminated with tobacco-juice, or wasted in expectoration from smoking, especially where the temperament is nervous. Saliva is constantly being poured into the cavity of the mouth, whether we are asleep or awake. As a general thing, in a healthy person, about five wine-glasses full of saliva are secreted in a day.
We eat that the body may be supported with blood, for our food, before it can become a part of the body, must first be converted into blood. A full-grown, healthy working-man consumes in one year about twelve hundred pounds of victuals and drink -- that is, about eight times his own weight; yet, if he should weigh himself at the end of the year, he would find that he weighs very little more or less than he did at the beginning. Now what has become of the twelve hundred pounds he has eaten? It has been wasted away. With every motion, every breath, every operation of the mind, the body has been wasted, and food has been required to support the waste.
The one great cause of the wasting of the body, and of the constant demand for food, is action. If the muscles could be kept from moving, our lungs from breathing, and our minds from thinking, then we might not require food, for there would be no waste. The condition of things, of course, could never exist without death speedily following.
Exercising violently excites hunger, since it makes us breathe faster, and therefore causes us to inhale more air. A man of sedentary habits does not require so much food as a laboring man, because he does not waste away as fast. Much of the wasted material of the body is carried off by the lungs, in the form of carbonic acid. The skin, too, does its share of the work. It not only assists in breathing, but it also carries out of the system a large portion of its dead particles.
Children require more food in proportion than adults, because they are growing, and therefore, so to speak, need more to build up their bodies. After we have attained our growth, we neither gain nor lose our weight, provided we are in health, for we consume as much food as the body wastes. This is called a state of equilibrium. As old age comes on the body begins to decline in weight, and then we waste more than we consume.
Food may be distinguished into two kinds, viz., nitrogenized and non-nitrogenized. The first class is called the plastic elements of nutrition, and is designed solely to make blood and to form the substance of the tissues in the general structure of man; while the non-nitrogenized kind is necessary to keep up the animal heat, by yielding hydrogen and carbon, to be exhibited in the lungs. The elements of human nutrition and recuperation are vegetable fibrine, albumen, caseine, and animal flesh and blood; while the elements of respiration are fat, starch, gum, cane sugar, grape sugar, sugar of milk, wine, beer, and spirits. The elementary principles or proximate elements of food consist in water, gum, sugar, starch, lignin, jelly, fat, fibrine, albumen, caseine, gluten, gelatine, acids, salts, alcohol, etc. All these elements are found in sufficient abundance in either the vegetable or animal kingdoms, and are to be used according to the natural wants of man, or the supply of the waste. No precise rules, therefore, can be laid down to suit every particular state of either disease or health. Every one, accordingly, should eat and drink only those things which he may find by experience, habits, or peculiarities to best agree with his condition, and reject all substances which he may find injurious to his health and general well-being. It is the provocative variety, or the over-stimulation of the palate, that does the greater mischief to health The plainer the food and the fewer the dishes, the greater will be the immunity from disease. Whether the diet be vegetable or animal substances, the result will be the same in relative proportion to the nutriment yielded. Fish, for scrofulous and consumptive persons, is a most excellent diet, containing a principle called iodine.
Meats contain the most nitrogen, the nitrogenous portions of our food make flesh, and go to supply the wear and tear and wastes of the body; these are ultimately passed from the system in the urine. If more nitrogenous food is eaten than is needed to supply these wastes, Nature converts it more rapidly into living tissues, which are, with corresponding rapidity, broken down and converted into urine. This is when the food is digested; but when so much is eaten that it cannot be digested, Nature takes alarm as it were, and endeavors to remedy the trouble in one of three ways. The stomach rebels and casts it off by vomiting, it is worked out of the system by attacks of diarrhoea, or the human creature is made uncomfortable generally, and is restless both by day and by night; as a further punishment his appetite is more or less destroyed for several meals afterwards. Little or no nitrogen is poured off with the perspiration, breathing, or faeces.
Whatever diet we use, whether animal or vegetable, the secret of its utility lies not only in the quantity and quality, but in the manner in which either kind is cooked, when so prepared for food. Much ignorance prevails everywhere in this matter of cooking the substancs that are requisite for the sustenance of our bodies. Let any person, unable to eat broccoli or greens cooked in a quart of water, try the effect of having them cooked in a gallon of water, or of having the quart of water changed three or four times during the process of cooking, and he will soon discover the difference. If good potatoes are "watery," it is because they are ill-cooked. Fried dishes, rich gravies, and pastry should be avoided because of their tendency to develop fatty acids in the stomach.
We may reasonably suppose that the physiology of digestion is yet too imperfectly understood to enable us to lay down any precise laws as to what to eat, drink, and avoid. With a little vigilance, however, each person can ascertain for himself what foods do and do not agree with him. As before intimated, the peculiarities in this respect are remarkable. Some cannot endure fat; others cannot get along without it. Some cannot touch mutton; others are made ill by eggs. Let each find out his own antipathy. Suppose the case of a healthy man -- so healthy that he cannot be healthier. We will say the quantity of blood in his body is thirty pounds, and that he loses one pound of this in every twenty-four hours. Is it not plain enough that he must eat as much food in the same time as will supply the waste of blood he has lost? But if he should eat as much as will furnish a pound and a half of blood, he will have half a pound of blood too much in his system. Should he go on adding an extra half pound of blood daily more than is required to supply the tissues, what then will be the consequences? Bursting of the blood-vessels. But good Dame Nature has measurably guarded against any such plethoric catastrophe; for, after having supplied the waste of the body, the undue quantity of blood is converted into fat or adipose matter, thus restoring the blood's volume to a due standard. But this quasi fat is of no use to the body. It does not give it strength; on the contrary, it is an encumbrance to the machinery, and, in more ways than one, is an evil. He, therefore, who eats too much, even though he digests or assimilates what he eats, and should be fortunate enough to escape apoplexy, or some other disease, does not add a single particle to his strength. He only accumulates fat, and incurs the evils thereunto appertaining--one among many of which I will mention -- I mean the acumulation of fat about the heart, and interfering, to a most dangerous degree, with the heart's action. A man's strength resides in his arterial blood -- in his muscles and bones and tendons and ligatures -- in his brawn and sinew; and his degree of strength depends upon the vigor, size, and substance of these; and if he were to eat without ceasing, he could not add to their size and substance one atom, nor alter their original healthy dimensions. Therefore it is a most mischievous fallacy to suppose that the more a man eats the stronger he grows.
The quantity of food taken daily should just be sufficient to restore to the blood what the blood has lost in restoring the waste of the body, and that should always be proportioned to the degree of bodily exertion undergone. But how are we to know the exact amount of the waste that is daily going on in our system, in oder to apportion the quantity of food thereto? Nature tells us not only when, but how much we ought to eat and drink.
For instance, when you are excessively thirsty, and when you are in the act of quenching your thirst with a draught of cold water, you know when you have drunk enough by the cessation of thirst; but there is another token, which not only informs you when you have drunk enough, but which also prevents you from drinking more, that is, if you drink water only. While you are in the act of drinking, and before your thirst has been allayed, how rich, how sweet, how delicious is the draught, though it be but water! But no sooner has thirst been quenched, than behold, in an instant all its deliciousness has vanished! It is now distasteful to the palate. To him, then, who requires drink, water is delicious; for him who does not require drink, water not only has no relish, but impresses the palate disagreeably. To a man laboring under the very last degree of thirst, even foul ditch water would be a delicious draught; but his thirst having been quenched, he would turn from it with disgust. In this instance of water-drinking, then, it is clear that the relish depends not on any flavor residing in the water, but on some certain condition of the body. It is absurd to say that you cannot drink water because you do not like it, for this only proves that you do not want it; since the relish with which you enjoy drink depends upon the fact of your requiring drink, and not at all upon the nature of the drink itself.
Now apply this to eating instead of drinking. Place before a hungry workman stale bread and fat pork, flanked by a jug of cold water. While his hunger remains unappeased, he will eat and drink with an eager relish; but when his hunger has been appeased, the bread and meat and water have lost what he supposed to be their delicious flavor.
If we ate only simple and natural food, plainly cooked, there would be no danger of eating too much--the loss of relish and the feeling of disgust, consequent upon satisfied hunger, would make it impossible. Indeed, this sense of satiety is as much and as truly a natural token, intended to warn us that we have eaten enough, as the sense of hunger is a token that we require food.
As hunger instructs us when to eat, so disrelish teaches us when we should desist. It would seem that the very ne plus ultra of the cook's art is to destroy the sensation of disrelish, which is almost as necessary to our health as hunger itself. Thus it appears the object of modern cookery is to make the stomach bear a large quantity of food without nausea -- to cram into the stomach as much as it can possibly hold without being sick.
The rule which should regulate the quantity of food to be used is found in that sensation of disrelish which invariably succeeds to satisfied appetites. If you be content to live plainly and temperately, you will never eat too much, but you will always eat enough; but if you would rather incur the penalty of disease than forego the pleasure of dining daintily, all I can say is, you are welcome to do so -- but do not plead ignorance -- blame only yourself.
I have stated already that a certain people have been known to eat from seven to forty pounds of meat or food in a single day. On the other hand, persons have lived on twelve ounces of food a day, and were actually exempt from disease. Dr. Franklin, in his younger days, confined himself solely to ten pounds of bread a week, drinking water only in the mean time. Rev. John Wesley lived to a great age on sixteen ounces a day, although he led a very active life as a preacher of the gospel; and a celebrated Italian nobleman, who led a dissipated life till near fifty years of age, suddenly reformd his habits, and lived on twelve ounces a day with a single glass of wine, until he had reached the hundredth year of his age. Was the wine one of the means by which he prolonged his life? It no doubt served to cheer his spirits. And this leads me to consider somewhat the nature of stimulants. By stimulants I mean ardent spirits, wines, and strong ales. Are they necessary as articles of diet? They are not always, but have their uses. They are penicious to the general organism, if too freely indulged in. Liquids which contain or make solids are better than wines, etc., yet both have their uses. Milk, the moment it reaches the stomach, is converted into curds and whey. The whey passes off by the kidneys--the solid curd nourishes the body. Now, if we evaporate a glass of wine on a shallow plate, whatever solid matter it contains will be left dry upon the plate, and this will be found to amount to about as much as may be laid on the extreme point of a penknife blade; and a portion, by no means all--but a portion of this solid matter I will readily concede is capable of nourishing the body--and this portion is only equal to one-third of the flour contained in a single grain of wheat! If we want nourishment merely, why not eat a grain of wheat instead of drinking a glass of wine? Yet wine has its uses as an exhilarant to the mind and body.
Once placed beyond the reach of the seductions of the palate, the simple rule of drink what you want and as much as you want will of itself suggest the needful limitation. Physiology tells us plainly enough, not only why liquids are necessary, but how all superfluous quantities are rapidly got rid of.
An interdict has been placed against hot drinks, which, if directed against tea and coffee so hot as to scald the mucous membrane, is rational enough, but is simply absurd when directed against hot in favor of cold drinks; the aroma of tea and coffee is produced by heat, consequently the pleasant, stimulating effect is considerably diminished when they are allowed to get cold.
Great diversity prevails as to the kinds of drinks which should be used. Some interdict tea, others only green tea; some will not hear of coffee; others allow mild beer, but protest against the bitter. Whoever very closely examines the evidence will probably admit that the excessive variations in the conclusions prove that no unexceptionable evidence has yet been offered. By this I mean that the evil effects severally attributed to the various liquids were no direct consequences of the action of such liquids, but were due to some other condition. We often lay the blame of a restless night on the tea or coffee, which would have been quite inoffensive taken after a simpler dinner, or at another hour.
When a man uniformly finds a cup of tea produce discomfort, no matter what his dinner may have been, nor at what hour he drinks it, he is justified in the inference that tea disagrees with him; if he finds that the same effect follow whether he take milk or sugar with his tea, then he has a strong case against the tea itself, and his experience is evidence as far as it goes. But we should require a great deal of evidence as precise as this, before impugning the wide and massive induction in favor of tea, which is drawn from the practice of millions. Had tea in itself been injurious, had it been other than positively beneficial, the discovery would long ago have been made on a grand scale.
The same may be said of coffee. Both tea and
coffee may be hurtful when taken at improper times, or by bilious persons;
and a little vigilance will enable each person to decide for himself when
he can, and when he cannot, take them with benefit.
I may briefly state my opinion that the great objection against wines is its pleasantness, which is apt to lure us into drinking more than is needful. Wine is quite unnecessary for robust men living under healthy conditions; but to them it is also, when moderately taken, quite harmless. For many delicate men and women, living under certain unhealthy conditions, it is often indispensable. The physician must decide in all such cases.
Many think they cannot do without something to drink at regular meals. Cold milk at meals has the disadvantage, if used freely, of engendering constipation, biliousness, and the long train of minor symptoms which inevitably follow these conditions.
Warm drinks are preferable in moderate quantities. Field hands on cotton and sugar plantations find a wholesome drink in a mixture of molasses, ginger and water. This is a safe drink for harvesters, as are many other temperate household preparations. A recipe for many of these will be found in the proper department of this work.
Whatever we eat or whatever we drink, let it be only enough barely to appease the instincts of hunger and thirst. If we rigidly do this, we shall seldom or never be afflicted with dyspepsia, liver complaints, heart disease, and the thousand ills to which flesh is heir, but will continue to enjoy unceasing rubicund health and vigorous old age.