Historical Medicinal Uses of Chocolate

“Chocolate is food; chocolate is medicine.”  Most people are surprised when they hear that chocolate is a health food.  Let us first be clear that the chocolate I am referring to is dark chocolate that contains 70 percent or more cocoa solids or pure, unsweetened cocoa powder.

Many centuries ago, chocolate’s medicinal properties were touted regularly by the Mesoamericans.  They used chocolate for stomach ailments, infection, diarrhea, fainting spells, skin eruptions, seizures, and cough and cold.  The Aztecs traveled with it on long journeys for endurance.  In 1592, Agustin Farfan published Tractado Breve de Medicina, where he stated that chocolate brewed with very hot water created a laxative.  Childhood diarrhea was treated with consumption of five ground cacao beans.  To relieve fever or faintness, a combination of 8-10 ground cacao beans should be blended with dried maze and flavored with herbs.  For a cough or cold, drink a beverage of opossum tail followed by a chocolate beverage mixed with a variety of herbs.

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, many Europeans started to use chocolate for medicinal purposes such as for treating exhaustion and weakness.  In 1631, chocolate was thought to help digestion, cough, lessen symptoms of the plague, to help jaundice and inflammations.  It was also used to clean the teeth, sweeten the breath and increase urination, cure kidney stones, rid the body of poisons and prevent infections.  Chocolate was thought to help women conceive and to strengthen the stomach.   As early as 1662, chocolate was used to invigorate the body.  Two glassfuls were the typical prescription.

The Medici household physician used chocolate to treat a variety of ailments as well for an overall feeling of wellness.  Other nutritional and medicinal uses included strengthening the heart, being part of a nutritious breakfast, and taken for exhausted spirits (depression), wasting away of muscle during disease, hypochondria, hemorrhoids, hangovers, insomnia, winter concentration (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and as an aphrodisiac.

In the late 1800s, chocolate was used to treat jaundice, asthma, anemia, cancer and women’s problems.  Asthmatics were advised to eat fresh foods from the animal, bread, tea and chocolate.  For people afflicted with indigestion, they were told to eat light chocolate or cocoa in the morning and as an afternoon snack for relief.  It was also suggested that chocolate keeps the digestive, respiratory and urinary tracts strong.  It was considered a preventative for stomach cancer, healing when applied externally to hemorrhoids, and an emollient when applied to nursing mothers’ nipples and chapped lips.

J. Millam Ponce, MD stated that when nursing babies became ill, the wet nurse should consume a light diet including coffee with either milk or chocolate.  He also found hemorrhoids to be eased with the use of a chocolate’s cocoa butter used as a suppository.  It was, even as recent as one hundred years ago, still claiming to ease chapped lips, to treat bronchitis and to provide energy. There were many diseases and ailments chocolate was thought to aid in the healing of or cure throughout its lifetime.  Ironically, an astounding number of them continue to be researched today.

In the 20th century in the United States, recent findings show that many of these previously touted medicinal and nutritional uses for chocolate have some substantial research behind them.  Further research needs to be done in many different areas, but the foundation is there.  Dark chocolate and cocoa powder is a nutritious and healthy addition to your daily diet.  In fact, it may not only help with a variety of diseases, but could prevent many diseases of our time.  A German chemist by the name of Baron von Liebig stated in the mid-nineteenth century, “Chocolate is a perfect food….It agrees with dry temperaments and convalescents; with mothers who nurse their children; with those whom occupations oblige them to undergo severe mental strains; with public speakers, and with all those who give to work a portion of the time needed for sleep.  It soothes both stomach and brain, and for this reason, as well as for others, it is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.”

Annmarie Kostyk

1 Comment

  • Reply May 11, 2010


    Thanks AnneMarie
    Fantastic post as usual!

    I did get some hate mail from your last blog saying something like “white chocolate is not chocolate, so don’t call it that” but rereading the article I felt you made that abundantly clear 😉

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