Medieval Medicines – Giving Snake Oil Salesmen a Bad Name

Medieval medicines were rudimentary at best. They equated to quackery in some cases and evolved into modern practice in others.

In a time when penicillin and hospitals hadn’t been dreamt up, illness, even simple problems, could mean certain death.

Despite this, medieval remedies were often the only thing that stood between an ill person and likely complications – any help was better than none.

Medieval medicines for the most part were simple herbs that were used raw or brewed into teas. Medieval medicine specialists, or apothecaries, were responsible for creating these concoctions. With a bit of superstition and some true herbal healing, medieval remedies were the best things available at the time to treat or even attempt to treat a host of illnesses.

The problem for those who required medieval medicines, however, is that the practice of medicine was often dictated by the church. Those who practiced herbology without consent could be accused of witchcraft. As this fear piqued, some of the best medieval remedies became unavailable as the church outlawed the use of “potions.”

Medical facilities were located within monasteries for the most part where the infirm were comforted by clergy, but given little other attention.

Those who were given the right to practice with medieval medicines, however, did so in ways modern medical people find fascinating. Surgery was performed in the middle ages and one of the medieval remedies used for putting patients to sleep was lethal in and of itself. Some of the ingredients for this medieval medicine included opium, hemlock juice and gall from a castrated boar.

Medieval remedies that were used were often “cure-alls,” the forerunners to early America’s snake oil salesmen’s wares. One example of medieval medicines was treacle. This prevented swelling, cured fevers, helped with heart problems and even cured the plague, or so it was thought. This example of a cure-all medieval remedy was made from a host of ingredients including roast snake skins.

Considering the root of practice for the application of medieval medicines was the belief that the balance of the body’s four humors – phlegm, blood, yellow bile and black bile – was directly connected to health, it’s not terribly surprising the medieval remedies available would likely scare a modern day pharmacists to the point of heart attack. To maintain these humors, the practitioners of medieval medicine believed it was necessary to balance diet, medieval remedies and blood letting.

While its true medieval medicines left much to be desired and the life expectancy of most people wasn’t phenomenal as a result, the practices started in the middle ages such as formalized universities and “licensing” for practitioners carried through to help create a modern system. While most medieval medicine practices were discarded through time, some of the ideas live today.

Information on medieval medicines can be found in history books, medical books and all over the Internet.