Sep 21, 2021
3 mins read
Fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, flowers and other plants have been used for thousands of years as medicine or in medicinal preparations.
The Egyptians used willow bark to help with pain, the Greeks made it into clay tablets to help with pain and it continued to be used by healers for thousands of years.
It was in the 18th century when a pharmacist "rediscovered" its pain relieving effects when he gave it to 50 patients to help relieve " Maladies" but it was the 1890s before it was made artificially and became Aspirin!
Oriental Poppies were used in the middle ages in preparations to aid sleep but they could have been used for this even earlier. In the archaeological digs on Crannogs on Loch Tay, they have found seeds from the oriental poppy - iron age sleep aid perhaps?
We know vitamin C from citrus fruit helps to prevent scurvy in sailors (Eventually, although no thanks to Captain cook, but that's another story!).Most of us have grown up knowing to eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day. Although this is excellent advice the 5 a day was originally a marketing ploy by the farmers to get people to buy more fruit and veg !
I could go on and on about what was, and in some cases still is, used for medicine but I'd like to tell you a little bit about the weirder side of food and medicine - or in our first case, the lack of food!
Fasting has been used for thousands of years to help "cure" illnesses. The Greeks believed it was good for the body, religious leaders believed it was good for the soul. In Victorian times quite a few doctors advocated "Natural healing" which actually meant lots of drugs and fasting to heal.
By the early 20th century Natural Healing became "Nature Cure" and a Dr Shelton used water fasting to cure over 40,000 patients - or so he claimed! Water fasting may not sound too bad but it also meant no drugs or medicine of any kind to treat an illness or disease. Shelton was eventually arrested for practicing without a licence and then later arrested for starving a patient to death.
How about a grape fast? In 1925 a lady called Johanna Brandtt introduces the idea that you could cure cancer using grapes. You would fast for a few days, use enemas to "clean you out" then eat grapes everyday for 2 weeks!
Gayelord Hauser is credited with creating the first celebrity diet. He claimed that your eyesight could be improved with only eating super foods, which were Yoghurt, Brewers yeast, powdered skimmed milk, wheat germ and molasses. Maybe not quite a fast but definitely a restricted diet!
So what about Pearls? You wouldn't think of eating Pearls for your health but they have actually been used for thousands of years for a cure for poison. Ground up and taken by mouth not only would they help you if poisoned, they would also help increase your general strength. In the middle ages if you soaked a pearl in malt, honeycomb and pumice then ate small bite size pieces, you would become immortal. Cleopatra would drink pearls that were dissolved in wine vinegar, not only for health benefits but because she also wanted to win a bet against Marc Anthony - not sure what the bet was though!
And lastly William the conqueror decided that he needed to lose weight so that he could ride his horses again. His diet was hardcore though and consisted of nothing but Alcohol! How many of you are reading thinking you could do that diet? His diet did work and he did lose enough weight to ride again although he was still big. In fact when he died he was so big he didn't fit properly into his coffin. He was "squished" into the coffin but due to gas build up after his death and the manhandling of his corpse, he promptly exploded during his funeral!
If you would like to read more weird and wonderful facts about medicine then "Quackery, A brief history of the worst ways to cure everything" by Lydia King and Nate Pedersen is the book to get!