Handout/Outline for a class taught in the Society for Creative Anachronism
by Jadwiga Zajaczkowa, m.k.a. Jennifer Heise
MYTHS about medieval medicine:
Myth: Medieval medicine had no rational basis, but was merely a collection
Medieval medicine was clearly divided between intrusive scholastic
medicine practiced by male physicians and holistic herbal treatments prescribed
by village wisewomen.
Almost no one lived to be over 60.
Anatomical dissection was never practiced in the middle ages and
There were no hospitals or public health services.
Major surgical procedures were never performed.
We have no information about medieval medicine or about herbal treatments
used in period; or, we have no information about non-scholastic/clerical
medicine in period.
All medieval medical recipes involve expensive and/or dangerous
All medieval medical recipes, being herbal, are safe to use.
Physicians recommended bleeding a person for every complaint.
Illness was universally considered just a punishment for sin. Nobody
believed that disease was spread by contagion. The Churches forbade medical
Medicine was an arcane art in period, and ordinary people were not
encouraged to learn medical knowledge.
Reliable herbal contraceptives were covertly available to women from
wisewomen and midwives until the Church wiped them out.
Greek & Roman Medicine
Physicians in the employ of nobles
University professors and lecturers
'Elf-shot' (in Anglo-saxon terms)
Recurring Fevers of all types
Doctrine of Signatures
The most important principle of medieval medical advice was moderation in
Bleeding, in the medieval/renaissance period, seems to have been a primary
preventive health measure. Bleeding was recommended on average about every
three months. The origin of this treatment may be a now-rare condition where
the blood has too much iron in it-- modern patients with this condition must
have blood drawn on a regular basis.
Cupping and/or cautery:
the application of heated objects to the skin; cautery actually burns the
body; cupping usually involves putting heated cup-shaped vessels to the skin,
which draws out fluids and also brings fluids to the site from other body
Purgatives (laxatives, emetics)
Worms were apparently a major health hazard in pre-modern times. Treatments
for worms, especially intestinal worms, generally seem to involve herbs with
nerve-paralyzing properties (to stun the worms so they would detach) combined
Febrifuges (fever reducers)
Steam-baths and fumigation
Simples and Compound Remedies
Syrups and electuaries
Waters and Wines
Ointments, Plasters and topical applications
Mummy, treacle and dwale
Surgery (including trepanning)
Arano, Luis Cogliati, ed. The Medieval Health Handbook (Tacuinum
Sanitatis), (NY, George Braziller, 1976).
Baron, J.H. "The hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, Siena, 1090-1990."
British Medical Journal, Dec 22, 1990 v301 n6766 p1449(3)
De Vriend, Hubert Jan, ed., The Old English
Herbarium and Medicina de quadrupedibus (London,
Dioscorides Pedanius, of Anazarbos. The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides:
illustrated by a Byzantine, A. D. 512; Englished by John Goodyer, A. D.
1655; edited and first printed, A. D. 1933, by Robert T. Gunther ... with
three hundred and ninety-six illustrations.
Getz, Faye. Medicine in the English Middle Ages. (Princeton,
NJ : Princeton University Press, 1998)
Glass, Nigel. "Great excavations," The Lancet, Feb 24,
2001 v357 i9256 p643.
Henderson, H. M. "The physicians of Myddfai:
The Welsh Herbal Tradition." in: Plants and people:
economic botany in Northern Europe AD 800-1800 : symposium held at the Royal
Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, 24-27 September, 1993. (Edinburgh : Edinburgh
University Press, 1994) published as Botanical Journal of Scotland,
v. 46, pt. 4, 1994. p. 623-627
Hildegarde of Bingen. Hildegard von Bingen's Physica: the
complete English translation of herclassic work on Health and Healing.
Trans. from the Latin by Patricia Throop. (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts,
Hildegarde of Bingen. Holistic Healing (Causa et Curiae).
(Liturgical Press, 1994)
Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing. Stephen
Pollington, editor/author. (Norfolk, England: AngloSaxon Books, 2000).
Lemay, Helen R.
Women's Secrets : A Translation of Pseudo-Albertus
Magnus' de Secretis Mulierum with Commentaries. (State University
of New York, 1992)
Majno, Guido. The Healing Hand: Man and Wound in the Ancient
World. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975).
Nostradamus, The Elixirs of Nostradamus: Nostradamus' original
recipes for elixirs, scented water, beauty potions and sweetmeats. edited
by Knut Boeser. (Wakefield, RI: Moyer Bell, 1996)
Platina. On Right Pleasure and Good Health: A Renaissance Gentleman's
Discourse On food, Health, and the Physical Pleasures. translated and
edited by Mary Ella Milham. (Pegasus Press, 1998)
Rawcliffe, Carole. "Hospital Nurses and their
Work", in Richard Britnell, ed. Daily Life in the Late Middle Ages,
(Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1998), pp 58-61.
Rawcliffe, Carole. Medicine & Society in Later Medieval England.
(Sutton Publishing, 1998)
Siraisi, Nancy. Medieval & early Renaissance medicine
: an introduction to knowledge and practice. (Chicago : University of
Chicago Press, 1990)
Tobyn, Graeme. Culpeper's Medicine: A Practice of Western Holistic
Medicine. (Harper Collins - UK, 1997)
The Trotula: An English Translation of the Medieval Compendium
of Women's Medicine: translated and edited by Monica H. Green. (Philadelphia: University
of Pennsylvania Press, 2001).
Van De Walle, Etienne, and Elisha Renne, editors. Regulating
Menstruation: Beliefs, Practices, Interpretations. (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2001)
Wellcome, Henry S. Anglo-Saxon Leechcraft. (?: Rose & Nef,
1992) [originally published by Wellcome, 1912]
McVaugh, M. R. Medicine before the plague : practitioners
and their patients in the crown of Aragon, 1285-1345.(NY: Cambridge
University Press, 1993)
Medieval woman's guide to health : the first English
gynecological handbook / with introd., transcription of the Middle English
text, and modern English translation by Beryl Rowland. (Kent, Ohio : Kent
State University Press, 1981)
Miller, Timothy. The birth of the hospital
in the Byzantine Empire. (Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press,
O'Boyle, Cornelius. The art of medicine : medical teaching at
the University of Paris, 1250-1400. (Boston : Brill, 1998).
Park, Katharine. Doctors and medicine in
early Renaissance Florence. (Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press,
Pouchelle, Marie-Christine. The body and
surgery in the Middle Ages. (New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University
Riddle, John M. Contraception and abortion from the ancient world
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Siraisi, Nancy. Avicenna in Renaissance Italy : the
Canon and medical teaching in Italian universities after 1500. (Princeton,
N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1987)
Copyright 1999, Jennifer A. Heise. Contact me via email for permission to reprint: firstname.lastname@example.org
Permission is explicitly granted for limited reproduction as a printed handout for Society for Creative Anachronism demos & classes , as long as I am notified and credited and the entire handout is used. [Jadwiga's herbs homepage: http://www.gallowglass.org/jadwiga/herbs/herbs.html ]