This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
With respect to foods of divers sorts, which embody curative virtues whilst served at table by way of customary meals, certain desultory matters will not be out of place here. The only cure for a host of bodily derangements, such as gout, rheumatism, biliousness, and kidney troubles, is a stern attention to the diet, always being mindful that too much food prematurely wears out the digestive energies, and their parent organs, through imposing an excess of work upon them. By way of a rest, an occasional fast, of varying duration according to the individual powers, is a most excellent thing. Human nature is, moreover, made up of both sentiment, and hunger, so that Thomas Hood was truthful in his epicurean reminiscences when he said: -
" T'was at Christmas, I think, when I met with Miss Chase, Yes! for Morris had asked me to dine; And I thought I had never beheld such a face, Or so noble a turkey, and chine".
As soon as man began to pass from a vegetable to an animal diet and to feed on flesh, fowl, and fish, then condiments became necessary, both to render such foods more palatable, and savoury, and also to preserve from intestinal corruption those parts which were not immediately used up. Probably salt was the first seasoning discovered for such a purpose; we read of this in the Book of Leviticus ii. 13, "Every meat-offering shalt thou season with salt." "Certain dyspeptics," as Dr. King Chambers teaches, "get into a bad habit of striking out from their bill of fare henceforward everything that has once seemed to disagree, the result of which policy is an unwholesome monotony of wrongly-chosen victuals, and a despairing resignation to a needless abstinence. Let them, on the other hand, take the more hopeful course of adding to their dietary everything that they have once found to agree, and they will acquire a choice nearly as extensive as their robust brethren could wish. If one cook cannot make a coveted article digestible, let them try another." It is noteworthy that several of the large leading West End Hotels in London now think it worth while to make a special feature of invalid diet.
The truth is, most persons suffer nowadays from some one or other ailment, gout it may be, or rheumatism, bloodlessness, skin trouble, influenza, neuralgia, diabetes, kidney disorder, or what not, for which persons the regulation meals are quite unsuitable. Perhaps milk only is desired, or prepared cocoa, plain bread, boiled chicken, fish free from grease, and delicate, simple, sugarless, butterless, or acidless puddings. At present everything of such sort which an invalid may want is happily provided at these several Hotels.
"O fortunatos nimium sua, si bona norint, Agricolas! " Virgil's Georgic. ii. 458.
Hippocrates said, in an aphorism, that "the younger a human being is, the easier is it starved, until we come to extreme old age, when the powers of life are considered by some physiologists, Celsus among the number, to give way more quickly under famine than those of middle-aged men." Again, a nutritious diet, and a plentiful increase of good constructive food, are indispensable for children, hitherto badly fed, among the poor, who are found to suffer from inflammation of the eyes as to their outer membranes, with some ulceration thereof. To treat such cases medicinally whilst restricting the diet, would be a lamentable mistake. It is also an assured fact that certain physical troubles, such as corns, and enlargements of the toe-joints, with cold feet, each from a gouty condition, will improve under diminished food, the enlargements of the toes become lessened, and the peeling of the outermost skin, by removing the hardened hyper-trophied growth, whilst forming a sounder tissue beneath, enables well-fitting shoes, or boots, even smaller than before, to be worn with comfort.
Corns, and likewise certain cancerous indurations about the lips, or elsewhere, are actual overgrowths of the outermost skin, and they both arise fundamentally from an excess of certain materials in the blood; considering which we may conclude that to cure these evils we should restrict the diet accordingly. For example, a man, forty-eight years of age, who had lessened his daily food in order to mitigate, or cure, bronchitis, and asthma, combined with rheumatism, (in which endeavour he was altogether successful), became much surprised to find that the corns (hard, and soft) from which he had suffered for many years, altogether disappeared likewise under this code of treatment. Of course, corns are indirectly the effect of pressure from outside by tight, or ill-fitting shoes. But any direct pressure would of itself make the skin thinner, just as pressure tends to wear out a boot-sole; whereas the indirect effect of pressure on living tissues is to thicken them through excessive nutrition; so says Dr. Rabagliati in his Book of Aphorisms.
The great Duke of Wellington looked upon physic, and much food, as things equally objectionable, and to be avoided. "All my life," he declared, "I have taken as little medicine as I could; and I have always eaten, and drunk, as little as possible." Saint Francis of Assisi once, when obliged to dine at the sumptuous table of a rich gourmand, instead of eating the rare meats, sprinkled ashes thereupon, saying as he did it, "Brother ash is good." Nevertheless, nourishing and abundant food is essential for invalids whose nervous system has failed under some prolonged taxation of its endurance, so that impairment of the brain's functions, or painful neuralgia, or sleeplessness has supervened, especially through excess of literary work.
"Tales versus facio quale vinum bibo, Nihil possum scribere nisi sumpto cibo, Nihil valet penitus quod jejunus soribo, Nasonem post calices carmine prceibo".
Confession of Golias (12th century).
Wm. Hazlitt tells in his Conversation of Authors (1801): "There was Lamb himself, the most delightful, the most provoking, the most witty, and sensible of men. He always made the best pun, and the best remark in the course of the evening at a meal. No one ever stammered out such fine, piquant, deep, eloquent things in half-a-dozen sentences as he. How often did we cut into the haunch of letters while we discussed the haunch of mutton on the table! How we skimmed the cream of criticism! How we got into the heart of astronomy! How we picked out the marrow of authors! On one occasion he was for making out a list of persons famous in history whom one would wish to see again in the flesh, at the head of whom were Pontius Pilate, Sir Thomas Browne, and Doctor Faustus. With what a gusto would he describe his favourite authors, Donne, and Sir Philip Sidney, calling their most crabbed pages delicious! He tried them on his palate as epicures taste olives, and his observations had a smack in them like roughness on the tongue. To finish this subject, Mrs. Montagu's conversation is as fine-cut as her features, and I like to sit in the room with that sort of coronet face; what she says leaves a flavour like her green tea.
It is quite possible that much of the world's food-supply will be furnished on some future day, not far off, by electricity. Already we know that when powerful electrical discharges occur in air, nitric acid is produced, which, when combined presently with soda, potash, or lime in the soil, produces the nitrates so indispensable for plant life. And it is asserted that by simply passing a current of definite potential energy through soda-water, a series of products is formed culminating in sugars; oxalic acid is first formed, then tartaric acid, next citric acid, until grape sugar appears.
The paramount importance of phosphatic foods for building up the vital structures of nervous centres, and the main bodily organs, is unquestionable; so that food sources of phosphorus as present in alkaline phosphates are well worth consideration. Those foods which are most rich in phosphoric elements are yolk of egg, fish roe, the germ of wheat, calves' brains, and the thymus gland. Furthermore, phosphates of potash, soda, and other mineral salts are furnished inter alia by the cabbage, potatoes, lentils, and new milk. Phosphoric acid occurs with animals, and vegetables, in varying degrees. The phosphorus, whereof we cannot over-rate the importance, is present inorganically, as well as in combination with alkalies, or earths. Dr. King Chambers, however, explains as to certain popular notions with respect to taking phosphorus as of power for specially feeding the brain. He elucidates this matter by telling that "the dogmatic expression of Buchner's - ' No thinking without phosphorus' - has gained an unhappy notoriety. If it be held to mean that the amount of phosphorus passing through the nervous system bears a proportion to the intensity of thought, it is simply a mis-statement of facts.
A captive lion, tiger, or leopard, or hare, who can have wonderfully little to think about, assimilates, and parts with a greater quantity of phosphorus than a professor of chemistry working hard in his laboratory; while a beaver, who always seems to be contriving something, excretes so little phosphorus, at least in his urine, that chemical analysis cannot detect it. All that the physiologist is justified in stating is that for the mind to energize in a living body, that body must be kept living up to a certain standard, and that for this continuous renewal of life a supply of phosphatic salts is required. The phosphates, indeed, are wanted, but wanted by pinches, whilst water must be pouring in by pailfuls. One might go on thinking for weeks without phosphates, but without water only a few days; and without oxygen a few minutes would terminate the train of self-consciousness. The practical points taught us by physiology are, that for the integrity of thought, the integrity of the nervous system is requisite, and for the integrity of the nervous system, a due quantity of such food as contains digestible phosphatic salts".
Acting on which plain principle, not only foods rich in the phosphates are to be specially commended for invalid conditions, where there is a deficiency of the same, but the phosphatic salts themselves may be superadded in small quantities to the appropriate foods, particularly for children with scrofulous ailments, or rickets. Cerebos Salt, which is now frequently supplied by the grocer as "best salt," is a mixture of four parts of phosphates derived from bran, with ninety-six parts of ordinary table salt; "but this is" (says Dr. Hutchison) "of doubtful utility, because the phosphates thus present are purely in an inorganic lorm".
Otherwise such phosphates help much to repair defective brain, and nerve structures, whilst promoting the growth of bone in children. If a saltspoonful of Cerebos is stirred in a wineglassful of cold water, it will then form a milky fluid, thus showing that it is something more than common salt. It does not cake in the saltcellar, and may be sprinkled as freely as sifted sugar. For retaining the potash salts in potatoes they must be cooked in their jackets.