Ricketsons Food and Dietary Recommendations

Foodways are the ways in which people define, find, prepare and consume their nutrients, including drinks as well as solid and liquid foods.   Diets are ways in which people define their food consumption practices related to the types of foods they consume and how these foods can be classed into categories of similar types of foods, and then these categories used to define preferred menus or groups of foods commonly consumed according to tradition.  Diets may serve as day-to-day biological and physiological operations, or in some cases they can tend towards being more culturall or socioculturally driven and performed due to expectation of others.  In the case of medical dietary practices, there are specific observations rules Shadrach Ricketson experienced, and knowingly grew up with, that impacted the content of his chapter “Food”.  This chapter was the longest chapter in his book, containing the most detail and longest quotes from references, suggesting his level of understanding of this aspect of human behavior as a medical problem, one that could be very easily personally influenced and regulated, in order to prevent oncoming diseases to take form due to unhealthy eating practices or behaviors.  

There are a couple of important contributions this style of writing made to medicine, in particular New York and Hudson Valley medicine, that the other writers of health, hygiene, diet, foodways and the like failed to produce in such aa succint fashion.  Ricketson was one of the first American physicians to observe a relationship between diet and disease.  Although many associations between poor food habits and disease were well demonstrated by European culture, the stresses of the American lifestyle and need for obtaining foods in ways no longer important to European surival, such as the need to hunt for a full winter’s supply of meats or the need to make use of the best natural food substitutes available to you, either as a part of the combined Native American-Colonial foodways tradition, or fully European Survivalist method of making it through the winters, droughts and period with little incoming food shipments, as part of the history, there was a manner and method to how and why some foodways habits and patterns became important parts of the Hudson Valley culture and tradition.  This was true for colonial times, and following the succession of the United States from British Colonial rule, this was once again a major part of the American lifestyle from 1783, the end of the Revolutionary War, well into the mid 1800s when large farming establishments were developed, agricultural industries then invented, and livestock and poultry industries established as part of the Hudson valley and New York lifestyle.  If we take this important change in the United States lifestyle one step further, the importance of large businesses which formed as offshoots of these primary resource industries also came to form and flourish in the United States.  Some of these industries formed for reasons such as avoiding the high costs needed to obtain certain products from overseas, avoiding the need to pay any sort of shipping or import fees and taxes, and above all, becoming self-sustainable as a country, with limited need for survival related  interventions from coutnries abroad.    It is for this reason that the first industries in the Hudson Valley involved the establishment of tree and fruit farms (a Dutch history by-product), and the development of several fabrics industries, but most importantly the wool industry.

Each one of these signs of a self-sustaining society also had its related links to personal health and disease prevention practices.  Even industries that we typically think had little to do with health, in fact had a strong assocaition with healthy living practices, and so were included in many reviews of the healthiness of a given part of the local countryside or continent.  During Ricketson’s life, foodways and what he perceived as food-related health problems became a major concern for him.  Ricketson speels this out on 59 pages of his book Means of Preserving Health and Preventing Diseases.   Since the entire book consists of about 300 pages, this means the importance of this topic to health comprised about 20% of the written information that he was providing.  Another 10% each (ca. 25 pages each) were spent discussing “Drink” and “Air and Climate”.  These topics and then followed by chapters on Exercise (7.5%), Sleep (5%), Clothing (5%), Passions of the Mind (2.5%), and a 30 page section devoted to “Stool” (4%), urine (<1%), Perspiration (4%), “Saliva or Spittle” (2.5%).  The final 70 pages (approximately 22%, or about 1%-2.5% per topic) of the book reviewed Rules for valetudinarians, rules for those with good health (several pages each) and discourses on nine other topics related to methods of treatment that can be employed to deal with diseases, ranging from cautions regarding the uses of specific potentially dangerous medicines or treatment methods (mercury, opium, the use of bitters, blood-letting), to ways of preventing diseases (in particular bathing, domestic cleanliness, and ventilation), to new exploratory topics in healing such as medical electricity.

Foodstuffs and foodways were the most important topic Ricketson had to discuss.  This part of the book is fairly complex and detailed, and eludes to a number of dietary health practices that need to be extracted from Ricketson’s writings.  Ricketson’s writings delved into the following medical or health related conditions, and how diet causes, treat or prevents these maladies from taking form or becoming fatal.  He notes that for the most part, the noted Ricketson personally makes are for those residing in the United States (see p. 62).  But he makes use of a number of other writers and references pertaining to cultures and individual, healthy or unhealthy, residing in otehr countries, usually some where in Western Europe  (please note, in the following lists, some of the terms are not his own).

Notes Pertaining to Diet and Health

1.  General statements

  • “Food is, undoubtedly, a matter of no little importance in preserving health, and, upon a due attention to it, the prevention of diseases,” 58
  • “[E]very person’s health depends much on the quantity and quality of his diet”, 59
  • “Moderation and temperance have, from their importance, been not improperly called, ‘The golden means of preserving health'”, 62
  • convalescence and diet has its concerns, 61
  • “luxurious eaters” and those who practice “excessive drinking” are unhealthy, 61
  • “Indeed it is doubted by some, whether more people have not been destroyed by excess of diet, than ever have been destroyed by famine”, 62
  • “A proper attention to diet, as well as to pure air, is no less important, and necessary in the cure, than in the preservation of diseases, and in the preservation of health in general.  Hence, many disorders prove incurable by medicine, without a well regulated diet and regimen  to which, those of a chronic nature often yield, more than to the whole materia medica.”, 62-63
  • Encyclopedia Britannica:  “modus utendi ex veneno facit medicamentum, ex medicamento venenum.” (The mode of use makes a poison a medicine, a medicine a poison.) 73
  • Cullen: “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” 73

2.  Excessive eating

  • Fothergill: “[T]hose who are happy enough to abstain from the first sense of satiety, have made great progress in the art of maintaining such a command of appetite, as, under most chronic indispositions, is one of the greatest aids of recovery; and, in health, is one of the surest preservatives against them.”, 63
  • Fothergill: “It is a doctrine, however trite and familiar, which cannot be too strongly inculcated; as a neglect of this attention to the quantity of food proportioned to the necessity of each individual, is, sooner or later, followed by the most serious consequences.”, 64
  • Fothergill: “The repeated excesses at dinner are serious affairs.  It has been thought, that more people suffered by hard drinking than immoderate eating.”, 65
  • Willich: “every satiety, or superfluity, is noxious,” “excessive supplies not only are unnecessary, but produce the most serious and fatal disorders” 66
  • “A much greater number of diseases originate, upon the whole, from irregularities in eating, than in drinking; and, in the latter respect, we commit more frequent errors with regard to quantity than quality”, 67
  • “[Only] eat as much as necessary . . . if we exceed this measure, we produce too much blood”, 67

3.  Obesity

  • Encyclopedia Britannica: “Fat people should fast at times, but the lean should never do so.”, 70

 4.  Dietary errors and their consequences

  • It is “only in particular persons, that diseases arise from errors in diet.”, 74
  • Breakfast, Encyclopedia Brittanica: “There is no error in this country more dangerous, or more common, than the neglect of bread; for it is the safest vegetable aliment, and the best corrector of animal food…”, 77

 5. Children and Diet

  • education of children about eating, 67
  • “Both tea and coffee are a far less salutary part of diet, particularly for children, than milk and its different preparations, with those of arrow-root, sago, tapioca, and salep.” 93

6.  Disease causes and prevention

6a.  Diet and Exercise

  • Willich:  “A milk diet, joined with exercise, and abstinence from animal food, anf rom wine, may not only be considered as a preventative, but an almost certain cure for the gout, and many other inflammatory disorders . . . Milk, with fresh vegetables and fruits, has been found no less effectual both in preventing and curing the sea-scurvy, and other diseases occasioned by a putrescent state of the fluids.” 82

6b.  Diary Products

  • Hot climates or seasons cause butter to become “stale or rancid”, “disagreeable and offensive”, 77
  • butter overdose, 77
  • raw milk is good for the healthy, but not the convalescents or valetudinarians, boil it, 80
  • cheese, old cheese useful for assisting digestion, 81
  • whey, as a drink, considerable nourishment, “particularly serviceable in hectic, nephritic, and calculous, or gravelly disorders, and, in other complaints of the urinary passages, 81
  • milk is intermediate between animal and vegetable, avoid using in those who are irritated, such as by the hectic fever, 81
  • Encyclopedia Britannica:  favors the same regarding use for the hectic, favoring it for those of inflammatory temperaments, 84

6c.  Teas

  • Tea, Percival:  “constant and liberal use of the highly flavoured kind, drink strong and hot, with little or no addition, relaxes or weakens the stomach, and impairs digestion,; and is therefore, injurious to health”, 92.
  • Teas which are made “containing volatile, cordial or reviving principles, for powers of a stimulating nature, when long continued, are sure to be followed by an atonic or debilitated state of the stomach; and, finally, the whole constitution.” 92-3.
  • Percival:  “Tea, when received into the stomach, is highly debilitating and relaxing, and the immoderate use of it is attended with the most pernicious effects. . .  Inflammatory diseases more rarely occur; and, in general, are much less rapid and violent in their progress, than formally.”, 93
  • Percival: “Green tea is much more sedative and relaxing than bohea; and the finer the species of tea, the more debilitating and pernicious are its effects.” 94
  • Willich: “The bad effects of tea noted include:  “in large quantities, is attended with bad consequences.  It thoroughly relaxes the coats of the stomach, weakens the bowels, and predisposes them to flatulency upon the least occasion, and destroys all the energy of the digestive organ.” 94
  • “A moderate use of tea may, sometimes, be of service to persons in a perfect state of health,: yet, for daily use it cannot be recommended,” 95

Counterbalancing this are the impacts on the constitution of the body of Europeans that has commenced due to its use.

6d.  Dieting, Pregnancy and Breast-feeding

Some evidence has been found suggesting Ricketson played an important leadership role in the local medical society around 1806-1808.  He was apparently in charge of managing the more expensive surgical and other medical tools or objects purchased by local physicians.  On one occasion he was forwarded a trephining tool for safe storage for the committee.  Other tools of this cost and importance included the standard surgical instruments required for field services in cases of local military excursions or even war (the War of 1812 had its precursors forming in form of m,ilitary encounters that took place at the Canadian Border and several ports as early as 1809), and obstetrical instruments such as the forceps.   It is not unlikely that Ricketson would have played some role as an obstetrician delivering local children whenever a physician was needed to perform this task.  His sensitivity to the maternity part of his profession is made apparent by huis understanding of the breast-feeding responsibility, and so, as a sign of his awareness about this special concern, engaged in a fairly length section discussion maternal milk production and its quality based on maternal dietary practices.  This discussion progressed somewhat into properly feeding and misfeeding the youngest children, with section on feeding older children included throughout in the other sections of this chapter.

His suggestion to mothers who are Breast-feeding are as follows:

  • pp. 84-89–breastfeeding and milk
  • a mixed diet is recommended for breast-feeding mothers, 86
  • Cullen: “I must say a great deal to show, that the human economy, except in few instances, does not absolutely demand the use of animal food; that, in fewer instances still, does it demand it in large proportion: and that, for the most part, the health of the human body is best preserved by a large portion of vegetable food.  So, from all this, I think it will readily follow, that the health of women, during the time oft their nursing, may be safely sustained by the use of vegetable aliments alone”,  86

6e.  Over-indulgence

  • Fothergill: regarding invalids and false appetite (i.e. overindulgence, bulemia, anorexia, etc.), “by which means, their sufferings are increased; the disease gains ground; defeats every purpose of the physician; and leads them into some permanent and incurable malady”, p. 64
  • Ricketson: “The constitutions of people are injured and worn more by gorged or overloaded stomachs, especially at night, than they are by laborious exercise.” 138
  • Ricketson: “Apoplexy and palsy are not uncommon consequences of full meals and over-distended stomachs, after dinner and supper.” 138

6f.  Diseases or Conditions

  • apoplexy and palsy, 138
  • general health, broth and soups, 107
  • Colds and catarrhs 95
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • eructation, 70
  • heartburn, 136
  • Gout p. 91
  • Hypochondria 77 (bread), 95, 107
  • Hysteria 95, 107
  • gluttony and disease, 60
  • Behavioral or Psychological Gluttony, 61
  • colic. 133, induced by plum seed bezoar

6g.  Foodways and health

  • Encyclopedia Brittanica: “Health depends almost wholly on a proper crasis of the blood; and to preserve this, a mixture of vegetables, in some degree is always required.”, 70
  • coffee, irritating to those who are corpulent and weak  102
  • the effects of fats in the diet on the health of the body, 124

6h.  Foodways and Exercise

  • a milk and vegetable diet is recommended for exercise, 104


Preludes to Nationalism?

  • Willich, quoting Solander, regarding imbibing the wrong beers and other herbal drinks too much: “But, if this practice must be indulged in, we ought to choose the herbs growing in our own meadows and gardens, instead of making ourselves tributary to distant nations”, 96 

One interesting point is Ricketson’s familiarity with Willich’s work, and in turn Dr. Solander’s work on producing the next panacea or “Modern” version of the elixir of life (as noted in the Poughkeepsie Journal, ca. 1799-1803, the term “Modern” was used by pharmacists to differentiate their most recent patent medicine formulas being marketed from the more traditional “antient” remedies).   Solander’s main issue was with the medicinal actions and qualitites of tea.  Bohea tea from India was considered to be the most medicinal tea at the time and therefore was often the most recommended and most popular.  Its replacements, substitutes, adulterants, and even couterfeits were teas obtained from elsewhere, such as China.  Solander’s interpretation of these  different looking teas was that they were not as effective as Bohea tea and to some users even detrimental.  To prevent this, Solander designed his own “Sanative Tea” blend to serve as a replacement for the potentially adulterated Bohea tea products.  These teas were produced using local plants raised by Solander himself, in his own garden, under the best growing conditions, and so provided the best form of medical values desired from the Indian versions of Bohea tea.  According to Sir John Sinclair (Ricketson’s competitor as a writer perhaps?), woodruff (Asperula sp.  or possibly Galium sp.) was also a common substitute.  Like many others trying to promote their own recipes and special formulas at the time, Solander was a “quack” but his tea was not at a poor equivalent for Bohea teas.  Sinclair stated his own recommendations for a Bohea tea substitute: “the first leaves of whortleberry, properly gathered, and dried in the shade, cannot be differentiated from the real teas.” (Sinclair, fn, pp. 81-2).

Sinclair and Solander’s statements have direct relationship to local Hudson valley history.  Like any popular culture concept, belief systems can be passed from one area to the next.  In this case, could the nationality Solander assigned to his recipe over that of other countries to market his “Sanative Tea” be transferred to the United States.   the obvious answer to this question is “yes” and so the real question is where and when did such beliefs take hold of the popular views about medicine as both a proper natural theological practice and as a sign of the country’s nationalism and economic sustainability.

Aside from Ricketson’s brief statement, proof that this notion was becoming highly popular locally is difficult to uncover proof for as a part of Hudson Valley history.  Suffice it to say it probably did happen, and attempts will be made to uncover further evidence for such a claim at the local level.  This nationalism felt after the war, and throughout the post-war depression years, is expected to be present to some extent due not only to winning the Revolutionary War a generation or two before, but also due to the up and coming or very recent election of the first president of the United States.   Even though Solander was not American born and raised, the idea of growing herbs in one’s own backyard versus making one’s self, family and friends a “tributary to distant nations” probably wasn’t that far off from local political strategies and economic plans for the time.  Ricketson’s quote of Willich, referring to this aspect of Solander’s gardening philosophy, may have struck a nerve in the Hudsson Valley and New York readers as well.  Supporting this notion in the medical journals is the increasing interst in local plant medicine that finally became a regular topic in the local Medical Repository, for the first time on a fairly regular basis, from 1800 and 1810.