Practitioners from all old traditions of medicine agreed on one priority in managing illness: most trouble originated in the gut. To understand this focus it helps to explore some of the imagery our ancestors used for disease.

 In the ancient view the main enemy of health was damp (the Ayurvedic translation āma, is a common suffix for diseases in that tradition). As in everyday experience dampness is associated with mould, rotting, and things ‘going off’. To reduce this we still like to give things ‘an airing’. So ‘damp’ was what people used to understand what we now call infections and inflammatory conditions.

 Again in the ancient view, there was ‘cold-damp’ and ‘hot-damp’. The first is easy to appreciate by anyone living in cold and damp climates (Julius Caesar complained that his Roman troops suffered from bronchitis and arthritis when they invaded Britain).

 The second is best understood as a reflection of humidity, which is also sickening for some. The strong association made here was with liver-bile problems including hepatitis and intolerance to fats and alcohol, as well as many gastrointestinal infections, and some urinary infections.

 The deep insight across history is that both forms of damp emanated from an under-firing digestive system. It was therefore ‘drying’ digestive remedies that were the main recourse: ‘heating and drying’ spices for ‘cold-damp’ conditions (for example try ginger, cinnamon and raw garlic for bronchial problems), and ‘cooling-and drying” (generally the bitters) for hepatic and gut symptoms of ‘damp heat’.