Panacea or poi­son?

Would these 10 me­dieval med­i­cal prac­tices have given you a new lease of life, or sent you to an early grave?

BBC History Magazine - - Cover Story -

1 Blood­let­ting

Ph­le­botomy aimed to main­tain or re­store the hu­moral balance in the body by re­mov­ing a moderate amount of blood. We know to­day that los­ing a small quan­tity of blood is usu­ally not harm­ful, but nor is it ben­e­fi­cial. In the Mid­dle Ages it was recog­nised that it was dan­ger­ous to draw blood from the el­derly or the very sick, and that ex­ces­sive bleed­ing, through in­jury or an­other cause, needed to be staunched. COULD IT HAVE WORKED? NO

2 Charms

These mag­i­cal reme­dies were not with­out ben­e­fit, since they some­times in­cor­po­rated medic­i­nal plants and other ther­a­peu­tic sub­stances – and they could serve to re­as­sure the pa­tient. Nonethe­less, the treat­ments usu­ally con­tained fewer ben­e­fi­cial com­po­nents than com­pa­ra­ble non-mag­i­cal recipes. COULD IT HAVE WORKED? NO

3 Fam­ily plan­ning

Herbal treat­ments based on plants such as sage, rue and pen­ny­royal were ad­min­is­tered to women seek­ing to in­duce an abor­tion, of­ten in the form of a drink. Sev­eral of the plants in ques­tion are known to­day to act as stim­u­lants, and to pro­mote men­stru­a­tion. It is known that a high dosage of pen­ny­royal can bring about an abor­tion. COULD IT HAVE WORKED? YES

4 Couch­ing for cataracts

Me­dieval sur­geons treated cataracts by us­ing a nee­dle to dis­lodge the cloudy lens from its po­si­tion in front of the pupil of the eye. Peo­ple recog­nised that the pro­ce­dure could be dan­ger­ous, and that spe­cial­ist skills were re­quired for it to work. To­day, couch­ing is seen as an in­ef­fec­tive method of treat­ing cataracts that of­ten re­sults in blind­ness. COULD IT HAVE WORKED? NO

5 Phar­macy

Apothe­caries com­pounded medicines us­ing a wide ar­ray of sub­stances. While some ma­te­ri­als were prob­a­bly in­ef­fec­tive or even dan­ger­ous, oth­ers, such as gin­ger and senna, are used to­day for their medic­i­nal prop­er­ties. The pages of me­dieval phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal manuscripts may in fact con­tain reme­dies of which the ben­e­fits are asyet un­known to mod­ern medicine. COULD IT HAVE WORKED? YES

6 Coun­ter­feit cures

Rogue prac­ti­tion­ers some­times mar­keted coun­ter­feit med­i­cal reme­dies, es­pe­cially dur­ing times of height­ened anx­i­ety about plague. These treat­ments pre­vented sick peo­ple from seek­ing more ben­e­fi­cial ad­vice, and could prove dan­ger­ous, es­pe­cially if a poi­sonous sub­stance was sold to a pa­tient. COULD IT HAVE WORKED? NO

7 As­trol­ogy

Doc­tors paid at­ten­tion to the move­ments of the plan­ets and the signs of the zo­diac to de­ter­mine the ap­pro­pri­ate time to treat spe­cific ail­ments. The Zo­diac Man im­age (shown above left), widely copied in me­dieval manuscripts, shows the signs of the zo­diac as­so­ci­ated with par­tic­u­lar parts of the body. Ideas still ex­ist to­day about the in­flu­ence of ce­les­tial bod­ies, es­pe­cially the Moon, on men­stru­a­tion and other as­pects of health. How­ever, sci­en­tific re­search seems to have dis­proven such ideas. COULD IT HAVE WORKED? NO

8 Hos­pi­tal care

Al­though me­dieval hos­pi­tal pa­tients were un­likely to be treated by a physi­cian or sur­geon, they ben­e­fited from the ex­per­tise of nurs­ing staff, who were of­ten women. Hos­pi­tals of­fered ba­sic bod­ily care, in the form of food, drink and shel­ter. While this care did not en­com­pass spe­cialised treat­ments, it en­abled the sick to re­gain strength to­wards their re­cov­ery. COULD IT HAVE WORKED? YES

9 The­riac

This rem­edy, in which plant ex­tracts were ground up with the flesh of vipers and other sub­stances, was held as a pow­er­ful an­ti­dote to poi­sons, and be­lieved to have many other heal­ing prop­er­ties. How­ever, al­though the­riac was ex­pen­sive and highly sought-af­ter, it is dif­fi­cult to dis­cern how this medicine would have proved ef­fec­tive or ben­e­fi­cial. COULD IT HAVE WORKED? NO

10 Uroscopy

Ex­am­in­ing urine was one of the only ways in which the me­dieval doc­tor could as­sess the in­ter­nal state of the body. The urine was col­lected in a flask, and its colour, smell and con­sis­tency were as­sessed. Me­dieval med­i­cal manuscripts of­ten con­tain di­a­grams show­ing the dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties of urine and how these re­lated to dis­eases and states of health. Urine sam­ples are still an­a­lysed by doc­tors to­day. COULD IT HAVE WORKED? YES

7 8 1 5

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.