Tuesday, 24 April 2018

I WANT MY MUMMY: Two strange medieval spices by Elizabeth Chadwick

Mummy.  Les Livres des Simples Medecines.
Not all items classed as spices in the Medieval period had a culinary use.  Some were medicinal and not what we would regard as a spice today.  One item a physician might require for his preparations was a spice known as 'tutty'.  Tutty was a panacea consisting of charred scrapings from inside chimneys.  But no just any chimney.  It was no good popping up to the castle in summer and taking a surreptitious rasp of the soot while the fire was out.  Oh no.  Tutty was specifically scrapings from more exotic climes, its point of export to Europe being Alexandria in Egypt. Sold in small quantities, it was expensive.  The word comes from the Old French 'Tutie' which in turn comes from the Arabic Tutiya.  Modern definitions give it as on oxide of zinc which gathers on furnace sides where copper or brass is smelted.

To go with your tutty, you might want another spice for your supply chest called 'momie', 'mumia' or 'mumm'.  A drug handbook of 1166 defines 'mummy' as a kind of spice collected from the tombs of the dead.  This doesn't mean thousands of years old Egyptian mummies as we might imagine, but slightly more recent embalmed corpses that still have a bit of give in them.  A 15th century treatise, the Livres des Simples Medecines, tells us that it is 'A spice or confection found in the tombs of people who have been enbalmed with spices as they used to do in ancient times, and as the pagans near Babylon still do.  This mummy is found near the brain and the spine.  You should choose that which is shining black, bad-smelling and firm.  There was another kind which was opaque, white, and easily crumbled to powder, which should be rejected.  The Livres illustration for the product apparently depicts a corpse in an open coffin.
Mummy was thought to be efficacious in the prevention of nosebleeds when combined with the juice of a plant called 'shepherd's purse'. Indeed, its main function was to stop bleeding.  If a person was spitting blood because of injury or malady, they were advised to put a mummy pill under the tongue, the latter made from mummy, mastic powder and water in which gum arabic had been dissolved.

The full magnificent Livres des Medecines can be accessed by clicking on this link:
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6000422n.image

2 comments:

Sue Bursztynski said...

I think I’d rarher have the nosebleed, thanks! Some cold water and a hanky should do the job nicely without raiding grandma’s tomb!

Susan Price said...

Sue, if was offered a dose of mummy for a nosebleed, I'd certainly be cured. My blood would shrink back to my heart so fast it would knock me over. None left to leak out of the nose.

I'm reading your 'Wolfborn' by the way. Great stuff!