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Wednesday, May 4, 2016
17th century Medicine by Katherine Pym
Healing the Brain
researching my 1660 novels, I come across some very interesting information. The
most unique is medicine. Even though the cures were most often worse than the
disease, from journals of the time people gave their healers an optimum of
A Surgeon at Work.
beginning of the 17th century, Barbers
and Surgeons were in demand, but by the end of the century, Physicians took over the bulk of
medicine. They were even allowed to enter the birthing chamber.
A few great
thinkers felt the ‘airs’ in the city
were toxic, and a cause for the many illnesses that plagued the environs. To
remove the vile odors that poisoned the city, one suggested a barge be filled
with freshly cut onions and transported downriver to the sea. The stink would
follow the onions like a cloud of bees after their queen.
Another use was
to leave peeled onions on the ground for several days. It would soak up all the
nearby illnesses. Herbs scattered in doorways and window sills were popular to
keep fevers from entering the house. Pomanders filled with spices were shaken
by men and women in crowded halls and markets.
Amsterdam suffered from the ravages of the bubonic plague. It was only a matter
of time before it sailed the North Sea and found its way to London.
Superstition and false treatments (expensive too) ruled the day.
Smoking a pipe, Sir Walter Raleigh being doused.
During the London plague of 1665, an edict
stated the lanes must be swept of cats and dogs (killed & immediately
buried), for they could carry the deadly scythe. Tobacco kept the plague at
bay, and was smoked or chewed. Children were whipped if they did not pull on their
pipes. Burning brimstone helped, and discharging a musket or pistol in the
house cleaned unwholesome airs from the premises. Many wore lucky charms around
Piss Pot Science: a diagnosis of illness by looking at someone’s
urine. The patient can be within reach or elsewhere. It was diagnosis by proxy.
pulled teeth. They could also bleed a customer, i.e., leech blood to balance
the fluids and cool dark bile within the body. To be bled a cup of blood would
cost you five shillings. Barbers
were not allowed to do surgery, but they often disregarded this rule.
A draught of wormwood (absinthe) with white wine and sheep’s trittles (dung)
were infused together. Then the apothecary would add powdered eggshells to the
mixture. My sources did not state what this would cure.
More meds: drugs
that came from the apothecary could
have these ingredients in them—moss, smoked horses’ testicles, May dew, and
sing and dance before the victim of a tarantula
When in bed
and fearful of getting ill, have someone tie
your hands under the covers.
hands held sacred cures. When he touched you, your scrofula would be cured. Touching an executed man’s hand would
also cure scrofula, and other ailments.
Rub veal lard on injured parts of your body.
It was good
to tie a newly dead pigeon to a
patient’s foot. This released poisons from the affected person through its
feathers into the dead bird’s body.
If you had the pox (syphilis), you could not get
Things to do & avoid:
potatoes bring on wind and lust.
Wear a cloth
on the belly to keep from getting cold.
of the zodiac to ward off the plague.
A green winter (warm) will cause illness.
Do not eat
fruit during a warm summer. It will
give you a deadly fever.
The sale of fruits was prohibited during plagues.
L. Riverius, in The Practice of physic
(1672), said, “In summertime crude humors breed... by eating of fruits, and
over much drinking which being mixed with choler do breed bastard Tertians.’”
(a type of malarial fever)
was used for almost everything, especially syphilis.
was formed into syrups and pills. Easily obtained, it was a solution to many
Cut a sick child’s hair, put the strands between two pieces of bread;
then give it to the first dog you see. This will cause the child’s illness to
transfer into that of the dog.
also kept tuberculosis (consumption) at bay. Initially called the ‘white
plague’, TB gained prevalence during the 17th century. Thomas Willis
came to the conclusion all lung diseases would mutate into consumption. He
blamed this on the higher intake of sugar and acidity in the blood.
Charms & Good Luck pieces:
skin=remedy for whooping cough
to rope=wards off witches
covered acorns=prevents lightning strikes.
foot=cures the colic. When it is made into a glister of honey and salt, it
“purgeth the guts of slime & filth.”
Due to a
large amount of meat in the 17th century diet, constipation was an issue. People would set aside a day to purge,
take a physic and sit near the potty-chair. When things got bad, you’d resort
to a clyster or enema.
A Physician's Tools
One enema recipe: ale, a fair amount of sugar, and butter.
Recipes such as this or warm water in a plunger would be inserted into the
anus. With use of a pump, these solutions would be injected into the colon. Not
so different from this day and age, but God only knew what was in the ‘warm
water’, which came either from the conduits along Cheapside, or more than
likely, the Thames, a stinkpot of offal and sometimes a receptacle for dead
mid-16th century, a physician described the green sickness an ailment of virgins. Young women would suffer from lethargy and
dietary changes. By the late 17th century the disease was considered
a hysterical woman’s ailment. A man could be the source of the cure, though. He
would have sex with the suffering (chaste & virginal) woman.
diagnosis on the subject of women’s heath was the wandering womb. The physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia said the womb
was “’an animal within an animal,’ an organ that ‘moved of itself hither and
thither in the flanks.’” The womb would bang into all sorts of internal organs,
and sometimes, even make its way into the brain, pushing aside grey matter. To
get the woman with child was the only cure; if the woman was celibate or a
virgin, so much the better.
A Treatment for Mental Maladies.One
was to strap a poor fellow to a board and slide his head into an oven constructed
like a large beehive. Other holes were drilled around
the top of this oven. The fire within this beehive
sort of structure would purge the bad humors and make one well again. Not
likely he’d survive the fire and smoke inhalation, though. Sad business, that.
to my notes collected over the years,
Nathanial, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal,