Man hungover

“O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! that we should, with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!”

William Shakespeare, Othello

There can’t be many of us who, at some time in our youthful lives, haven’t woken up with a throbbing head, a mouth like a zoo-keepers bucket and one thought on our minds - “Never Again.”

Hangovers are self inflicted wounds, universal and international. They have many names. Brown Bottle Flu, the Brewers Mallet, the Morning After the Night Before. In Germany they are known as ‘kater’ - (male cat), in Denmark “tømmermænd” - (carpenters). In Costa Rica they are Goma, in Ecuador “Chuchaki”.

Dinner Party

In Britain hangovers took on an added significance in the 18th century when polite society discovered the pleasures of ‘fine dining’. It was the French who introduced the fashion for organised menus and meals divided into ‘courses’. One social commentator welcomed the new ‘mode’…

“It is a bad dinner when there were not at least five varieties: a substantial dish of fish, one of meat, one of game, one of poultry and, above all, a ragout of truffles… They form the absolute minimum and ‘sine qua non’ of a dinner for one person.”

Add to this a sweet course of pies, tarts or puddings washed down by copious amounts of selected wines and spirits and you are looking at a small banquet followed by a large ‘hangover’.

The Georgian ‘beau monde’ knew all about ‘hangovers’ and some of the smarter ones knew ways to prevent them. One popular ‘preventative’, as recommended in Sir Hugh Platt’s “Jewell House of Art and Nature”, advised swallowing a spoonful of olive oil before drinking.

“Drink first a good large Draught of Sallet Oyle, for that will float upon the Wine which you shall drinke, and suppresse the spirits from ascending into the braine.”

With the hindsight of medical science this remedy works not by suppressing ‘the spirits from ascending into the braine’, but by slowing down the rate that alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and in turn the speed of intoxication. In Russia they affect a similar trick by serving zakushki before meals. These little snacks, like anchovies, olives or caviar, contain oil and salt. The salt sharps the appetite and stimulates thirst, the oil slows down the rate the alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. ! - as they might say in Moscow.

In the early 19th century the serving of aperitifs became popular in Britain. In 1824 “The Family Oracle of Health, noting the ‘northern custom of a whet-cup or coupe d’avant’ before meals’ recommended its readers to drink a large glass of rum, brandy or bitters before sitting down to a heavy meal…

Dining Table

“This would be a good English drink, certainly more than a Frenchman could stand up to – it would infallibly crisp his stomach – but all such delicate creatures could have recourse to a large glass of an infusion of camomile, quassia, or any other good bitter.”

If you did forget to take a ‘preventative’ before a night on the tiles you could always reach for a hangover ‘corrective’ afterwards. One popular remedy was soda water which became commercially available in about 1790. Drinkers thought that the slightly salty gaseous liquid would stop their heads throbbing, although some Doctors feared that it might cause indigestion by inflating the stomach. Following up on its promotion of apertifs in 1824 “The Family Oracle of Health” published a ‘morning after’ corrective of its own -


Take two drachms of Rochelle Salts, one ounce of infusion of senna, one teaspoon of compound tincture of cardamons, and a small wine glass of Ratafia of Eau de Cologne.

If anyone in St Margarets feels like knocking up a pint or two Feaster’s Morning Draught just in case, they should consider the following. Rochelle Salts are a purgative agent, senna is a laxative, and Ratafia of Eau de Cologne can contain high levels of hydrogen cyanide. It is not too difficult to imagine what effect that lot has on the human body. If the thought of committing digestive hari-kari with Feaster’s Morning Draught was too much for you the “Family Oracle” also offered a gentler means of recovery from alcoholic overindulgence…

“During the morning take an occasional glass of strong ginger beer. It will also be of great advantage to sit in a snug fauteuil before a good fire, with your feet in carpet shoes, planted comfortably in the hobs. This position tends to keep the head erect, which is of the utmost importance, while the warmth of the feet draws the superabundance of blood downwards from the brain, and consequently renders the nerves strong , the spirits light, and the young man cheerful and buoyant.”

Meanwhile, back in the 21st Century the N.H.S Website “Choices” is clear and unambiguous on the subject:-

Hangover cures are generally a myth. There are no cures for a hangover. The best way to avoid a hangover is not to drink. Follow these tips to keep hangovers away:

* Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Before you go out, have a meal that includes carbohydrates (such as pasta or rice) or fats. The food will help slow down the body’s absorption of alcohol. * Don’t drink dark-coloured drinks if you’ve found that you’re sensitive to them. They contain natural chemicals called congeners (impurities), which irritate blood vessels and tissue in the brain and can make a hangover worse. * Drink water or non-fizzy soft drinks in between each alcoholic drink. Carbonated (fizzy) drinks speed up the absorption of alcohol into your system.

  • Drink a pint or so of water before you go to sleep. Keep a glass of water by the bed to sip if you wake up during the night.

I’ll drink to that!

– from Martyn Day