Ancient Medicine

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 […]

Costus: Vermifuge with a Difference

Costus is a medicinal plant that grows in the high valleys of Kashmir and some other parts of the Himalayas. It is usually found in moist shady locales, sometimes as the undergrowth in birch forests. Costus root is used extensively in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and has been a minor product of Arabian traditional medicine […]

Almost Myrrh

The celebrated aromatic tree resin and health remedy myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) has a poor cousin called bdellium (Commiphora mukul). In ancient times bdellium was sometimes mixed with or substituted for “real” myrrh, which was widely regarded as superior both as a medicine and an incense. Bdellium was sometimes steeped in wine to enhance its fragrance […]

Senna of Arabia

Senna, sometimes called “Mecca Senna,” is a plant of Arabian origin, whose yellow-green leaves smell tea-like but have no marked taste. As an infusion, they are said to induce nausea and make a useful mild purgative. The plant is widely acknowledged in Bahrain as medicinal. Its pods and leaves are used there as a purgative, […]

Hunayn ibn Ishaq on the Hidden Drugs of Galen – Part II

Here is the second and concluding part of our “restructuring” of the English translation of the Arabic Al-Adwiya al-Maktuma (“The Hidden Drugs”) written originally by Galen and commented upon by Hunayn ibn Ishaq:   Carob Tree Ceretonia siliqua L.  Galen: The malodorous plant whose cones (fruits) resemble kidney beans: if a woman swallows from its […]

Hunayn ibn Ishaq on the Hidden Drugs of Galen – Part I

Arabic bibliographers in the Middle Ages reported the existence of a pharmacological work called Al-Adwiya al-Maktuma (“The Hidden Drugs”) written originally by the great Greco-Roman physician Galen and commented upon by the celebrated Arabic translator and scientist Hunayn ibn Ishaq. No copies of the Arabic treatise were known to exist. Eventually a Latin translation of […]