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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Medieval Medicine

In the Middle Ages, medical practitioners were as varied as were the illnesses. Among those who practiced medicine were monks, folk-healers, and university trained physicians. The first medical university was in 10th century Italy, where students explored Greek manuscripts looking for ways to cure disease. The predominant theory was that the body had four distinct humors, and an imbalance in one of these humors was the cause of any illness. Depending on which humor was to blame, they prescribed accordingly. Sometimes, the color of an herb would target the plant for use. For instance, a yellow flower, like dandelion or fennel, would be recommended for treatment of a liver dysfunction, because of the liver’s yellow bile. Thus, dandelion was considered a remedy for jaundice.
Trained physicians, of course, served royalty and only the very wealthy, as a rule. Commoners were treated either by monks or by folk-healers. Later, as healers were sometimes associated with the occult, and some even considered to be in league with the devil himself, commoners relied on local healers and midwives. I have an interesting book on my shelves: Medicine Women, a Pictorial History of Women Healers, by Elisabeth Brooke, if you’re interested in pursuing the subject further.

8 comments:

Mary Ricksen said...

No wonder they died so young. Imagine I'd be dead if I lived in that time!

Skhye said...

Great post. I love this stuff. Humoral medicine began with Galen a few thousand years ago. "Physicks" are a recent development. Interested folks can also read Boorstein's THE DISCOVERERS and McNeill's PLAGUES AND PEOPLES to get a better grasp on the path leading to today's healing practices. ;)

And Mary, women had a 50% chance of dying each time they gave birth until LAST century. That's scary looking back!

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Joyce,
Sounds fascinating. Easy to see why the mortality rates were so high, though.
Regards
Margaret

Judy said...

Interesting information here! I'll definitely be checking out the book you mentioned!

Joyce Moore said...

Hi Mary: Yes, that's why life expectancy was so low. So many women died in childbirth too, and odds were that a child wouldn't live to his 18th birthday!

Joyce Moore said...

Skhye: thanks for the book titles. Always interested in references. Yes, they were using Galen then. Actually I'm thinking they tried anything to see if it would work--not too much different than now, huh? It's a guessing game still!

Joyce Moore said...

Margaret: I know. Like getting the flu then was like a death sentence. Can you imagine being bled when you have the misery of flu symptoms too?

Joyce Moore said...

Judy: It's really a great book--goes into the herbs and also how the early women doctors were scorned by "the institution" who of course wanted to keep the profession to themselves.