It doesn’t just stop it, it makes it come back on its time
The archive of Amerongen House contains many medicinal recipes, the vast majority of which date from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. This recipe for profuse menstrual bleeding is based on only one plant, namely strawberry leaf and root. Dodonaeus was already familiar with its astringent effect, but in the pharmacopoeias this plant appears late and disappears as quickly as it came. Nowadays, strawberry is being researched for very different effects.
Nettie Stoppelenburg en Maaike van Kregten
Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Fytotherapie 2022 nr. 4
This recipe comes from a collection folder from the archives of Amerongen House . Judging by the handwriting, it comes from the early 18th century. Unfortunately no author or owner is known. ‘Flood’ refers to menstruation.* So this recipe was used for heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia). An important detail is in the subtitle ‘it doesn’t just make it stop but it will come back again’: so it doesn’t seem to work hormonally or even contraceptively; it only stops excessive bleeding and does not affect the cycle. The root and leaf are used in this recipe. Because of the clear instructions for pulling out the root, it seems important to take as much of it as possible.
North and south
It’s hard to say which strawberry variety it is, but there are a few possibilities. In Europe, the Romans may have already planted the wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca L.) in their gardens , but there is little evidence of this . At least in the 14th century, the wild strawberry was cultivated in gardens, initially mainly as an ornamental plant and to a lesser extent for its fruits . In the 16th century, F. moschata was also cultivated .
On the other side of the ocean, F. chiloensis was domesticated more than a thousand years ago by the Picunche and Mapuche in Chile [2,4] and in North America F. virginiana was known . The latter two species were introduced to Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, where they were introduced into gardens where they could interbreed freely . The modern cultivated strawberry Fragaria x ananassa originated in Western Europe in the early 18th century from a spontaneous cross between these two American species. These crossings resulted in a larger, tasty variant and the popularity of the fruit increased [2,5].
Most ancient Greek and Roman healers seem not to have described this plant. In the 16th century, however, strawberry became more popular. There were more descriptions about its cultivation as an ordinary garden plant, as a delicacy and for certain medicinal applications .
Dodonaeus (1517-1585), a 16th century physician from the southern Netherlands, distinguishes two types: ‘the common and the other which is not so common’. About the medicinal uses he writes: ‘cooked and drunk strawberry herb stops the diarrhoea, dysentery and the immoderate female flow.’ And also: ‘The root and the leaves boiled in wine and the wine drunk (…) is also useful to evoke the menstruation of women ; yet it stops the white flood* and dysentery. The same roots and leaves are also boiled for this purpose in water with currants or raisins.’ .
More than half a century later, Steven Blankaart (1650-1704) mentions strawberry, but not this specific effect. He mentions 32 other plants to stop menstruation. He calls strawberry leaf ‘slightly astringent’ and recommends it in ‘wound potions and swollen throats’ .
The pharmacopoeias do not provide a clear picture. A random sample yields the following results: the plant does not appear in the pharmacopoeias of Utrecht in 1656 and 1664, but do in that of 1749. This one is also much more extensive than the previous editions. Fragaria is mentioned in both Radices et bulbi and Herbae et folia. In Rotterdam (1709-1736) the plant is not mentioned, in Leiden (1718-1770) it is. Fragaria does not appear in the Amsterdam pharmacopoeias from 1636 to 1677, but do from 1683 to the last one in 1795. However, with an interruption in 1726, 1733 and 1767. Strawberry has disappeared from the first national pharmacopoeias .
At first sight, there seems to be no clear relationship with a region when it comes to the occurrence of strawberry in the pharmacopoeias, but there is something about the time period. It seems that strawberry had more status as a medicine during the 18th century. Perhaps this had something to do with the introduction of new species from the ‘New World’ around the same time. In 1766 there was also a book publication that is still considered a standard work, namely the ‘Histoire naturelle des fraisiers’ by Antoine Nicolas Duchesne. He was also the one who first described the crossing of the American species .
Both the root and the leaf contain tannins  and these have an astringent effect . Unfortunately, there is no known research into its use in menorrhagia. The plant is being researched, for example for antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antidiabetic, cytotoxic, chemoprotective, antihyperuricaemic, antiallergenic and anti-obesity effects . The popularity of strawberry as a medicinal herb appears to be very variable and short-lived in official medicine. In any case, the 18th century seems to have been a good century for the strawberry. Although this plant is now back in the spotlight for its potential medicinal value, it has unfortunately not been studied for its effects on menstruation.
*A distinction was made between flow (menstruation) and white flow (possibly leukorrhea). See Institute for the Dutch Language. Historical Dictionaries. gtb.ivdnt.org/iWDB/search?actie=article&wdb=WNT&id=M081015. Accessed: 9/30/2022.
1. Het Utrechts Archief, toegang 1001 Huis Amerongen, Inventarisnr. 5152: Doktersvoorschriften en recepten voor de verzorging van huid en tanden en de behandeling van ziekten, (17e-18e eeuw).
2. Liston A. et al. Fragaria : a genus with deep historical roots and ripe for evolutionary and ecological insights. Am J Bot. 2014;101(10):1686-1699.
3. Darrow GM. Strawberry: History, breeding and physiology. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston; 1966. Zie ook: specialcollections.nal.usda.gov/speccoll/collectionsguide/darrow/Darrow_TheStrawberry.pdf .
4. Fierascu RC. et al. Fragaria genus: Chemical composition and biological activities. Molecules. 2020; 25(3):498.
5. Hardigan MA. et al. Unraveling the complex hybrid ancestry and domestication history of cultivated strawberry. Mol Biol Evol. 2021;38(6):2285-2305.
6. Dodonaeus R. Cruydt-boeck. Antwerpen: Balthasar Moretus; 1644. In te zien via: leesmaar.nl/cruydtboeck/deel5/boek22/capitel10.htm.
7. Blankaart S. Den Neder-landschen herbarius ofte kruid-boek. Amsterdam: Jan ten Hoorn; 1698:270-271. In te zien via: dbnl.org/tekst/blan012nede01_01/blan012nede01_01_0499.php.
8. Stichting farmaceutisch erfgoed. Gedigitaliseerde farmacopees. Overzicht van gedigitaliseerde stadsfarmacopees uit de periode 1636-1795. stichtingfarmaceutischerfgoed.nl/resources/gedigitaliseerde-farmacopees. Geraadpleegd: 30-09-2022.
9. Deng L. et al. Effect of tannic acid on blood components and functions. Colloids Surf B Biointerfaces. 2019;184:110505.