How to survive the dog-days of summer

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By | From the Collections

Are you wilting under the heliacal rising of Sirius, Orion’s best friend, otherwise known as the ‘dog-days of summer‘?  Whether or not you have modern air conditioning (or servants to fan your heated brow), history provides us with a number of examples to cool the sweltering body and fevered mind.

Beach at Trouville Monet

‘The Beach at Trouville 1870’, by Claude Monet. Image credit: National Gallery, London.

First, make sure you’re wearing silk or cotton to keep the skin cool, and try splashing on some “soda or saleratus water, a teaspoon to a pint”, as the ‘Ladies’ Guide in Health and Disease‘ (1892) suggests.

Next, tropical experts tell us to avoid any kind of violent exercise, alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, and curries. Just don’t indulge in any vices if you want to stay cool-headed and rash-free according to Arthur Latham in 1912.

Instead, you might want to mix yourself a “Nectar for Dog Days” from ‘American and Other Iced Drinks: Recipes‘.”Using a large soda glass with some ice, one lemon ice, and pour upon it a bottle of plain soda.” Sounds simple enough, but getting the ice was more complicated than expected back in 1902.


If you prefer something with a bit more flavour you could try this “pritty sort of cool drink” from a 17th-18th century recipe book. Damask and rosemary sounds a delightful combination.


Despite these precautions, if you end up suffering from lichen tropicus, or prickly heat – although “wholly devoid of danger” – you can sooth your skin with some “saline aperients” and, once again, a “low diet and a cool regimen,” according to the ‘Elements of the Theory and Practice of Medicine‘ (1839).

Christy Henshaw

Christy Henshaw

Christy Henshaw manages digitisation at the Wellcome Library. @Chenshaw. Linkedin

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