Discussions based on the question ‘which period of history would
you most like to have lived in?’ founder as soon as we consider the
subject of medicine; we scurry back to the safety of modern hospitals,
surgeries and doctors. But was medicine in the distant past so different,
so bizarre and distressing? Did people, until the late Victorian era,
live in a dark age of blood-letting, willful ignorance of hygiene and the
ingestion of medicines made from powdered toads and brandy?
Yes and no. Certainly, looking at pre-modern medical procedures can
be frustrating at times – straightforward procedures such as washing
hands and boiling water would have saved many lives; yet for thousands
of years people have been using simple, natural ingredients in medicines
that worked then, and still work now.
The truth is that while many
remedies from the past were absurd, misguided and horrific, many were
viable; they can provoke recognition as well as horror, amazement and amusement.
In his new book How to Cure the Plague, Julian Walker explores the science behind a wide range of history's cures. Some of our favorites are collected here.