earlymodernrecipes

exploring recipe books from the seventeenth-century

Archive for the tag “Depression”

St John’s Wort

The most popular herbal remedy for depression today has got to be St John’s Wort. This little yellow flower is available to us over the counter in the form of tablets, teas and extracts. Its efficacy has caused much controversy: some studies arguing it is the same, if not  better than prozac, others finding it does no more than a placebo. Either way, our use of it against depression is comparatively recent in the plant’s history.

Although St John’s Wort features prominently in the recipe books and herbals of the seventeenth-century, there is no evidence that it was advised for melancholia or that people in the early modern period used it as such. There are many recipes for making St John’s Wort oil in seventeenth-century recipe books but not for the treatment of melancholy. Instead they are labelled as ‘for the joints’ or ‘for all sorts of ills’.

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Melancholia and Depression: the same but different

Prozac (fluoxetine) commonly prescribed today against depression

some of these posts will be about work I’ve already done over the summer as it was only yesterday the, now painfully obvious, idea of having a blog materialised.

So far I’ve been interested in the link between melancholia in the early modern period and depression today, and our mutual attempts to overcome mental illness through diet. Melancholia and depression can broadly be compared. There are a lot of similar symptoms such as sadness, anxiety, fear, despondency, restless energy, oversensitivity and manic highs to name a few. However, historians have to be really careful about presuming an illness today is the same one in the past. Obviously, and unfortunately (from a research perspective), we can’t go back in time to check.

What we do know is that melancholia was very common in the seventeenth-century and today 8-12% of the population experiences depression in any year. We also know that despite  advances in medicine bringing us chemical anti-depressants like Prozac, many people still use herbal remedies and diet to deal with their mental illness. Our continuing experience of mental illness, and our attempts to self-remedy, link us with people from the 1600s.

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