Stuffed puppy and salted birds: how medieval doctors treated sick people


You have probably heard a lot of creepy facts about medieval times. So, some sources say that in those early years, men and women very rarely washed, and the contents of chamber pots simply poured out of the window into the street. Both that and the other were indeed quite common, because comfortable bathrooms and sewage systems did not yet exist – people washed themselves in basins or rivers at most. Medieval medicine was especially harsh.

In an article about ancient operations without anesthesia, we mentioned that before complex operations, medieval doctors simply hit patients on the head with something heavy. Pharmacology was also very harsh – people were given mixtures of worms and other vile ingredients as medicines. So, at least it says in the ancient documents, which we will talk about now.

What was medicine like in the Middle Ages?

Scientists have long known that medieval medicine was terrible. This, at least, is evidenced by historical documents with descriptions of methods for treating diseases and prescriptions for medicines. According to James Freeman, a specialist in medieval manuscripts at the University of Cambridge Library, the manuscripts found by scientists provide a great insight into the interaction between ancient doctors and their patients.

These recipes are a reminder of the pain and precariousness of medieval life before the advent of antibiotics, antiseptics, analgesics, the researcher noted.

You can find a lot of interesting things in medieval manuscripts.

What were Medieval Medicines?

An example is the treatment of gout, a disease in which the level of uric acid in a person’s blood increases. People with gout suffer from arthritis, inflammation of the joints. According to IFL Science , the current treatment for gout is to take anti-inflammatory drugs, as well as a significant change in diet. But in the Middle Ages, this disease was treated with the help of a well-salted and baked owl, rubbed into powder. This “medicine” was then mixed with boar fat and rubbed into the gout-affected areas as an ointment.

Drawing in a medieval book

There was also an alternative option: doctors fried a puppy stuffed with snails on a fire and used its fat as an ointment for gout. Sounds just awful, doesn’t it? In addition, no one can explain why medieval doctors chose such strange ingredients. It seems now clear why in parodies of fantasy books and films so often recipes for potions with “the brain of a frog, the eye of a dragon and the scales of a mermaid” are mentioned.

Some of the ingredients mentioned in the old manuscripts are simply impossible to find, but there are also additives that are freely sold in pharmacies: rosemary, pepper, and so on. It is readily believed in favor of some plants, but why do you need a puppy stuffed with snails?

Scientists intend to digitize old manuscripts so that everyone can read them

According to James Freeman, behind every recipe and treatment there is a story in which people wanted to get rid of some disease and gain health. So, some people went to doctors because they could not conceive a child. Doctors with great authority came up with methods of treatment, and ordinary people completely believed them – they simply had no choice.

Exploring the medicine of the past

To date, the library of the University of Cambridge has more than 180 medieval manuscripts describing methods of treating diseases. Soon, experts want to digitize them and publish them on the website of the educational institution – anyone can see them. Moreover, some documents will be translated and supplemented with explanations so that people have a clearer understanding of the medicine of the past.

Medieval medicine was very strange and there were a minimum of effective methods of treatment in it.

Do you know what the world’s most expensive medicine is? If you want to know, welcome to this article – we are sure you will be surprised.

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