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.
Sydney Smith declared: "God has given us wit, and flavour, and brightness, and laughter, and perfumes, to enliven the days of man's pilgrimage, and to charm his pained steps over the burning marle." That specific odours (fragrant, or the reverse) can exercise medicinal effects (particularly as regards meats and drinks) on the health of the body, is undeniable. Likewise (as stated elsewhere) this health can be "remarkably preserved by wholesome, fragrant dishes, and drinks from the garden of fruit trees, all the years." "Such are both alimentall, and physicall; they cure disease, and preserve health, discharging the body of the beginnings, and seeds of many diseases. This they do in severall respects: first, by the organs of the body; secondly, by the affections of the minde. The sweet perfumes of fruits work immediately upon the spirits for their refreshing; but meat, and drink act by ambages, and length of time. Sweet, and healthful ayres are speciall preservatives to health, and therefore much to be prised. Is the curative part of physick so worthy, and excellent as the preservative part? It's better to stand fast, than to fall, and rise again!" "Physicians" writes Montaigne, "might, in mine opinion, draw more use, and good from odours than they doe.
For myselfe have often perceived that according unto their strength, and qualitie, they change, and alter, and move my spirits, and worke strange effects in me, which makes me approve the common saying that the invention of incense, and perfumes in Churches, so ancient, and so far dispersed throughout all nations, and religions, had a speciall regard to rejoyce, to comfort, to quicken, to rouze, and to purifie our senses, so that we might be the apter, and readier unto contemplations. And, the better to judge of it, I would that I had my part of the skill which some cookes have who can so curiously season, and temper strange odors with the savour, and rellish of their meats! As it was especially observed in the service of the King of Tunes, who in our day landed at Naples to meet, and enter-parley with the Emperour Charles the Fifth. His viands were so exquisitely farced, and so sumptuously seasoned with sweet odoriferous drugs, and aromatical spices, that it was found upon his booke of accompt, the dressing of one peacocke, and two fesants amounted to one hundred duckets; which was their ordinarie manner of cooking his meats.
And when they were carved up, not only the dining chambers, but all the roomes of his Pallace, and the streets round about it, were replenished with an exceeding odoriferous, and aromaticall vapour, which continued a long time after".
Quite of late Dr. Forbes Watson, in Flowers and Gardens, has remarked when writing about the Cowslip, that "its fine scent recalls the sweet breath of the cow, - an odour which breathes in conjunction with cows as they sit at rest in the pasture, and which is believed by many, perhaps with truth, to be actually curative of disease." To the same effect Mrs. Catherine Crowe (in The Night Side of Nature, 1848) has reminded us that "the disturbing effects of odours on some persons, which are quite innoxious to others, must have been noticed by everybody. Some people do actually almost die of a rose in aromatic pain".
'It has been pertinently, though coarsely observed, that "each man's own bed does not smell strong to himself, because he is accustomed to its characteristic odour. Neither does a tallow-chandler smell those horrible, and pernicious fumes that old tallow sends forth when it is melted. But let any other person who is not accustomed thereto be near such things, and they will prove highly offensive." Statistics compiled from reports of inspectors of scent factories, as well as experiments made upon some of the lower animals, especially frogs, have proved of late that not only the stronger scents, but even the more subtle, and delicate perfumes of fragile flowers, are capable of producing fatal effects even upon man. The power of odorous blossoms is not only exerted through the nose and lungs, when the scent thereof is inhaled, but where the air is heavily charged with perfumes, as in a closed room at night, the whole skin is capable of absorbing to some extent the vapour, which has a decidedly benumbing effect upon the nervous system at large.
A vase full of Easter lilies (Arum, or "Gethsemane," from its blood-red spots,) is quite sufficient to cause extreme distress to those who are weak, or especially sensitive to such subtle mysterious influences.
"These are God's Easter lilies, They grow at Passion-tide, They are the Angels' trumpets, Whose harps are laid aside.
White-throated Arum lilies,
Through you the news is borne; The blare of Easter bugles,
The shout of Easter morn!"
"There is one class of women," says a recent writer,. "who must perforce forego the perfume, and beauty of flowers, - eschew them as they would poison, - and these are the singers. Any flowers of strong fragrance have an immediate effect upon the voice, particularly violets." "A Violet-scented atmosphere," it is observantly suggested, "makes those persons who are surrounded by its influences, religious, affectionate, and peace-loving." Women of lovable nature are always fond of Violet perfume. Again, the fragrance of Roses finds its admirers among warm-hearted, imaginative beings; whilst that of Heliotrope has its devotees among persons of dainty, neat, and rather unassuming dispositions, who dislike fuss, or notoriety. Lord Bacon commended the lifting a turf or two in your garden-walks, and pouring into each of the spaces a bottle of Claret, so as to "recreate the sense of smelling, this being no less grateful than beneficial".
Boyle said that in his time many physicians avoided giving drugs to children, having found that external applications to be imbibed by the skin, or by respiration, were sufficient. Sir Charles Bell told me that Mr. F., a gentleman well known in public life, had only to hold an old book to his nose to produce all the effects of a cathartic. Elizabeth Okey was oppressed with most painful sensations when near a person whose frame was sinking. "Whenever this effect was of a certain intensity Dr. Elliotson observed that the patient always died".