The Temperaments of Herbs

Nicholas Culpeper, M.D. (1616-1654)
Nicholas Culpeper, M.D. (1616-1654)

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 to 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 nor 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 qualities 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 temperate, to conserve strength, and to repair decayed nature. And observe, that those medicines which we call “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 temperature are said to be cold, while they are in themselves really hot; for without heat there could be no vegetation, springing, nor life.

Hot Medicines

III. Such as are hot in the first degree, are of 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 wanting. 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 feverahy 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.  Their use is, to open the pores, and take away obstructions, by cutting tough humours through, and by their own essential force and strength, when nature cannot do it.

V. Such as 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 as 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.

Cold Medicines

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 almost suffocated.

VIII. Such as are cold in the third degree, are such as have a repercussive force.  And their use is,

  1. to drive back the matter, and stop defluctions;
  2. to make the humours thick; and
  3. to limit the violence of choler, repress perspiration, and keep the spirits from fainting.

IX. Such as are cold in the fourth degree, are such as stupify the senses.  They are used,

  1. In violent pains; and
  2. in extreme watchings and the like cases, where life is despaired of.

Dry Medicines

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

XII. 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.

Moist Medicines

XIII. 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.

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


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

XVI. The active qualities eradicate diseases, the passive are subservient to nature.

So hot medicines may cure the dropsy, by opening obstructions; and the same may also cure the yellow jaundice, by its attractive quality in sympathising with the humour abounding; and contrarywise cold medicines may compress or abate a fever, by condensing the hot vapours, and the same may stop any defluxion or looseness.

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