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The Dangers of Eating Pears, according to a 12th-century writer

Pears have been a popular fruit since ancient times, but the medieval scholar Alexander Neckam raised some warnings about the eating this food (especially without wine).

Like people today, those who lived in the Middle Ages were eager to know the health benefits or drawbacks from the foods they are – many foods were noted for their medicinal qualities too. So it is not surprising that the English scholar and abbot Alexander Neckam might have something to say about certain foods when he wrote his De naturis rerum around the year 1190. This work on natural science included this section on pears:

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It is usually asked why pears are harmful unless they are digested with wine. In fact, pears are hard in substance, resist digestion, and have a cold complexion. Thus, if one drinks cold water after eating pears, their coldness, which opposes digestive action, will increase, and for that reason the crude and gross humors are generated from which many illnesses arise. Therefore, they ought to be taken with wine, so that the heat of the wine may temper their coldness.

And it should be observed that all soft fruits, such as cherries, mulberries, grapes, and even apples and the like, ought to be taken on an empty stomach, and not after food. For they are easily softened because of their suitability, are soon broken into pieces,  and are dissolved into vapor. But pears and quinces, which have a laxative effect because of their weight if they are eaten after food, cause constipation if they are eaten before food.

Despite Alexander’s warning, pears have continued to be eaten all over the world, with hundreds of varieties being grown and consumed. You can learn more about the fruit in Joan Morgan’s new work The Book of Pears, The Definitive History And Guide To Over 500 Varieties. She is interviewed about the book on the NPR show All Things Considered:

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This translation come from Alexander Neckam’s De Naturis Rerum: A Study, together with Representative Passages in Translation, by George Wedge, PhD translation – University of Southern California, 1967.

Top Image: 16th century painting of pears by Ulisse Aldrovandi

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