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
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
The 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 recipes used.
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.
Religious items were genuinely believed to aide with many aspects
of healthcare- whether relief for a mother in labour or for assistance
with plague. Looking at an image of Saint Christopher was devoutly
believed to give protection from sudden death for the next 24
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.
Reliquaries, which held a small piece of religious artifact, were
a guaranteed recipe for good health and protection from sickness.
The Lamb of God reliquary from the Gilbert Collection,
seen at right, would have held a small piece of holy artifact
or a small item blessed with holy water.
Many 13th and 14th century rings were also inscribed with the
letters A.G.L.A. which were to aid against fevers.
Hildegard 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.
The Tacunimum Sanitatus had an extensive list of natural herbs,
foods and plants and what they were good for.
was believed to release vile humours from the body through the
wound and was widely practiced on both men and women. The picture
at left is a detail form the 14th century illumination, the Luttrell
Psalter and shows a doctor releasing blood from an ailing
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
NOT TRY THESE AT HOME!
It 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...
seems that as now, the medieval woman could be concerned with
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
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,
and are astringents.
Banckes' Herbal written
in 1525 suggests Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis as a
medieval antiseptic writing:
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 rice paper 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
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
The gomph stick was a curved stick and used as we use toilet paper-
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 and while we don't know for sure,
we find its presence in cess pits.
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 to date.