Monday 5 January 2015

Flatulence, Indigestion, Black Death, not to mention Acne ... by Joan Lennon

The season of excess in food and drink is still strong in our memories, as are thoughts of ensuing digestive difficulties.  (If you type "Healthy January" into Google, you get something like 530 million links to click on.)  Indigestion and the "expelling of wind" were topics which also exercised the minds of medieval medical types considerably.*  Here are a few of the cures they proposed for those gut feelings:

- powdered bay leave taken with honey
- feverfew fried with wine and oil and applied to the belly
- the ingestion of mint, valerian, hemp seeds, cardamon seeds, fennel, cloves ... 
- borage, which had the added advantage of also being good for melancholy (Being overly windy can be depressing.)

A quite interesting thing about these cures was that they were also prescribed for plague**, acne and the bite of a mad dog.  The up side to this was that anyone unfortunate enough to be suffering from all these conditions simultaneously wouldn't have to spend time and money on taking different medicines.

I think I might just consider a bit of moderation.

* I thought this should perhaps be an image-free post.  You can thank me later.
** Other medieval cures for the black death included drinking powdered emeralds or molten gold, eating a spider inserted into a raisin, and the toad cure.  This involved a number of dead toads which you dried in the sun and then placed on the victim's boils.  The toad would swell up and burst, and you would then apply another, continuing until the patient got better*** or you ran out of toads.
*** Or, you know, died.

(To find out more about the delights of medieval medicine, join me at the back of The Wickit Chronicle books where I get to include much that is gruesome and revolting from the Middle Ages, just for the fun of it.) 

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.


Sue Purkiss said...

Fortunately I have a packet of borage seeds all ready to go - our neighbour has bee hives, and told me that borage is good for bees. So should be all right for honey, digestive problems and melancholy by the end of summer. Phew.

Susan Price said...

Sue you will have bee-loud glade - and borage has the most beautiful blue flowers and is edible, for salads - tastes like hairy cucumber.

But you will never get rid of it! - Joan, great post. Made me laugh!

Ann Turnbull said...

I'd imagine that the effort of inserting a spider into a raisin would concentrate the mind so much you'd forget all about your symptoms.

Lydia Syson said...

Thank you for these timely tips! There must have been something in some of them. I certainly used to drink fennel tea obsessively while breastfeeding in the hope it would do something for my babies' wind - who knows if it made a difference, but there's nothing like believing it might… And now I must confess a witchy childhood obsession with a book called 'Somerset Folklore', which recommended slug slime as a cure for warts. My father let me try it on him and amazingly, his warts did vanish!

Mavis said...

We enjoyed your post, Joan. As you know, Richard and I are into all things botanical. We'll draw the line at toads and spiders though.
I trust all is well with you and wish it will remain so through this year... and beyond.