This page - strawberries cure gout - is about the botanist Carl Linnaeus, who believed he got gout relief from a daily dish of strawberries. It was last reviewed or updated on 4 December 2011.
Carl (Carolus) Linnaeus is portrayed here at the age of 68 or 69, just over two years before his death in 1778. He considered this painting one of the best likenesses among the scores of paintings that were done of him. The plant in his left hand is the Linnaea Borealis, his favourite flower. The medal is The Order of The Polar Star.
Portrait of Carl Von Linnaeus Giclee Print
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Strawberries cure gout? Whatever next ! Much too good to be true?
But Carl Linnaeus, also called Carolus Von Linne, (1707-1778) did think that strawberries cure gout, or at least his gout. And he was the most celebrated botanist of his age, among the most of all time. At one stage in his life he had also worked as a doctor. So when he says it was gout, we should believe him. What happened and what did he say?
Linnaeus suffered his first gout attack in 1750 when he was 43 - a not uncommon age for a man to get gout. He eventually felt the pain of this attack in his ankles - it may have been a case of ankle gout. What he said about the attack is quoted in at least one of the biographies of him (1).
This attack had gone through seven sleepless nights, so bad that at one point he wondered whether he would survive it. After a week of sleepless nights Linnaeus wanted to take opium. A friend wouldn't let him. His wife suggested a bowl of strawberries.
After eating them he was able to sleep, which surprised him. By the next day he felt some relief, ate more strawberries and slept again. The next day he ate still more, and a day later he reported the gout attack had gone. All over in about three days, after seven days of torture.
Linnaeus mentioned two more gout attacks, and in both he thought strawberries had influenced the outcome. In the year after the 1750 attack, and in 1752, gout returned, as you might expect. But according to Linnaeus both repeat occurences were milder than in the 1750 attack, and he said that in both cases wild strawberries had cured him.
Were his gout attacks ending anyway? Of course, even without medicine, a gout attack might end on the ninth day, as the 1750 attack had. And the same could be said for the 1751 and 1752 attacks. It seems he'd taken no medicine - Colchicine or a herbal preparation may have been available to him, but he doesn't say so. The attacks may have been ending but Linnaeus reported strawberry cures on three occasions, not just one. And he said that strawberries made two attacks milder. He clearly thought they had a positive effect.
Another account of the 1750 attack is recorded in B.Daydon Jackson's biography of Linnaeus(2). He wrote "In 1746 and 1750 he (Linnaeus) was laid aside by angina, which nearly suffocated him, in the latter year being followed by gout. For this ailment he found that wild strawberries were curative and every year afterwards he ate as many as his stomach would bear, to his entire relief from that excruciating disorder."
Jackson's book was an English translation and revision of what was said to be the most detailed and accurate record of Linnaeus's life - by Professor Theodor M.Fries, in Swedish, published in 1903.
Other accounts of Linnaeus and gout say he ate two bowls of strawberries daily for the rest of his life. After his initial success you would expect him to eat them whenever he could. When he couldn't get fresh strawberries, the Queen would send him strawberries from her supplies. Some accounts say he suffered periodic gout attacks until he died in 1778.
What precisely happened after 1752 is less clear, but we shall try to find more sources of information about Linnaeus and gout post 1752, and put it on this page.
So will strawberries help your gout pain, or make living with gout easier? Linnaeus says he ate wild strawberries and no-one knows if wild strawberries, 250 years ago in Sweden, were more (or less) nutritious than strawberries these days. You can only try the juiciest and biggest strawberries you can find and see what happens. And don't forget to buy the most red ones too. Remember, usually, the darker the colour (color) in fruits, the more flavonoids they contain.
(1)The Compleat Naturalist, A life of Linnaeus, by Wilfred Blunt. Introduction by Professor William T.Stearn. Francis Lincoln Ltd., London 2001.
(2) Linnaeus (Afterwards Carl Von Linne) by Benjamin Daydon Jackson. Adapted and revised from the Linnaeus biography in Swedish by Theodor Magnus Fries. H.F.& G.Witherby, London 1923.
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