Four of the 11th-century therapies

July 7, 2000

* FOOT ACHE

Take helenium roots and boarthroat roots and dock roots. Boil very well in butter; drain out through woollen cloth; let cool. Afterwards, smear the swelling; he will soon be better.

Helenium (below) has antiseptic properties, while Perry has identified boarthroat as being teasel, which is included as a pain reliever. Dock root promotes healing. Boiled with butter, strained and smeared on the injury, this is an effective salve.

* LUNG DISEASE (a bad cold) Take gale and marubium and agrimony (above). Boil in ale; sweeten with honey.

Gale, known as bog myrtle, has a cleansing effect; marubium or horehound, a member of the mint family, acts as an expectorant that helps bring up phlegm. It is still used in cough syrup, as is the honey, used to make the medicine more palatable; agrimony contains tannins that are astringent and anti-inflammatory, and is still commonly used for inflammation of the throat. Remedy for "Lung Disease" is listed several times; this particular remedy would likely heal a common chest cold.

* PAIN IN THE LOINS

Fennel seed, green betony leaf, the lower part of agrimony. Rub to dust. Steep in sweetened ale. Make lukewarm. Give hot to drink in standing position; let him stand for a good while.

Betony (below) is a tranquilliser, disinfectant and astringent, used internally to combat diarrhoea; fennel seed is used in many herbal remedies to tackle flatulence and disorders of the gastrointestinal tract; agrimony as above. A tincture is formed by steeping the herbs in alcohol, which concentrates and preserves the active ingredients. This remedy cures diarrhoea and the pain caused by gas.

* A SLEEPING DRAUGHT

Radish, hemlock, wormwood, henbane. Pound all plants. Put in ale. Let it stand for one night.

The recipe includes no indication of dosage, vital for an attempt to make such a potentially hazardous brew, where so many of the principal ingredients are very poisonous. In the correct portions, the hemlock and wormwood, which is used in absinthe, have narcotic effects. The radish may have taken the toxic edge from the henbane, as is evidenced in later herbals. The ale would have formed a tincture with the herbs. The result, if correctly administered, would be to induce an almost coma-like sleep in the patient, possibly as a way to provide some relief from intense pain, indicating great skill in administration of exact correct dosage by the leech.

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