7. Street Cleaning
The effective healing of street cleaning came about largely by accident, and its beneficial effects were unintended. Until the Black Death plague of 1348, many medieval people just dumped their human waste—excrement, vomit, urine, you name it—into the streets.
Finally, in 1349, Edward III wrote a letter to the mayor of London complaining about the streets being so filthy, believing that the smell of the human waste was contributing to the spread of the plague. Though he was only slightly wrong, much of Europe eventually got its act together. England raised the penalty for anyone caught dumping human waste into the streets to twice and then thrice the levels of the fines before the plague struck.
This greatly helped to manage plague cases by forcing people to remove the human excrement. This had proved to be a perfect breeding ground for the plague bacteria with people coming into close quarters with it.
The practice of horrible sanitation techniques was a stain on medieval culture. When people finally started treating themselves to healthy sanitation, the effects of the plague receded. Much like modern vaccines, this broad tactic worked in reducing the plague outbreak by depriving the bacteria of a place to reproduce and spread.
The medical practice of trephination stems all the way back to at least the Neolithic and was practiced in many unrelated cultures around the world. Its logic is fairly simple: If there’s pressure in the body, drill a hole where the pressure is and release it.
This is why it’s so widely practiced by many people around the world. The idea that you can just drill a hole into someone’s head and fix the problems inside seems so silly to us that we can’t help but laugh.
But trephination has actually grown up today from its humble roots. When trephination affects the head, we call it a craniotomy. However, this procedure is used all over the body to relieve problems and obtain access to otherwise difficult-to-reach places.
Although trephination may have been hit or miss, one can only infer that this rendition of bloodletting may have actually done some good even in those times, especially in cases of a head injury or intracranial bleeding. Some people were trepanned multiple times, giving evidence of a relatively decent survival rate for those who had the procedure done in olden times.
5. Bald’s Eye Salve
Bald’s eye salve is a unique and intriguing topical ointment that was originally designed for the eyes in the ninth century. It’s composed of onions, garlic, various spices, and herbs—just what you’d expect from your usual medieval era remedy. The recipe comes from Bald’s Leechbook, a medieval book of various treatments and remedies that’s over 1,000 years old and is written in old English.
Interestingly, if you take a single ingredient out of the millennia-old recipe, it loses at least some of its effectiveness as a combatant against infections. Even more curious is the degree to which the recipe is effective. It kills some fairly serious bacteria and stops infections, including MRSA, dead in their tracks. Many antibiotics even have a difficult time treating MRSA or are completely ineffective.