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.
All the former herbalists have agreed in pronouncing Strawberries (Fragaria) wholesome, and beneficial beyond every other English fruit; their smell is refreshing to the spirits; they abate fever, promote urine, and are gently laxative. So salubrious are Strawberries that if left by themselves to decompose they will decay without undergoing any acetous fermentation; nor can their kindly temperature be soured even by exposure to the acids of the stomach. They are constituted entirely of soluble matters, and leave no residuum to hinder digestion. It is probably for this reason, and because the fruit contains so little nutriment as a food, that the custom has arisen of combining clotted cream with it at table, whilst at the same time the sharp juices are thus agreeably modified.
"Mella que erunt epulis, et lacte fluentia fraga. "
"Then sit on a cushion, and sew up a seam, And thou shalt have Strawberries, Sugar, and Cream".
Horace Walpole, writing from Paris, in the autumn of 1775, said: "Madame du Deffand has been so ill that the day she was seized I thought she could not live till night. Her Herculean weakness, which could not resist Strawberries and cream after supper, has surmounted all the ups, and downs which followed her excess." Dr. Boteler is quoted in Walton's Compleat Angler as having said: "Doubtless God Almighty could have made a better berry, but He never did".
Charles Lamb had a sincere admiration of Izaak Walton, and the Compleat Angler. In his simple little story of Rosamund Gray (who was brought up from early years in a plain manner by her blind old grandmother, Margaret Gray), he tells of her lovingly thus: "I know not whether the peculiar cast of her mind might not be traced in part to a tincture she had received in early life from Walton, and Wither, from John Bunyan, and her Bible. The old-fashioned pictures in Wither's Emblems (an ancient book, and quaint) were among the first exciters of the infant Rosamund's curiosity. But in my catalogue of the small library at the cottage, I forgot to mention a Book of Common Prayer. Old ladies of Margaret's stamp (God bless them!) may as well be without their spectacles, or their elbow-chair, as their Prayer Book. I love them for it! Their Bible might never be suffered to lie about like other books, but was kept constantly wrapt up in a handsome case of green velvet, with gold tassels, as the only relic of departed grandeur they had brought with them to the cottage".
Strawberries were noted of old as "a surprising remedy for the jaundice of children, and particularly helping the liver of pot companions, wetters, and drammers." "Some also do use thereof to make a water for hot inflammations in the eyes, and to take away any film that beginneth to grow over them".
The chemical constituents of the Strawberry are a peculiar volatile aroma, sugar, mucilage, pectin, citric, and malic acids in equal parts, woody fibre, and water. The fruit is mucilaginous, somewhat tart, and saccharine. It stimulates perspiration, and imparts a violet scent to the urine; when purposely fermented it will yield an ardent spirit. If beaten into a pulp when ripe, and if water be poured thereupon, a capital cooling drink is made which is purifying, and somewhat laxative. The presence also of salicylic acid in Strawberries has now been definitely recognized, this acid being an acknowledged curative specific in acute rheumatism. The same acid is present likewise in several other fruits, to wit, grapes, apples, plums, cherries, and oranges, although its amount is less than one sixty-fourth part of a grain per two pounds of fruit. Nature is very gentle in her dosing, - more gentle by far than the clumsy mediciner, or food purveyor. Pliny made mention of the Strawberry as one of the native Italian fruits. Linnaeus declared he kept himself free from gout by eating plentifully of the same. Hoffman says he has known consumption much benefited by the same means. Strawberries are especially suitable in putrid fevers, as well as for catarrhal sore throat.
From the juice, with lemon, sugar, and water, French herbalists concoct a very agreeable drink, "Bavaroise a, la Grecque." In Germany stewed Strawberries, and Strawberry jam, are taken at dinner with roasted meats, or with chicken; this jam promotes a free flow of urine. For making Strawberry jam the perfume of the Strawberry is so very fugitive that it will most certainly evaporate if the fruit is exposed to heat in an open vessel. The fresh pulp, when sugared, should be put into a wide-mouthed glass jar with a well-fitting stopper. When this jar is almost full, put the cork, or stopper, in firmly, and place it in a bain marie, with the water kept at the boil therein for a couple of hours; a gentle simmer is sufficient. After the water in the bain marie has become cool over a slackened fire take out the jars. It was the Count de la Place who introduced a very delicious way of preparing Strawberries, by steeping them in the juice of a sweet orange. Another savant improved on this by adding the outer yellow rind of orange peel rasped off by a piece of loaf sugar; and he affected to prove by means of a shred of parchment escaped from the flames which destroyed the Library of Alexandria that it was after this fashion the fruit was served in the banquets on Mount Ida. "The noted Lady Ludlow" (told about by Mrs. Gaskell) "made the sense of smell a test of good breeding, particularly as to a faculty for discerning the odour of dying Strawberry leaves in the autumn.
She prided herself upon this special power of scent, insomuch that to confess lack of ability for recognizing it was with her almost a confession of humble birth; but musk was never named in her presence, so great was her antipathy thereto; whilst bergamot, and southernwood were under the same ban; to gather, or wear either of which betrayed in her opinion a vulgar taste." There are certain persons, particularly those of a strumous bodily habit, with whom Strawberries disagree. The late Dr. Armstrong held a strong opinion that the tiny seed grains which lie sprinkled all over the outer surface of each pulpy fruit, are prone to excite intestinal irritation; he therefore advised his patients to suck their Strawberries through muslin, so as to prevent these diminutive seeds from being swallowed.
Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton inveighs in a similar fashion against such seeds. "We should not dream," he says, "of heedlessly placing on a delicate part of our skin a poultice of Cayenne, or pickles, or other biting substances; we should not sand-paper it several times a day quite unnecessarily; we should not wash it, if exquisitely tender, with strong vinegar; yet all these things we practically do to our hapless stomachs, which are far more sensitive than any external portion of our anatomy. Strawberry jam, for example, has a sand-papering effect inside us, nothing being less digestible than the seeds of this fruit; and for that matter all seeds are the same; such seeds, and pips, absolutely and positively refuse to be ground up, or to become dissolved in passing through the system." "What," asked Sydney Smith, when writing to Mrs. Baring (1834) from Weymouth Street, London, "What is real piety? What is true attachment to the Church? How are these fine feelings best evinced? The answer is plain, - by sending Strawberries to a clergyman".
The Wild Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria Vesoa) is the progenitor of our large, juicy, delicious cultivated fruit. Its small berries are more acid than those of the garden plants, and their sharp juice is an excellent cleanser of the teeth, dissolving away any incrustations of tartar thereupon without injuring the enamel. A medicinal tincture is made from the berries of the Woodland Strawberry, which serves to relieve nettlerash, or erysipelas, being also of help for a suffocative swelling of the swallowing throat. Old Fuller styles these diminutive acid berries "toothsome to the palate if with Claret wine, or sweet cream; and so plentiful in the County of Devon that a traveller may gather them sitting on horseback in their hollow highways; they delight to grow on the north side of a bank, and are great coolers".
"Ipsa tuis maribus sylvestri nata sub umbra Mollia fraga leges." (Says Ovid).
It should be thoughtfully noted that the human mouth is a very active germ incubator by its conditions, which are highly favourable for bacterial growth, viz., the temperature (about 98° Fahrenheit), with free access of air, and abundance of culture media in fragments of food, cast-off skin cells, saliva, exudations from the gums, and decayed dentine. Thus it is that very many varieties of these organisms, both poisonous, and neutral, teem by myriads in the mouth; some thereof forming a source through which serious, and even fatal diseases occur. More than a hundred different species of such organisms have been isolated, and cultivated. Highly important, therefore, is it to keep the mouth (within its enclosure) pure, free from carious teeth, and suppurating gums, and disinfected as to its decomposing shreds, and fragments of food-matters. We are by no means certain that the use of artificial teeth by the old is an unmixed blessing. The fact is worthy of notice that almost all the old people who live to an advanced age in country villages, (and it is here the greatest age is reached,) rely on their toothless gums for sufficient mastication; and the absence of teeth in very old persons may possibly be an indication of the necessity to return then to the simple diet of childhood.
Artificial teeth may do harm, too, by encouraging old folk to eat more food than is good for them, and of a kind unsuited to their years. Horace Walpole, writing from Strawberry Hill (July, 1871), says: "To-day the wind is again in the dolorous corner; for these four days I have been confined with pain, and swelling in my face. The apothecary says it is owing to the long drought; but as I should not eat grass were there ever such a plenty, and as my cows, though starving, have no swelled cheeks, I do not believe him. I humbly attribute my frequent disorders to my longevity, and to that Proteus, the gout, who is not the less himself for being incog".