‘Sallets’ – how to eat healthily the 1600s way

When we think of food in the past, it is often images of Henry VIII with a table groaning with meat dishes that springs to mind. But in fact our ancestors knew more about the health benefits of eating salads – normally thought of as a cold dish of herbs or vegetables – than we might think.

By looking back to the sustainable self-sufficiency of the past, we find there is a lot we can learn about the variety of the historical salad dish, which costs next to nothing, has no carbon footprint and might even be beneficial to our health.

The diarist, writer, and gardener John Evelyn (1620-1706) pursued his interest in salads in the mid-to-late 17th century. His model both defined the dish very broadly and showed how you could live on home-grown salads all year round.

To Evelyn, the ideal kitchen garden was full of vegetables and fruits that could be grown simply and in great variety. Evelyn even published a whole guide to growing and preparing salads, Acetaria, A Discourse on Sallets in 1699. The words “sallet” came into English from the French “salade” in the 1300s and was in common use by the 1600s.

In Acetaria, Evelyn promotes a low-meat diet, insisting that those who live on herbs and roots live to a ripe old age. He cites classical philosophy to back up his arguments about the “the Wholeſomness of the Herby-Diet” – citing Plato and Pythagoras as examples of great thinkers who banished “flesh” from their tables. Evelyn was not interested in converting people to vegetarianism as such, declaring:

But this is not my Buſineſs, further than to ſhew how possible it is by so many instances and examples, to live on wholeſome vegetables, both long and happily.

In the past year, gardening and growing vegetables has enjoyed a resurgence as a family-friendly, outdoor pastime that can also help ease concerns over food shortages. While becoming totally self-sufficient is unlikely, Evelyn’s Acetaria has some tips that the green-fingered grower can use to feed their families and some advice that could help expand their harvests in an unlikely way.


To read the full article by Dr Catie Gill and Dr Sara Read visit the Conversation.


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 22/01

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2021 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022, and 10th in both the Guardian University League Table 2022 and the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.