Friday, 1 March 2013

Healing A Medieval Headache

Medieval medicine was often either brutal and barbaric, or herbal in origin.  However, it was not herbal in the sense that we think of today.

Here is a recipe for the treatment of headaches and joint pains.

"Take equal amounts of radish, bishopwort, garlic, wormwood, helenium, cropleek and hollowleek.
Pound them up, and boil them in butter with celandine and red nettle.
Keep the mixture in a brass pot until it is a dark red colour.
Strain it through a cloth and smear on the forehead or aching joints."

I don't even know what some of those herbs are, but I assume that they were easily available growing wild around towns and villages.

Monks believed in the Christian Doctrine of Signature which said that God would provide some kind of relief for every disease, and that each substance had a signature which indicated how effective it might be. For example, some seeds that looked like miniature skulls, such as the skullcap, were used to treat headache.

Head Pains were also often treated with sweet-smelling herbs such as rose, lavender, sage, and bay. A mixture of henbane and hemlock were applied to aching joints. Coriander was used to reduce a fever.

Some of those sound quite pleasant.  I am not sure how effective they were, however.  But at least they didn't involve leeches or bleeding the patient!

St. Hildegard of Bingen is considered the first German woman physician and is called the mother of German botany.  Her book Physica was well known throughout Europe and used in many Monasteries.  She focused on balancing the humors which is very similar to the practice of Oriental Medicine today.  
Her Causae et Curae catalogues forty seven diseases according to causes, symptoms and treatments. St. Hildegard lists more than 300 plants in it, emphasizing medical and physiological theory as well as herbal treatments.

Remarkably, her books are still on sale and revered today.

Click here to read more about St. Hildegard's work.
Here is a link to an excellent site to find out more on Medieval Medicine. 

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