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Curious Cures From History

Curious Cures From History

By Angela Porter

The world around us is a giant first aid cabinet, if we only knew how to use it. There are plants which can cure cancer and fungi that produce antibiotics, even armadillos can help us fight leprosy. However, to try and investigate everything living thing would be a gargantuan task.

Fortunately, there is a little-tapped barrel of wisdom we can draw from; our forebears knew a lot more than maybe they are given credit for, passing on much of their knowledge orally. What survives of this oral tradition is dying out, though there are echoes of what was once known in a few important texts from times past.

In recent years, science has returned to the natural world to search for new ways of treating our ills. The grand and fancy names of ethnobotany, ethnomedicine and ethnopharmacology now give a much more scientific name to plant lore.

Scientists, at last, have understood that this ‘plant lore’ is a source of the largest empirical study of plants and their effects ever undertaken and that it warrants a closer look. I don’t think a medicine-man outfit will be replacing the white lab-coat any time soon, but the old books are at least being reopened.

Here are just a few curious cures from the ancients - some which we now know to be medically sound and others we really should leave in the past!

The Pharaohs’ Pharmaceuticals

The Ancient Egyptians were the first people to start recording their medical wonders. Papyri dating back to 2000 to 1600 BCE contain everything from the weird to the wonderful. For example, how about this:

With advice like this is it any wonder traditional practices were ridiculed. This is definitely one best left alone! However, a similarly ridiculous sounding cure for cataracts shouldn’t be so lightly tossed aside.

I’m not sure how the brain would help and I’d be