27th June 2014: Strawberries

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Linnaeus’s love of strawberries

As the first week of Wimbledon draws to a close we celebrate the strawberry, and the perhaps unusual role it played in the life of Linnaeus. Isabelle Charmantier explains...

It is well known that Linnaeus believed strawberries cured a painful attack of gout, which the naturalist suffered in 1750. Over the next two years, Linnaeus suffered two more attacks, which he cured by eating as much strawberries as his stomach could endure. Letters to his friend Abraham Bäck, written in subsequent years in the months of June, July and August, often mention devouring wild strawberries four times a day from Midsummer to August, in a silver cup given to him by Bäck.

Linnaeus believed strawberries cured a painful attack of gout

Linnaeus’s cure for gout travelled far and wide, as an undated manuscript kept at the Linnean Society shows. Sent to Linnaeus by a 56 year old Frenchman, it describes in great detail the pain caused by gout and endured by the author over the last 14 years. The pain, he writes, travels from the foot to the knee, from the hand to the wrist and the elbow. After attempting several cures, including wrapping his affected limbs in flannel and trying to sweat the gout out, the author has learnt of Linnaeus’s cure of gout by eating a lot of strawberries – one whole jar every day with his lunch and supper, liberally sprinkled with sugar and orange juice. The author asks Linnaeus for more precise advice on when to eat strawberries, how many, with what other food, etc. As far as we know, Linnaeus never replied.

Mémoire a Cousritter

"...three weeks ago I learned by chance that mister Linnaeus owed the cure of the gout to the use of strawberries..."

The author entitled his treatise ‘Mémoire a Cousritter’, Cousritter presumably being his name. The name is entirely unknown to me – so if any reader can shed any light on who he was, please do contact me at isabelle@linnean.org. The manuscript is undated, but Linnaeus is referred to as M. Linnaeus, indicating that the ‘Mémoire’ was written before 1761, when Linnaeus was ennobled and came to be known as M. de Linné.