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Medieval medicine comprised both spiritual and therapeutic healings.
It focused on curing ailments rather than finding the causes. The use of plants and plant parts, along with the venom of certain snakes and insects, were used as medicines by physicians to treat many diseases.
During the Middle Ages, people often believed in astrology and superstitions to cure ailments. Doctors and healers used their knowledge of the human body and treated their patients with healing herbs and specific rituals to ward off evil spirits. Herbs like lavender, rose, jasmine, coriander, tulsi, cinnamon, and many others were used to make pastes, which were applied to the infected areas. Diagnostics run by the doctors included the examination of pulse, color of urine, and stool of the patient. They also knew astrology and knew a lot about the movement of stars and planets. Ancient people believed that their actions were the cause of their suffering. They were made to feel that diseases occurred because of sinning. Along with prayers, spells, astrology, magic, and stone gems were used to treat the ailments.
In those days, people believed in zodiac signs and thought that the position of stars, planets, and the moon affected the mind and bodies of living beings. Body treatments included leeching, cupping, and other purification rituals. Patients were treated by priests or local house women who were skilled in pulling out teeth, setting broken bones, or performing other surgeries. Medical schools were also prevalent at that time, which was directly governed by the monasteries. People belonging to the elite class only had access to this education, and the ones who passed out from these schools were called physicians, who were influenced by the Roman Catholic Churches. Thus, the physicians handed out prayers in their prescriptions instead of medicines. Healers and saints treated the common people as well as the peasants. They had vast knowledge of herbs and other folk remedies and were able to treat the sick. Popular herbs used by them to treat cough and cold, joint pain, and headaches were lavender, rose, jasmine, coriander, tulsi, and cinnamon, among many others. The healers believed that blood and other body fluids, called humours, must maintain a balance in the body to get good health.
Keep reading to discover more fascinating facts about medieval medicine!
Scientific medicine was non-existent in the Middle Ages. Physicians were influenced by religious and spiritual ideas to treat diseases. Greek and Roman medical charts were used by the healers to treat the patients.
People at that time believed in astrology and superstitions to cure ailments. They thought that the human body is made of four humours, which were phlegm, yellow bile, black bile, and blood. These four humours were controlled by four elements of nature. These are fire, air, water, and Earth. This theory of medicine was predominant in the 19th Century.
It was thought that the balance of the humours in the body is very crucial for maintaining a healthy body. Excess phlegm in the body can cause lung problems and yellow bile means problems associated with the gallbladder. Body treatments included leeching, cupping, and other purification rituals. People also believed that too much blood in the body could induce various diseases, and therefore, blood was taken out of the body using leeches.
Apart from the use of natural elements, Medieval treatment also relied on astrology. Certain humours are associated with each zodiac sign. As people with similar zodiac signs shared the same traits, many physicians gave them the same treatments. Ancient people believed that the influence of stars, planets, Sun, and Moon could largely affect the body and mind. The diagnosis was made by the physicians by looking at the sky and its color. Herbs of various kinds like lavender, rose, jasmine, coriander, tulsi, cinnamon, and many others were used. These herbs were often combined to make pastes, balms, ointments, and medicines to apply and eat, respectively. Medical knowledge of plant and plant parts was vast. Many monasteries maintained herb gardens, from where the medicinal plants were supplied to the physicians.
During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church was a very dominant part of society, and any view or subject against their practices was considered a criminal offense.
In fact, a widespread belief of the Church was that only sinners suffered from diseases. Many people blindly believed what the Church said. As a result, people started to think of their souls more than their bodies. Therefore, physicians handed out prayers in their prescriptions instead of medicines. Ancient people believed that their actions are the cause of their suffering and that diseases occur because of sin only. Along with prayers, spells, astrology, magic, and stone gems were used to treat the ailments. The Catholic Church also preached that repenting would gradually free human souls from all diseases. The epidemic of the Black Death during the Middle Ages highly affected the mind and bodies of many people. The Church made them believe that only prayers could save them from the sin they had committed, which resulted in the spread of the epidemic.
During the medieval days, open and bleeding wounds were treated by applying herbal pastes to them. Herbal medicines were also prescribed by physicians to treat certain diseases.
Bloodletting was a popular technique used in Medieval times, where blood was withdrawn from the patients to prevent or cure headaches or other conditions. According to the European history of medicine as well as Greek medicine, blood and other body fluids are considered as humour, the balance of which is a necessity to maintain good health.
Treatment for headaches included the use of garlic, radish, bishop wort, wormwood, helenium, crop leek, and hollow leek. This mixture proved to be potent medicine for people with recurrent and long-term headaches. Diagnostics run by the doctors included the examination of pulse, color of urine, and stool of the patient.
Healing plants were obtained from monasteries where they were grown. Barber surgeons were able to deal with broken bones and wounds. They sealed open wounds. They used opium to relieve pain and put their patients to sleep. Plants like mandragora and alcohol were also used to numb patients before surgery. Mental disorders were also treated by using several plants and plant products. Healthy people consumed garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and certain plant barks every day to boost their immunity. Ointments or pastes were made from these to apply to an infected lump. Babies were delivered, and gallbladders were removed by the early doctors. The different surgical procedures prevalent during that time were cauterization, cataract removals, amputations, and dental extraction.
There were varieties of healers or doctors in the Middle Ages. These included physicians, folk healers, saints, local women, and even the monasteries.
Physicians were elite medical professionals who studied Greek medicine and philosophy. Only the nobility had access to them. They diagnosed their patients by examining the color of the patients' urine and stool. Blood and pulse were also examined by them. They ensured the balance of humours in the body and accordingly prescribed medicines and procedures like bloodletting. Complex procedures like skull trepanation were also performed by them.
Folk healers treated ordinary people and peasants. They had vast knowledge of herbs and other folk remedies. The sick were healed by the saints. Most peasants went to saints for their healing. During the Medieval Age, women were involved in medicine to a great extent. Although they were not allowed to enroll themselves in medical schools, local house women played important roles as midwives and nurses. Monasteries played a major part in medieval medicine. Most of the hospitals in Medieval Europe were directly under the supervision of monasteries. Both therapeutic and spiritual treatments were provided by the monastic hospitals, which hosted the blind, elderly, lame, and mentally ill. Medical schools, which were affiliated with monasteries, taught ancient Greek and Arabic medicine to the students.
What medicine did they use in medieval times?
In medieval times, various herbs were used, like rose and lavender, to treat aching joints. A mixture of hemlock and henbane was also applied to treat joint pains. Fever was treated with coriander and stomach pains were treated with mint and woodworm.
What was medical care like in the Middle Ages?
Medical care in the Middle Ages was very basic and depended on various kinds of herbs as well as superstitions. Local house women and priests kept knowledge of the human body and treated the patients with healing herbs and specific rituals to ward off evil spirits.
How did doctors treat patients in the Middle Ages?
There were no doctors in the Middle Ages. Patients were treated by priests or local house women who were skilled in pulling out teeth, setting broken bones, or performing other surgeries. Magic stones and medicinal plants were largely used in the treatment.
What were medieval doctors called?
Medieval doctors were called physicians, doctors, or surgeons, which is similar to what we call them.
What knowledge did a medieval doctor have?
Medieval doctors knew the human body and the effect of medieval medicine on it. They also knew astrology and knew a lot about the movement of stars and planets. The Arab doctor and Greek doctor had similar medical expertise in the Middle Ages.
Was medieval medicine effective?
Medieval medicines worked with great results on the human body. From antibiotics to painkillers and simple pain-relieving balms, the physicians of the Middle ages discovered some great natural techniques to ease the pain and handle infectious diseases.
Why was medieval medicine important?
Medicine in the Medieval ages was pragmatic and empirical. It focused on curing the ailments rather than finding out the causes. The use of natural things like plants and plant parts, worms, like leeches and snake venom, laid the foundation of modern-day medicine. From the ancient scientific texts, we get to know the effects of various medications used in the Middle Ages. Development of the medicines used today, especially nutraceuticals, herbal supplements, painkiller balms, ointments, and antibiotics, took place from the ancient knowledge of medicine.
How did medieval hospitals treat the sick?
Medieval hospitals were originally a place to rest, where the use of both natural and spiritual healing took place to treat the sick. The use of plants and plant parts, along with the venom of certain snakes and insects, was used as a medicine by physicians to treat many diseases.
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