HEADACHES - WEIGHT LOSS - WORMS - WARTS & CORNS
- MOSQUITO REPELLENTS - ANTISEPTICS - TOILET PAPER
Perhaps the best-known medieval medical
journal is the late 14th century Tacuinum Sanitatis, shown
above, which was a medical codex with almost full-page, colour
illuminations. There are several existing copies of this book
which vary slightly, but contain, for the most part, the same
information.One copy was written and illuminated for the Cerruti
Family and was probably made from Verona. The Tacuinum Sanitatis
dealt with many aspects of healthcare- herbs, substances, emotions
and types of fabrics. It tell of the benefits and dangers of each
and what to do about them. Much of what we know today about medieval
healthcare comes from these manuscripts.
detail at left, is from the Tacuinum Sanitatis and shows
a man purchasing medicine from an apocathary. The scales on the
bench were used to give correct measure for many of the complicated
Only a few textbooks survive specifically
dealing with women's health, although it must be supposed that
medieval women faced the same kind of daily complaints as the
modern woman. Headaches, ringworm and warts were seen as curses
from a displeased God, but home remedies went hand in hand with
prayers for the cure of many ailments.
Looking at an image of Saint Christopher
was devoutly believed to give protection from sudden death for
the next 24 hours. Wearing a ring or brooch with the names of
the three wise men- Caspar (or Jaspar), Melchior
and Balthazar- was also good to epilepsy preventative.
Many 13th and 14th century rings were also inscribed with the
letters A.G.L.A. which were to aid against fevers.
Von Bingham, a twelfth century German woman physician, wrote on
women's health, as did Gilbert the Englishman in the 13th century.
His compilation of remedies are based on a Latin medical textbook
and is known as The Sickness of Women.
Bloodletting was believed to release
vile humours from the body through the wound and was widely practiced
on both men and women. The picture at right is a detail form the
14th century illumination, the Luttrell Psalter and shows
a doctor releasing blood from an ailing patient.
Many herbal remedies were utilised
throughout the Middle Ages, some of which persist today. Taking
honey for a sore throat in these modern times certainly does not
raise any eyebrows and was a common remedy in the middle ages.
Listed below are home herbal preparations recorded for use from
as early as the 12th century. Please don't try these at home.
They made be injurious or inflict harm.
DO NOT TRY THESE AT HOME!
is written in Culpepper's Herbal, that vervain verbena
officinalis warded off headaches, although it it not specified
how. A 15th century recipe for relief of the Migraine gives more
..take half a dish of barley,
one handful each of betony, vervain and other herbs that are
good for the head, and when they be well-boiled together, take
them up and wrap them in a cloth and lay them to the sick head
and it shall be whole...
It seems that as now, the medieval woman could be concerned with
her weight. One did not wish to be thin, as this indicated the
lack of means to feed oneself properly, however after childbirth
or when weight became greater than desired, slimming tonics were
called for. To enhance loss of weight, fennel foeniculum vulgare,
at right, seeds are reputed to make people lean that are too
fat. Garden patience or great monk's rhubarb roots were also used
in diet drinks.
Garlic allium sativum, at left, was eaten whole like a
vegetable. Warm and dried, it was given against poisons but also
to kill worms while onion allium cepa steeped all night
in springwater kills worms if taken after morning fasting.
Another cure is made thus:
Take lime and twice as much chalk
and with wine or water, make a thin cement. Apply with 5 days
with a feather to the area where the worm is. On the fifth day,
take aloe and a third as much myrrh, crush and with fresh wax,
prepare a plaster. Use hemp cloth and tie on for 12 days.
and corns tinctures
The sun dew juice unmixed and applied topically will destroy warts
and corns. Spurge or garden spurge milk is good to take away warts
if applied externally.
Pennyroyal mentha pulegium was popular as a flea dispeller
scattered or burnt in rooms, and the leaves were rubbed on the
skin to deter insects.
althaea officinalis, ivy hedera helix and thorn
apple datura stramonium were still used in twentieth century
rural England to soothe injuries, burns and insect bites and have
been handed down for generations as herbal remedies. Alum and
pomegranate punica granata, at right, are mentioned by
Roger of Frugard as ingredients in a lotion to overcome suppuration,
Banckes' Herbal written in
1525 suggests rosemary rosmarinus officinalis as a medieval
boil the leaves in white wine
and wash thy face therewith, thy beard and thy brows, and there
shall no corns grow out, but thou shall have a fair face.
Although toilet paper- squares made from ricepaper which was cheap
and plentiful- was known in China as early as the 6th century,
it was noted with horror that the Chinese only wiped and not washed
with water as other Europeans did.
It seems that toilet paper, and indeed
the idea of toilet paper, was unappealing to early Europeans
and the use of paper squares was not adopted back home. Obviously,
some kind of wiping system or device was used during the middle
ages. There appear to be two that we know of today- gomphus
or the gomph stick and torchcut or torche-cul.
The gomph stick was a curved stick and used as we use toilet paper-
to scrape. The torche-cul refers to straw which was used in the
toilet. It literally translates as 'arse-wipe' or 'arse-torch'
indicating that the straw was used either for lighting in the
toilet or as a substance to wipe with. Some people assert that
Spaghnum moss was used to wipe with but I have no concrete evidence
Perhaps water was supplied for washing
down below as well as for the hands and face, but if so, it is
not mentioned anywhere I've seen.