The Scent of Jasmine

Jasmine is a popular plant with wonderfully fragrant flowers. It’s native to the warmer parts of Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, the Far East and Oceania. The white or yellow flowers have some uses in medicine and aromatherapy, particularly in South Asia and China. There are more than 200 species of jasmine, including both […]

Theriacs and Snake Bites

Theriacs were medicinal concoctions developed by the ancient Greeks (or even earlier) and used to treat toxic snake bites, scorpion stings and other poisonous contacts with animals. Theriacs (from the Greek thēriakē, “pertaining to animals”) often consisted of dozens of herbal ingredients and other substances mixed together and fermented over months. They were applied to […]

Dandelions in the Middle East

Dandelion is a powerful herbal medicine. You don’t hear much about its use in the Arabian Peninsula these days, but it was once highly regarded by the great Muslim physicians of the Middle Ages. Its Latin name “Taraxacum” derives from medieval Persian writings on pharmacy, and was known to the Arabs as “tarashaquq.” The Persian […]

A Tree Stands in the Desert….

A Saudi desert expert recently told me about an unusual tree that grows near the old town of ‘Ain Dar, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. More than a decade ago, there were two of these trees there; only one has survived. The tree is four or five meters tall, and local lore maintains that it […]

Dental Care in Ancient Sudan

Archaeologists recently reported that 2000-year-old skeletons of farmers excavated in Sudan were found to have remarkably healthy teeth. They discovered that the reason for this was a rather strange item in the Sudanese diet: the bad-tasting tuber of a noxious weed called purple nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus). The tuber is known to have antibacterial properties, and […]

Medieval Europe’s Dependence on Asian Natural Remedies

I recently came across an article on herbal medicine of the early Middle Ages in Europe that showed the importance of Middle Eastern and South Asian natural remedies to the Western pharmaceutical tradition. The article, “The Introduction and Use of Eastern Drugs in the Early Middle Ages” by John M. Riddle, appeared in a German […]

Sirens & Pomegranates

Most people are familiar with the Greek mythological creature known as the Siren, usually via Homer’s Odyssey, in which Odysseus, on his way back to Greece from the Trojan War, determines to hear the Sirens’ song as his ship passes by their island. Anyone who hears the song of the Sirens becomes captivated, and is destined […]