In 1584 the Tudor physician Thomas Cogan published The Haven of Health, a guide to maintaining health primarily aimed at the student. The bulk of the book concerns food and the diet, working its way systematically through different types of meat, vegetable, fruit, herbs and spices – and paying attention to their medicinal properties as well as their nutritional properties. Cogan’s comments give a fascinating snapshot of the state of 16th-century medical thinking, much of which was based on classical authorities such as Galen. The book went through many editions, and will still in print almost a century later.
At times his comments are almost comically wrong; at others his advice remains sensible today. And for some reason he really can’t abide leeks:
Leekes are hot and drie in the third degree, and as Arnoldus affirmeth in Schola Salerni their nourishment is nought, they hurt the eyes, and ingender blacke melancholy blood, and cause terrible dreames, they hurt the sinews through their sharpnesse, they hurt the teeth and gummes, and cholerick and melancholy folks should not use to eate them, and especially raw yet if they be boyled and eaten with Honey, they cause one to spit out easily the flegme which is in the breast, and open and ease the Lungs. In the Shires of England they used in Lent to eate raw Leeks, and Honey with Beanes or Pease sodden, but what rusticks doe, or may doe without hinderance of their health, is nothing to Students.
Leeks aren’t all bad, however:
If any student is desirous to eate Leeks, let them be first boyled, or else made in pottage, for Leek potage be very wholesome, not only for such as be cumbered with flegme, but also for those that have the collick or stone.
But the champion foodstuff for students? Nutmeg, of course:
Nutmegs bee hot and dry in the second degree. They are the fruit of a tree in India like unto a peach tree, they strengthen the stomach and liver, they abate the spleene, they provoke urine, they stay a laske, they breake winde. And that which is best for students, they comfort the braine, the sight, the liver, the spleene, and specially the mouth of the stomack. Yea as I have proved in many that had weake heads, being taken last at night in a cawdell of Almonds or hempseed, they procure sleepe . And in my judgement it is the best spice for students of all other. And I would advise them to grate often of it into their drinke, and if they can get nutmegs condite, which must be had of the Apothecaries, they would have always by them halfe a pound or more to take at their pleasure.