As an herbal clinician, I take a three-legged-stool approach to health. I might go into that at some other point, but it’s not really on topic for this blog. One of the key aspects of my approach to wellness is staying well hydrated, which is necessary for building blood and healthy tissues.
The focus on purging, fasting, and whatnot in alternative healthcare circles really unsettles me. It reminds me of reading about dutiful Victorian mothers who lined their children up for weekly doses of Brimstone and Treacle on the advice of their doctors who believed everyone was full of “thicke grosse humors” that needed to be purged.
There was much to admire about Culpeper in his taking on the establishment and being a champion of local systems, but he was a humoral physician and way too fond of purging for my liking. Giving people harsh purgatives is emulating some of the worse aspects of professional medicine of the past that weren’t in the least bit holistic. This is something that the chymical physicians took the Galenists to task for. It was a long while though before emetics and purgatives were phased out of medical practice.
The five emollient herbs recommended by humoral physicians like Culpeper weren’t really all that intense. He recommended mallows/hollyhock, violets, beets, pellitory of the wall, and garden mercury as the five emollient herbs. Some sources list brank-ursine (Acanthus mollis) instead of beets.  Today we see the word emollient and we think that almost immediately of skincare, but then it pertained more to “loosening” herbs, which were agents that hydrated you and kept you evacuating regularly.
The truth is that the early modern healthcare culture focused far more on staying well than it did the physicians’ purging remedies. You couldn’t even open a book about taking care of your eyes without being told that the preservation of eyesight “doth consist partly in good order of diet.” When is the last time your optometrist told you what to eat?
Our friend, the eye specialist, recommended broths made of gentle emollients like mallows, violet leaves, groundsel, raisins, Damaske prunes, and currants. He assured us that strong medicines that agitate the humors are not good to be used frequently and steered people away from the harsher remedies.
Another author explained that oatmeal gruel was “very good to be Drank after Labour, Travel, Sweating, or the like, to prevent Surfeits, [see footnotes] no sort of strong Drink being comparable to it in that respect.”
Often when people are writing about history, they are looking for the sensational and weird clickbait, but if you look closely there is a lot of common sense too. Physicians didn’t write about the daily preventative sorts of things because it wasn’t in their wheelhouse. And as I have said before if you focus too much on one type of manuscript, you miss the big picture.
The message really hasn’t changed all that much in terms of taking proactive measures to stay regular. My doctor joked with me a few years ago that it was time for me to start eating prunes. I am not much of a prune person, so I worked up the following decoction. It is good in terms of not really tasting like much so it can be mixed with juice or used to make oat milk.
 It should be mentioned here that plants like Mercurialis annua which contain mercury, and mercury, should be left in the history books. Ingestion of any heavy metal is not safe. I don’t work with Acanthus spp. just due to mixed reports of toxicity.
 Baley, Walter. A Briefe Treatise Touching the Preservation of the Eie Sight …, 1602.
Tryon, Thomas. Monthly Observations for the Preserving of Health with a Long and Comfortable Life 1688. (It is useful when reading this manuscript to understand a surfeit as an illness caused by too much of anything. So too much food, overexertion, too much heat &c.)