Mir­a­cle cures from Hip­pocrates’ era

Kathimerini English - - F Ocus - BY PENNY BOULOUTZA

From sim­ple syrups, eye drops, balms and pills to sup­pos­i­to­ries com­bin­ing a mul­ti­tude of in­gre­di­ents, phar­ma­ceu­tics has been a pre­ci­sion science since an­tiq­uity.

Used through the ages to cure a vast va­ri­ety of ail­ments and dis­eases, phar­ma­ceu­tics has its roots in the com­bi­na­tion of medic­i­nal plants and roots. In fact, Hip­pocrates’ (ca 460 - ca 370 BC) writ­ings men­tion at least 250 medic­i­nal plants in his stud­ies, while Galen of Perg­a­mon (AD 129-199), the most ac­com­plished of an­tiq­uity’s med­i­cal re­searchers, de­scribed in his so-called Galenic For­mu­la­tions med- icines that com­bine up to 100 dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents each.

In AD 1300, the Byzan­tine physi­cian Ni­cholas Myrep­sos com­piled a com­pen­dium of more that 2,200 medicines, many of which con­cerned mix­tures of three to five dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents.

This knowl­edge has been passed down from an­tiq­uity and re­mains very much alive in the present day, be­ing used by re­searchers the world over in ground­break­ing dis­cov­er­ies, while it was also the sub­ject of a re­cent sym­po­sium or­ga­nized by the In­ter­na­tional Hip­pocrates In­sti­tute of Kos on the south­east­ern Aegean is­land.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­sti­tute’s presi- dent, Pro­fes­sor Ste­fanos Ger­oulanos, the an­cients mostly used herbs and other plants in their con­coc­tions, but also min­er­als and an­i­mal mat­ter such as ivory, lions’ teeth and even fe­ces.

Among the most renowned medic­i­nal in­gre­di­ents dur­ing an­tiq­uity was the so-called “Limnia Gi” or Earth of Lim­nos, an ex­port prod­uct used to heal wounds which was mined from a spot al­most in the cen­ter of the north­east­ern Aegean is­land and mixed with an­i­mal blood. The mix­ture, which con­tained high lev­els of iron, was pack­aged and sealed with wax.

In many cases, an­cient medicines worked by virtue of their placebo ef- fect, ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tists. Such was the case with gold, which in re­cent years has been hailed as a treat­ment for rheuma­tism, though con­clu­sive stud­ies have yet to be con­firmed.

In an­cient times, gold dust was mixed in food and, ac­cord­ing to Ger­oulanos, was the sig­na­ture in­gre­di­ent in the fa­mous Vi­en­nese schnitzel, a recipe that was a closely guarded se­cret in the kitchens of the Palaiol­o­gos court that made its way to Vi­enna via Spain through wed­lock. The Byzan­tine schnitzel owed its color to the gold dust in the crust in which the pork was cooked, while later the gold was re­placed by more mun­dane in­gre­di­ents.

How­ever, many of the heal­ing plants and herbs of an­tiq­uity con­tinue to be used to­day ei­ther in con­ven­tional phar­ma­ceu­tics or in home­o­pathic reme­dies. Among these are the ar­bu­tus berry, ex­tracts of which are still used as an an­ti­co­ag­u­lant and which Hip­pocrates sug­gested as a cure for throm­bophlebitis.

The Euro­pean yew, or Taxus bac­cata, con­tains one of the sources of a drug used in cer­tain types of cancer treat­ments, as does the peri­win­kle flower. An­other plant that has made a come­back is worm­wood, which is used to tackle malaria, as well as white wil­low, which Hip­pocrates used as an anal­gesic.

“The best medicine for a sore throat,” ac­cord­ing to Ger­oulanos, “is camomile tea with honey and lemon, a con­coc­tion that dates back to the an­cients, who made a va­ri­ety of syrups based on honey.”

Ac­cord­ing to the pro­fes­sor, they used honey mixed with wa­ter, vine­gar or plant or her­bal ex­tracts. Mean­while, an­other treat­ment that has sur­vived from an­tiq­uity is a balm for liver spots made of warmed olive oil, beeswax and mas­tic gum.

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