Saturday, 21 January 2012

A Lesson in Tonics and the Four Humours by a Muddy Apprentice!

Prior to Saturdays workshop Sarah e-mailed us Christopher Hedley’s research project which was devised to find a way of teaching about humeral medicine. The 4 humours are earth, air fire and water and date from Greek medicine. Hippocrates’ theory was that human moods were caused by an imbalance in bodily fluids; blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Galen later developed this into a personality theory.

The paper gives statements about each humour and you tick those which apply to yourself and count up the totals. The idea is that you can use the results to make changes that will make you more balanced.

Here are my scores:

MELANCHOLY (black bile)
Moody, rigid, pessimistic, quiet
SANGUINE (blood)
Sociable, talkative, carefree, easy-going
CHOLERIC (yellow bile)
Active, excitable, aggressive, impulsive
Passive, even-tempered, controlled


I was surprised to come out as water as I thought of myself as more earthy, but my earth score was second highest, this I believe makes me a bit muddy! To become balanced I believe I need to be warmer and drier.

I have looked at the regimes for phlegmatic and melancholy people.

Phlegmatic people should avoid:

·         Too much sleep (wish I had the chance!)

·         Eating too much (could do with sticking to this one)

·          Fish except with warming herbs (I’m vegetarian so don’t eat fish)

·          Milk products (I have been considering this as I always feel congested lately)

·         Sweet foods (I do crave these at times)

·         Salads except with spicy or garlic dressings (I always thought salads were good for you)

·         Pears and summer fruits (that’s a blow, I love fruit)

·         Introspection

Phlegmatic people should:

·         Eat warming food such as onions, garlic, root vegetables, warming wine and cooked food. (I do like all of these)

·         Eat astringent or dry foods such as globe artichokes and cabbages.

·         Fast at the change of seasons.

·         Get into the habit of adding gentle spices to foods.

·         Take regular gentle exercise and join co-operative ventures.

·         Find creative ways of expressing deep emotions.

·         Join an organisation

Christopher Hedley says that the traditional food of a country tends to counteract the excesses that occur in that environment. Traditional English foods include spiced meats and astringent pickles and this tends to be a damp country.

 For some traditional recipes may I shamelessly plug and recommend my friend Roly Rotherham’s book: Simmering Through The AgesSimmering Through The Ages.


·         Gentle spices especially; cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, fennel and dried ginger

·         Gentle astringents such as agrimony and elderflower

·         Warm, dry herbs such as sage, thyme and rosemary

·         Nettles and cleavers in the spring and warming herbs in the autumn

Melancholic people should avoid:

·         Excess food

·         Heavy food such as beef

·         Drying food such as lentils

·         Astringent food such as apples and quinces

·         Eating late in the day (I often don’t get a chance to eat until late)

·         Narcotics

·         Thinking too much and introspection

·         Lack of physical activity

Melancholic people should:

·         Take light but nourishing food

·         Have sweet foods in moderation

·         Have cleansing food such as asparagus, fennel and celery

·         Take prolonged, gentle exercise such as long walks or gardening (allotment!)

·         Do “earthy” activities such as pottery (I’d love to do this)

·         Have regular long baths with relaxing oils such as lavender (wonderful)

·         Cultivate the friendship of a sanguine person

·         Always have a long term project on the go that requires deep thought but gets you “out of yourself” (a herb apprenticeship?)


·         Gently warming, moving and cleansing herbs such as fennel, angelic, coriander leaves, parsley and juniper berries

·         Herbs for liver congestion such as barberry bark and dandelion

·         Herbs to clear melancholy from the heart such as borage and motherwort

·         Comfrey cream for dry skin

·         Valerian combined with linden or lemon balm for anxiety

Some of the suggestions for water and earth conflict which is not surprising considering the different natures of each. Drying and astringent foods are useful for watery phlegmatic people but to be avoided by earthy melancholic people. As I was mostly water I think I should have some drying foods. Melancholics can have some sweet food, tempting to go earthy here! I enjoy warming foods and working in groups so that is easy to follow but I can’t give up any fruit.

 I have decided that I can add the herbs to food, teas or tonics.

Saturday’s workshop was about tonics, something that does you good and is used over the long term not as an instant cure.

 We tried many different tonics; tea, a milky drink made with almond milk, tinctures, elixirs, honeys and electuaries. The “uplifting tincture” was a great favourite and the atmosphere got a little merry with all the tinctures to taste!

 We could make our own tonic and there were lots of ingredients to choose from. I decided to go for Christopher Hedley’s iron tonic with a twist – I decided to add some warming herbs to balance my present phlegmatic disposition.
Christopher Hedley's Iron Tonic
Soak equal amounts of fresh nettle tops and organic apricots in good red wine with a little bitter orange peel added. Soak for 2 weeks, strain and store in a cool place. Dose 1 or 2 dessertspoons twice daily.
My Tonic

 Into a jam jar went nettles (good for phlegmatics) and chopped apricots with nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon. I saw some wormwood on the table, I haven’t used it before and really just fancied trying it out so I put some in; according to Matthew Wood it is a warming herb so I think it was a good choice. I also threw in some ashwagandha seeds as this was something new to try; the roots are astringent and an excellent adaptogen. I also added milk thistle seeds to help my gall stones. I topped up my jar of tonic herbs with warming red wine which will certainly help the medicine go down as well!
A choice of ingredients
Milk thistle
Sorting out milk thistle seeds
Completed tonic

 So what did I learn from this workshop? Well, we are all different; I expect everyone present had different scores showing different temperaments. Our scoring with the four humours is not constant; it can change as we become more or less balanced. If you are working with this system it is easy to see that a tonic can be made to suit an individual. If someone presented with a condition to be treated a humeral assessment could help to make the herbs for that person more specific and give a more holistic treatment.

Quiz Time - Which of the Four Humours are You? (Just for Fun!)

 Quizzilla - also has me as phlegmatic
 Gurl- phlegmatic again!
Passions and Tempers – gives percentages of all humours


  1. Jackie, you made me laugh with the muddy apprentice bit! Thank you for sharing your humoral results! I have worked through the worksheet and find it to indicate I am in balance in three with a slight deficit in Earth, so going to work out a program for myself to try. Your passions and tempers fun link showed me very high in air! lol! Thank you for sharing your recipe and ideas for your own regime. And also for the pictures of the apprentice day. I do so wish I could join you all! xx Leslie