People have looked for medical remedies for as long as they have been falling ill, which is to say, since forever. However, it is also a fact that modern, systematic, and evidence based medicine has taken root only recently. What, then, was the basis of medical treatment in the medieval age? It is an important question as even in the absence of a formal regulatory authority, practice of medicine was still a specialized discipline in medieval times.
Although the concept of fact based and hypothesis driven science did not exist in the medieval age, the practice of medicine was far from pure guess work. The practitioners of this branch of knowledge still tried to systematize and categorize their observations. For example, individuals were labeled with a specific ‘temperament’ based on the balance, or lack of it, of bodily fluids like bile, phlegm and blood. This categorization led to development of specific ‘treatments’ for people diagnosed with different ‘imbalances’. This included a rather horrific practice of drawing blood to restore the balance, leading to deaths from blood loss and infection.
Clearly, the categorization of human temperament and associated treatment procedures arose from an inadequate knowledge of the human anatomy. Similarly, people in that era were not aware of germs, bacteria and other microbes that we now know are behind so many deadly diseases. This meant that hygiene levels were low, even among medicine practitioners who would not take care to sterilize their tools used for making cuts and incisions. Instead, and rather understandably, people associated bad odor with diseases and tried to contain it with aromatic herbs and garlic.
However, you should not for a moment believe that these were the most egregious examples of medical profession in those medieval times. Here is a list of 10 weird medieval medical cures some of which were surprisingly effective.
10. Drawing blood
As mentioned above, blood was deemed as one of the ‘regulative’ fluids that determined a person’s temperament. The general understanding in that period was that while menstruating women had a natural way to get rid of excess blood, men needed a more direct approach. Withdrawing blood was arguably one of the most common medical treatment in that era, used for a variety of ailments such as acne and indigestion.
9. Fermented sugar
For sufferers of bubonic plague in Europe, ingestion of rotten sugar syrup was one of the most commonly prescribed cures. The syrup had to be several years old, emitting a distinct foul odor for it to be considered effective in combating the ills of the dreaded plague.