• Print

Primitive Physick: John Wesley on diet and excercise

First published in the 1740s, the Rev. John Wesley’s book “Primitive Physick” contains health and wellness advice, at least some of which make surprisingly good sense today.

Creative Commons
A 16th edition of John Wesley's Primitive Physick published in London, 1774.

July 31, 2012

In his book,  “Primitive Physick,” the Rev. John Wesley offered the people of his day both an overall preventive approach to health and a long list of remedies for specific ailments -- in all more than 800 prescriptions for more than 300 different disorders.

The following are just a few of Wesley’s suggestions:

On diet

The great rule of eating and drinking is, to suit the quality and quantity of the food to the strength of our digestion; to take always such a sort and such a measure of food as sits light and easy to the stomach.

All pickled, or smoked, or salted food, and all high-seasoned, is unwholesome.

Nothing conduces more to health than abstinence and plain food, with due labour.

For studious persons, about eight ounces of animal food, and twelve of vegetable, in twenty-four hours, is sufficient.

Water is the wholesomest of all drinks; quickens the appetite, and strengthens the digestion most.

Strong, and more especially spirituous, liquors are a certain, though slow, poison.

Malt liquors (except clear small beer, or small ale of due age) are exceeding hurtful to tender persons.

Coffee and tea are extremely hurtful to persons who have weak nerves.

Tender persons should eat very light suppers, and that two or three hours before going to bed.

On exercise

A due degree of exercise is indispensably necessary to health and long life.

Walking is the best exercise for those who are able to bear it; riding for those who are not. The open air, when the weather is fair, contributes much to the benefit of exercise.

We may strengthen any weak part of the body by constant exercise. Thus, the lungs may be strengthened by loud speaking, or walking up an easy ascent; the digestion and the nerves, by riding; the arms and hams, by strongly rubbing them daily.

They should frequently shave, and frequently wash their feet.

Those who read or write much should learn to do it standing; otherwise it will impair their health.

The fewer clothes any one uses, by day or night, the hardier he will be.

Remedies for specific ailments

The Asthma

Cut an ounce of stick Liquorice into slices. Steep this in a quart of water, for and twenty hours, and use it, when you are worse than usual, as common drink. I have known this to give much ease.

A Cough

Every cough is a dry cough at first. As long as it continues so, it may be cured by chewing immediately after you cough, the quantity of pepper-corn of Peruvian bark. Swallow your spittle as long as it is bitter, and then spit out the wood. If you cough again, do this again. It very seldom fails to cure any dry cough.

Or, make a hole through a lemon and fill it with honey. Roast it, and catch the juice. Take a tea-spoonful of this frequently.

Extreme Fat

Use a total vegetable diet. I know one who was entirely cured of this, by living a year thus: she breakfasted and supped on milk and water (with bread) and dined on turnips, carrots, or other roots, drinking water.

The Head-Ache

Rub the head for a quarter of an hour.

Or, apply to each temple the thin yellow rind of a lemon, newly pared off.

The Iliac [Ileac] Passion [i.e., obstructed bowel]

Apply warm flannels soaked in spirits of wine.

Or, hold a live puppy constantly on the belly.

For one seemingly killed with Lightning, a Damp, or suffocated

Plunge him immediately into cold water.

Or, blow strongly with bellows down his throat. This may recover a person seemingly drowned. It is still better, if a strong man blows into his mouth.