Degrees of Medicine

From Culpepper's Herbal, Edition of 1653

Note: The following is taken verbatim from Culpeper's Herbal. It is included since in many descriptions of the uses of plant there are references to the degrees of hot or cold, or dry or moist characteristics of a plant. The following is provided to shed some light on this topic. (MRM 2013)

The degrees then of temperature are to be diligently heeded, which ancient physicians have concluded to be four in quantities, viz. heat and cold, of each we shall speak a word or two severally.

I. All medicines simply considered in themselves are either hot, cold, moist, dry, or temperate. The qualities of medicines are considered in respect of man, not of themselves; for those simples are called hot, which heat our bodies; those cold, which cool them; and those temperate which work no change at all in them, in respect of either heat, cold, dryness, or moisture. And these may be temperate, as being neither hot nor cold; yet may be moist or dry; or being neither moist or dry, yet may be hot or cold: or, lastly, being neither hot, cold, moist, nor dry.

II. In temperature there is no degree of difference; the differences of the other quantities are divided into four degrees, beginning at temperature ; so that a medicine may be said to be hot, cold, moist, or dry, in the first, second, third, or fourth degree. The use of temperate medicines is in those cases where there is no apparent excess of the first qualities, to preserve the body temperature , to conserve strength, and to repair decayed nature. And observe, that those medicines which are called cold, are not so called because that they are really cold in themselves, but because the degree of their heat falls below the heat of our bodies, and so only in respect of our temperatures are said to be cold, while they are themselves really hot; for without heat there would be no vegetation, springing, nor life.

III. Such as are hot in the first degree, are equal heat with our bodies, and they only add a natural heat thereto, if it be cooled by nature or by accident, thereby cherishing the natural heat when weak, and restoring it when it is wanted.

Their use is, 1. To make the offending humours thin, that they may be expelled by sweat or perspiration. 2. By outward application to abate inflammations and fevers by opening the pores of the skin. 3. To help concoction, and keep the blood in its just temperature.

IV. Such as are hot in the second degree, as much exceed the first, as our natural heat exceeds a temperature. There use is, to open the pores and take away obstructions, by cutting tough humours through, and by their essential force and strength, when nature cannot do it.

V. Such that are hot in the third degree are more powerful in heating, they being able to inflame and cause fevers. Their use is to provoke sweat or perspiration extremely, and cut tough humours; and therefore all of them resist poison.

VI. Such that are hot in the fourth degree do burn the body if outwardly applied. Their use is to cause inflammations, raise blisters, and corrode the skin.

VII. Such as are cold in the first degree, fall as much on the one side of temperature as hot doth on the other. Their use is 1. To qualify the heat of the stomach, and cause digestion. 2. To abate the heat in fevers; and, 3. To refresh the spirits, being suffocated.

VIII. Such as are cold in the third degree are such as have repercussive force. And their use is 1. To drive back the matter, stop defluctions; 2. To make the humours thick; and 3. To limit the violence of choler, repress perspiration, and keep the spirit from fainting.

IX. Such as are cold in the fourth degree are such as stupefy the senses. They are used 1. In violent pains; and 2. In extreme watchings, and the like cases, where life is despaired of.

X. Drying medicines consume the humours, stop fluxes, stiffen the parts and strengthen the nature. But if the humidity be exhausted already then those consume the natural strength.

XI. Such as are dry in the first degree strengthen; in the second degree bind, in the third, stop fluxes, but spoil the nourishment, and bring consumptions; in the fourth, dry up the radical moisture, which being exhausted, the body must needs perish.

XII. Moist medicines are opposed to drying, they are lenitive, and make slippery. These cannot exceed the third degree: for all things are either hot or cold. Now heat dries up, and cold congeals, both which destroy moisture.

XIII. Such are moist in the first degree, ease coughs, and help the roughness of the windpipe; in the second, loosen the belly; in the third, make the whole habit of body watery and phlegmatic; filling it with dropsies, lethargies, and such like diseases.

XIV. Thus medicines alter according to their temperature , whose active qualities are heat and cold, and whose passive qualities are dryness and moisture.

XV. The active qualities eradicate diseases, the passive are subservient to nature. So hot medicines may cure the dropsy, by opening obstructions; the same may also cure the yellow jaundice, by its attractive quality in sympathizing with the humour abounding: and contrariwise cold medicines may compress or abate a fever, by condensing the hot vapours, and the same may stop any defluxion or looseness.

Culpeper, Nicholas (18 October 1616 - 10 January 1654)
Culpeper, Nicholas
(18 October 1616 - 10 January 1654)