10 Weird Medieval Medical Practices That Actually Work

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10. Skull Knitting

Photo credit: Live Science

There has always been a major risk of death, whether immediate or in the longer term, with a traumatic injury to the head, as often happened in the medieval world. Research has shown that people who suffered a brain injury, likely during combat or personal disputes, were 6.2 percent more likely to die an early death than those who hadn’t.

Field surgeons had to do their best to keep people alive as long as possible. One way to do this when a severe injury had been sustained and bone had been fractured was to knit the bone back together. This helped to hold in position the organs that were protected or held in place by the bone so that the body could heal.

Yes, they even knitted skulls. Between jousting, fights, and combat, head injuries were quite common. Many peasants and knights alike sustained them, though only the upper classes had access to actual medicine, including skull knitting.[1]

9. Examination Of Urine

Photo credit: bl.uk

Ancient Greek thinkers like Hippocrates and Galen believed that most of the bodily sicknesses came from an imbalance in the four humors—black and yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. They wrote about this in their works, which survived into the Middle Ages and were common up to 1,000 years later.

Drawings and manuscripts from the Middle Ages directed doctors to inspect urine. Although the four humors were proven to be fairly nonsensical, the idea was spot-on. The instructions we still have today tell doctors to look for blood and other discoloration of the urine.

If modern doctors didn’t have better means, discolored urine is still a telltale sign they could use to determine if someone is suffering from kidney problems or certain other issues. The examination of urine was spot-on for making a diagnosis of illness even if the method of treating the problem wasn’t always correct.

If someone has kidney disease today, doctors will ask that person to submit a urine sample to see what they can find in it. Sure enough, the signs they look for are much the same as the ones from the Middle Ages, namely blood or a darkened color.[2]

8. Garlic And The Black Plague

Photo credit: Olybrius

As with all other cases of the bubonic plague, the Black Plague was a horrifying time for Europe. Doctors had zero idea how to combat this deadly bacterium which ripped through the European landscape, decimating populations. Anything that worked to save even one life was held up as a “cure” in this time of sheer terror. People were becoming infected every day with one of the worst of all afflictions.

But medieval nobility and peasants alike found at least some relief in an ancient remedy that’s as simple as applying a garlic clove to an open wound or other site that’s prone to spreading infection. The poor might have done especially well as they relied heavily on occult doctors and herbs and spices. Some of these items, such as garlic, were actually effective.

One fascinating piece of history lies in folktales of four thieves vinegar, which is basically a tale of four actual bandits who plundered the medieval landscape and protected themselves from the plague with a concoction of garlic and herbs mixed with oils and vinegar.[3]

At the very least, garlic was effective at halting the plague from completely ravaging the body and slowed its progress. At best, garlic may have even saved many more lives than we’ve imagined. Garlic is a powerful antibiotic that’s perfectly natural.

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