There are a number of home remedies that claim to cure hangovers. Greasy breakfasts, black coffee, and attempting to sleep it off all come to mind. One of the most popular folk cures for a hangover, however, is also the one with the most charming name: “hair of the dog.” This cure operates on the principle that drinking something alcoholic will help alleviate the effects of drinking too much alcohol. Perhaps that is why mimosas and bloody marys are such popular brunch beverages.
The idea of drinking alcohol to combat a hangover might seem counterintuitive, but it has its roots in something known as sympathetic medicine. Sympathetic medicine was based on the belief that an ailment could be neutralized by a substance sharing the ailment’s characteristics. For example, the 1642 English edition of the works of Ambroise Paré states that in order to cure the bite of a rabid dog, “the hairs of the dog, whose bite caused the madness, applied by themselves, by their sympathie or similitude of substance draw the venom from within outward.” When applied to the wound, the dog’s hair would draw the venom out of the victim due to the sympathetic connection between them – you are cured by the hair of the dog that bit you.
Physicians applied the same basic principle to alcoholic overindulgence. According to Venetian physician Santorio Santorio’s 78th aphorism, “If over Nights Debauch does Hurtful prove, a Glass next Morning will your Pains remove.” Santorio used humoral theory to explain the remedy’s efficacy. Too much liquor could cause a blockage of the humors, causing the alcohol’s most potent aspects to get trapped in the body. More liquor could stimulate “evacuations” which would carry the last dregs out of the body and restore the balance of humors, and thereby the body’s overall health.
Santorio did not actually call his remedy “hair of the dog.” We do, however, have evidence that this phrase was in use during the early modern period. Our holdings include a heavily annotated 1634 copy of the “Salernitan Regimen of Health,” a medieval didactic poem that provided advice on how to live a healthy lifestyle. It informs us that, “If ouermuch Wine hath thy braine offended, Drinke eareley the next morning, and it’s mended.” If you look at the page up above, you’ll see them one of the book’s previous owners drew attention to this line with a manicule (Latin for “little hand”) and the note, “A dogge of y same haire.” Some phrases never go out of style!