Medieval Herbal Medicine Concepts You Should Learn About
Knowledge of medieval herbal medicine had been based on Greek tradition – the four senses of humor made up the body. These were the phlegm, yellow bile, blood, and back bile, controlled by fire, water, earth, and air. This tradition then evolved to give way for the theory of temperament that accounted for psychological, social, and physical characteristics. It led to the belief that a person became sick when there was an imbalance in these four temperaments.
Meaning of Medicine
The Roman Catholic Church effectively dominated what direction medieval herbal medicine took. Illnesses were punishments from God, and those who were ill were so because they were sinners. No one contradicted such a world view; just accepted. Suffering was seen as part of the human condition. As they became obsessed with souls, bodies got neglected. Medicine became a matter of faith, got shrouded by superstition, and prayers became prescriptions. Even black death – the contagious disease the middle age was famous for – was considered God’s punishment for human sin.
And this happened because the medieval doctors didn’t know what bacteria, contagion, or infection was. People saw the sign of pus as a good sign (as the body getting rid of toxins)! Naturally, they thought in the direction of nature and spirituality. The medieval herbal medicine physicians relied on crude techniques, e.g., bloodletting, and superstitious, e.g., bathing in rosewater. But this very reliance on religious explanations rather than scientific might have made the black death as catastrophic as it was.
Herbs and plants
Medicinal plants, herbs, and perfumes were part of the everyday life of the medieval herbal medicine period. Vapor and herb baths were prescribed for all ailments. Every herb, tree, and flower had its special quality – some were used to cure specific diseases while some were used for curing multiple diseases. Fragrant trees, flowers were used to “smoke” the sick. The study of these elements of nature was in the hands of monks. Every monastic garden at that time had herbs and medicinal plants. Physicians knew how to use alcohol to send people to sleep or to dull the pain of operations.
For specific problems like aching joints and headaches, physicians used herbs like a mixture of henbane and hemlock, rose, and sage. They used coriander to reduce fever. People drank cough syrups and drinks to treat head-colds and coughs. Vinegar was widely used as a cleansing agent and myrrh as an antiseptic for wounds. They treated venom using mint. These were only some examples of medieval herbal medicine.
Some Interesting Facts
Most people weren’t treated by a doctor, too. They saw a local wise-woman, skilled in the use of herbs, or the priest. Monks and nuns also treated the sick in their monasteries.
At their first visit – the doctors noted the patient’s appearance, listened to their stories, felt their pulses, and inspected their urine.
The moon and planets also played a part in one’s health. The physicians used the position of the planets to determine when to treat a patient and when not to. Even a patient’s astrology signs helped them form medical charts.
In the early medieval herbal medicine period, care was very basic and bogged down by superstitions and religion. Most of the foundation was on herbs and other natural products.