Medicinal-Fds-art - 10/18/06
"Medicinal Foods of the Middle Ages" by Marija Kotok and Petr Kotok.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
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Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Medicinal Foods of the Middle Ages
by Marija Kotok and Petr Kotok
"Let your food be your medicine," said Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine! In medieval times, as today, many foods were thought to have medicinal value. The main difference now is that we actually have some science to back up many of those middle age beliefs. But facts or no, many a medieval diet was ruled by these beliefs and many physicians and patients of that time swore by the value of them. Here, for your perusal, is an overview of some those beliefs and any modern day facts we have to back them up! You will see that some foods are actually good for entirely different things than what was believed in medieval times, while others have found their proof of efficacy in modern science.
Name, Medieval Belief & Uses, Current Knowledge
The oil was used in cough syrups, laxatives, and for a skin softener. It was also widely believed that eating them prevented intoxication.
Studies suggest almonds may contain some colon cancer preventatives. One ounce of almonds a day is known to lower cholesterol and help reduce risk of Coronary problems.
Even in medieval times the apple had a reputation as a cure-all. It was especially used for stomach ailments, to reduce acidity, and as a general digestive aid.
Rotten apples were mashed as a poultice for sore eyes.
Apples contain Phenolic Antioxidants, flavonoids, and pectin which work against cholesterol and heart problems. In addition they are high in Vitamin C.
Barley was recommended to be eaten for digestive disorders and bronchitis. In addition barley water was taken for relief of intestinal complaints. And cooked barley used as a poultice to aid in the healing of skin sores.
An excellent source of soluble fiber also contains iron, manganese, phosphorus, and thiamin. The fiber would be helpful to the digestive tract.
These were used as a poultice on swelling.
Help lower cholesterol and decrease accumulation of lipids. Helps cleanse the colon and prevent colon problems.
Recommended as a digestive cleanser and also a cure for headaches and giddiness. In addition they were thought to help the yellow jaundice.
They have been recommended for Gall Bladder disease because they thin bile and cause it to flow more freely. They also have been found to lower cholesterol.
Brassica Oleracea Capitata
Cabbage leaves used to treat inflammation and sores. Consumption was thought to cleanse the liver and encourage healing. Also, some thought drinking it with wine would help fight adder poison.
Raw cabbage cleans the waste from the stomach and upper bowels. Cabbage also stimulates the immune system, kills harmful bacteria, soothes ulcers, and improves circulation. High in Vitamin C and sulphur.
Eating them helped anemia and kidney complaints as well as liver and bowel problems. Juice from the roots killed intestinal worms. It was also mashed and used in poultices for itchy skin and sores or ulcerated skin.
This plant contains so many things it needs its own page so I have settled for listing a few of its proven health benefits. Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, asthma preventative, and digestive aid.
Fruit, bark, and gum were all used in cough formulations. Crushed cherry poultices were used to relieve migraine. It was also believed eating them would improve appetite and helps expel digestive tract stones.
Cherries contain a variety of nutrients including dietary fiber, heart-helpful beta-sitosterol and antioxidants. Antioxidant compounds in the fruit include phenols such as flavonoids, vitamin C, the anthocyanin fruit pigments, ellagic acid, quercetin, and even melatonin
The nuts were powdered and added to honey to relieve coughs and the spitting up of blood.
Chestnut leaf extracts are used in drugs for treatment of whooping cough, pertussis, and other forms of convulsive cough.
Cole Wort (Kale)
The leaves were twice boiled, and the broth used to help pains and obstruction of the liver, kidneys, and digestive tract.
It was also used in ointments to heal skin eruptions and swellings.
A good source of vitamin C and is rich in phytochemicals, including sulforaphane and indoles, that may protect against cancer. It also has a high mineral content, providing manganese as well as some iron, calcium, and potassium. There's antioxidant vitamin E in kale as well.
The fermented juice was used for scald, sprains, sore throats, and mouth problems.
Used in Bach Flower remedies for cleansing. It is also believed to be helpful to the kidneys. It’s juice sometimes is used in place of vinegar.
Prunus Institia or
The roots were to check bleeding and lower fevers. A gin prepared from the fruit came to be used as a diarrhoea cure.
These are a type of plum and are high in calcium.
Eaten for sore throats and bronchial problems. Externally for boils. An ointment made of the juice and hogs grease was believed to cure the bite of mad dogs and other venomous beasts.
They are a good source of potassium a mineral which helps control blood pressure. The leaves of the fig have anti-diabetic properties. Figs are also being studied for possible cancer fighting properties.
A.k.a. Few Berries
A.k.a. Northern Grape
the fruit eaten to help the appetite and quench thirst.
The leaves were prescribed to help break up gravel and stones of the digestive system. Also they thought pricking a wart with a gooseberry thorn would cause it to go away.
Considered helpful for anemia, useful as a diuretic, stimulates manufacture of blood. Known to help cleanse the digestive system.
Used to treat circulatory problems, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and slow healing wounds.
They contain greater amounts of the essential amino acid, methionine, than any other nuts. Methionine is a chelating agent. It cannot be produced by the body, and must be provided by the diet. Low levels of it can cause dementia. Studies are being done to show it is helpful in alleviation of Parkinson’s disease. It is also used for Pancreatitis and liver support.
Externally to treat ulcers, burns, scalds, and ulceration. Also, skin rashes and insect bites. Chewing the leaves was thought to relieve toothache.
The leaves are used as a poultice in much the same way as Aloe vera in the treatment of a wide range of skin diseases, burns, scalds, bites and stings etc. and have also been used to get rid of warts and corns. Sometimes used internally for skin ailments, but carefully, in excess the plant is emetic and purgative.
Used as a sedative, thought strongest when the plants were going to seed. It was known as the poor mans opium and used to treat many nervous disorders. It was poisonous in large quantities.
There is a compound in this variety of lettuce resembles a feeble opium without its tendency to upset the digestive system. It is used to a small extent as a sedative and narcotic. A valuable natural remedy for use in insomnia, restlessness and excitability.
Known to have been used to fight infections and regular consumption was believed to keep coughs away. It was also thought they would strengthen the heart and restore virility.
Most of the healing power in onions is traced back to quercetin, a natural Antioxidant, neutralizing free radicals that can damage the cell and harm DNA. Early research links this antioxidant to preventing the development of cancer cells and blood clots. Adenosine, another chemical found in onions, has blood thinning properties and can help lower
Drinking the water in which peas had been cooked was said to cure measles.
Legume starches contain a higher amount of amylose than most cereal or tuber starches. These are considered helpful in the prevention of many gastric ailments.
These were used for many things. To treat coughs, bronchitis, asthma, rheumatism, gout, respiratory, and digestive problems.
The juice of this common vegetable is used primarily for digestive disorders and upper respiratory inflammation. In Asian medicine, it's also taken for headache, liver disease, and pain, but its effectiveness for these problems has not been scientifically confirmed.
The thick, tangy root promotes digestive secretions, stimulates the bowels, and helps kill germs.
Stomach and urinary problems. Also, dysentery, diarrhoea, and many digestive ailments. The leaf tea was taken for anaemia and nerves. Because of the color and shape of the fruit it was also believed to be good for heart ailments.
One cup of them will supply more than your daily requirement of vitamin C. With the discovery of the benefits of alpha hydroxy acids, the strawberry has taken on a new role. Rubbing the fruit externally over sunburns helps the damaged skin heal faster, if applied after washing the face it helps clear blemishes and keep the skin young looking. Strawberries may also be rubbed over the teeth to remove discoloration.
Wheat was also used for many things. Eczema, ringworm, wounds, ulcers, painful joints, and inflammation. They even thought that if you had gout you should be buried in wheat up to your knees and that would make the fluid in your feet go away.
Whole grain wheat contains powerful antioxidants which may help to prevent colon cancer and possibly diabetes and heart disease.
The downside is that gluten, and particularly its gliadin fraction, is the substance responsible for celiac disease. Complete exclusion of all gluten-containing preparations from the diet results in remarkable improvement in celiac disease.
Please take note that anyone using natural remedies for any reason is doing so at their own risk, and should consult a physician for any serious problems. This missive is intended to provide information on period practices while comparing them to present knowledge. It is in no way to be taken as medical advice. May health and abundance always be yours!
Boyd, Anne “Life in a Medieval Monastery”, Cambridge Univ. Press. Cambridge 1975
Culpeper, Nicolas, “Culpeper’s Complete Herbal”, Foulsham, London, n.d. 1653
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and English Physician Gleave. Manchester, England 1829
Page, T.E. ed. Eichholz, D.E. trans. “Pliny: Natural History”. Loeb Classical Library. London, England 1962
Talbot, Robert and Whiteman Robin “Brother Cadfaels Herb Garden”, Bullfinch Press Little, Brown, and Co., Italy 1997
Whole Health MD Medical Botany by Dr. James A. Duke
Copyright 2005 by Marilyn and Pete Kinyon, 1598 Sawmill Rd., Hedgesville, WV 25427. <MamaLynx at allvantage.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.