Medieval Medical Regimen
A Work In Progress
by Sofya la Rus, Mka Lisa Kies
Updated 17 June 2007
Lifestyle was considered a critical determinant of health, perhaps more so than today. And it was often ignored by the patient, much like today.
As with the rest of medieval medical practice, a healthly lifestyle or regimen was based on an understanding of the four elements and the four humors.
All things in the world are composed of four elements:
The proportion of these elements in each object determines its nature.
- Air – hot and moist
- Fire – hot and dry
- Earth – cold and dry
- Water – cold and wet
In the human body the four elements correspond to the four humors:
The proportion of these humors in each person determines their physical and mental tendencies.
- Air – hot and moist - Blood
- Fire – hot and dry – Yellow bile or choler
- Earth – cold and dry – black bile or melancholy
- Water – cold and wet - phlegm
The medieval temperaments:
The life of the party – charming, talkative and cheerful
Does not worry much about the future.
Some authorities consider the ideal temperament.
Prone to headaches, swelling, gaining weight, fevers with sweats, diarrhea.
Closest Meyers-Briggs Type - ESFP
A natural leader – bold, focused and ambitious.
Quick to anger.
Tends to stomach ailments, liver troubles, dry skin, sunburns, dry fevers.
Closest Meyers-Briggs Type - ENTJ
Quiet, calm, never gets upset, avoids change, prone to day-dreaming.
Fair skin, short stature.
Susceptible to lung problems, excess mucus, weight gain, kidney problems.
Closest Meyers-Briggs Type - ISFP
Solitary and studious. Detail oriented and loves abstract theory.
Prone to depression, constipation.
Closest Meyers-Briggs Type - INTJ
Link to temperament test here...
Age and the Humors:
Childhood = warm and moist time of life - more sanguine, less melancholy
Seasons and the Humors:
Youth = warm and dry time of life - more choleric, less phlegmatic
Adulthood = cool and dry time of life - more melancholy, less sanguine
Old age = cool and moist time of life - more phlegmatic, less choleric
Spring = warm and moist time of year - more sanguine, less melancholy
Other Influences on Health:
Summer = warm and dry time of year - more choleric, less phlegmatic
Fall = cool and dry time of year - more melancholy, less sanguine
Winter = cool and moist time of year - more flegmatic, less choleric
The environment and weather - winds, sun, moisture, bad air
The above all interact. So a person with sanguine temperament (warm and moist) will be healthier in the fall (cool and dry) and in middle age (also cool and dry), but must be extra careful in the spring and in childhood when their temperamental tendency to excess blood is enhanced by the time of year and time of life.
Activity - sleep, bathing and hygiene, exercise, work, sexual activity
Emotions - anger, laughter, grief
Illness is caused by:
General principles of a healthy lifestyle:
These problems are caused when environment, emotions, activity, etc. alter the healthy balance of humors in the body.
Any sudden change in lifestyle or environment is dangerous.
Avoid things that could make you sick. Your medieval “allergies” start with things that are bad for your temperament. For example, someone who has a tendency to an excess of choler, a choleric temperament, should avoid choleric (hot and dry) things.
Choose things to counteract your temperament. Our choleric friend should generally try to eat cool and moist (phlegmatic) foods.
Maintain balance. When exposed to hot, wet weather, one should eat cooling and drying foods to maintain the balance of humors in the body. (While keeping in mind your temperament and age.)
Determine recent exposures (weather, diet, etc.)
Treat the Imbalance:
Analyse symptoms (for example, moist vs. dry fever)
Evaluate bodily secretions (for example, yellow vs. white vs. bloody nasal discharge)
Increase the humor that is lacking through diet, activity, medicines, etc.
Heating and moisturizing things (encourage formation of good blood):
Decrease the humor that is defective or excessive through sweating, purging, bloodletting, etc.
Foods – Poultry, mutton, veal, onion, celery, eggplant, turnips, dates, figs, grapes, butter, etc.
Heating and drying things (for formation of yellow bile or choler):
Beverages – hot water,
Herbs – licorice, nutmeg (or dry?), watercress
Environment – south wind
Foods – beef, dried/salted meats, roasts, roosters, beet, cabbage, leeks, dried figs, sweet dates, almonds
Cooling and drying things (improve black bile):
Beverages – wine, rose water, salt water, ale?
Herbs – anise, basil, mustard, parsley, pepper, mint
Environment – silk or woolen clothes
Foods – fish, gelatin, lemons, citrons, black cherries, sour apples, cheese, vinegar, barley, millet, rye, rice
Cooling and moisturizing things (increase phlegm):
Herbs – betony, camphor, plantain
Environment – linen clothing, north wind, long baths
Foods – duck and geese, pork, prawns, chick peas, cucumbers, lettuce, cherries, melons, watermelon
Herbs – borage, purslane, licorice (or hot?)
Activities – snow and ice, short baths
In accordance with humors...
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de Lanvallei, Agnes. “On Humors” Class Handout June 2005, Lilies War XIX.
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University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.
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University Press. 1998.
Gottfried, Robert S. Doctors and medicine in medieval England,
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Wellcome Institute. 1984.
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viribus herbarum. Harvard University Press, 1949.
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A. Sutton, 1995.
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