Four Humors Cordials

Cordial Medicinal/Tincture Competition (A&S, Mists Investiture, Nov, 2013)

A cordial is any invigorating and stimulating preparation that is intended for a medicinal purpose. Most cordials were of European origin, first produced in Italian apothecaries during the Renaissance where the art of distilling was refined during the15th and 16th centuries. From the Renaissance onwards, cordials were usually based on alcohol in which certain herbs, spices or other ingredients were allowed to steep. The first cordials arrived in England in the late 15th century and were called distilled cordial waters. These were strictly used as alcoholic medicines, prescribed in small doses to invigorate and revitalize the heart, body and spirit as well as cure diseases.

For my cordials I decided to enter a set of four which are specifically chosen to to compliment to four Humors, a theory of health first posited by the Ancient Greeks and Roman physicians and philosophers. The nature of Humor Theory is that there are four elements that make up our general state of health and that if they are out of balance, either because we have to much or to little of any of them, then certain foods, herbs or medicines could be taken to return them to balance. These four Humors were related to the seasons and to the classical “four elements” (air, earth, water, and fire). Each has a specific property or properties and are related to specific organs in the body.

They are:

Humor Element Season Organ Property
Blood Air Spring Liver Warm & Moist
Yellow Bile Fire Summer Spleen Warm & Dry
Black Bile Earth Autumn Gall Bladder Cold & Dry
Phlegm Water Winter Brain & Lungs Cold & Wet


Using Platina, a Renaissance writer and cook, as my guide I have produced the following four cordials:

Cordial Humor Platina Reference
Fig Blood “…. Dry figs affect the epileptic, soothe the lungs, chest and throat exacerbated by catarrh, open obstructions of liver and spleen, cast gross humors out of the kidneys and baldder, and drive bad blood out to the skin.” – Book 1, Part 23
Sweet Marjoram Yellow Bile “Sweet marjoram is warm and dry. It opens the passages of the nose and drives sticky humors from the head.” – Book 3, Part 39
Sorrel Black Bile “Sorrel generates cold and tartness in itself, humors in no way to be scorned.” – Book 4, Part 12
Tart Cherries Phlegm “….tart ones cut phlegm, repress yellow bile, quench thirst, and stimulate the appetite.” – Book 1, Part 17



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