Secrets In Medieval Medical Books

David Trammel's picture

As we teach here at Green Wizardry, not all knowledge was created in the last century. The Past holds a tremendous store of information that should not be dismissed.

"Medieval medical books could hold the recipe for new antibiotics"

For a long time, medieval medicine has been dismissed as irrelevant. This time period is popularly referred to as the “Dark Ages,” which erroneously suggests that it was unenlightened by science or reason. However, some medievalists and scientists are now looking back to history for clues to inform the search for new antibiotics.

The evolution of antibiotic-resistant microbes means that it is always necessary to find new drugs to battle microbes that are no longer treatable with current antibiotics. But progress in finding new antibiotics is slow. The drug discovery pipeline is currently stalled. An estimated 700,000 people around the world die annually from drug-resistant infections. If the situation does not change, it is estimated that such infections will kill 10 million people per year by 2050.

I am part of the Ancientbiotics team, a group of medievalists, microbiologists, medicinal chemists, parasitologists, pharmacists and data scientists from multiple universities and countries. We believe that answers to the antibiotic crisis could be found in medical history. With the aid of modern technologies, we hope to unravel how premodern physicians treated infection and whether their cures really worked.

To that end, we are compiling a database of medieval medical recipes. By revealing patterns in medieval medical practice, our database could inform future laboratory research into the materials used to treat infection in the past. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to create a medieval medicines database in this manner and for this purpose.


The Ancientbiotics Team Project looks very fascinating. Here is a follow up article with video about it;

"AncientBiotics - a medieval remedy for modern day superbugs?"

Click the "X" blow the video to expand to the full story.

David Trammel's picture

Here's another ancient manuscript on herbal knowledge, and its online too!

"1,000-Year-Old Illustrated Manuscript of Herbal Remedies Available Online"

The illustrations are incredible.

"Seeking natural remedies outside of chemical pharmaceuticals isn’t just for Eastern medicine. In fact, plant-based health cure also has a long tradition in Western medicine, as evidenced by a beautifully illustrated book in the British Libary’s collection. The Cotton MS Vitellius C III is a 1,000-year-old illustrated manual to plant pharmacology, and has now been digitized for online viewing.

The beautifully illustrated 11th-century book is filled with “herbals,” natural plant-based treatments to cure everything from body odor (simmer artichokes in wine) to easing chest pain (licorice root does the trick). Zooming in on the high-resolution scan, it’s incredible to see the Old English script and detailed drawings of the plants and animals used for their healing properties.

Though herbals were quite common in Anglo-Saxon medicine, the British Library’s manuscript is the only surviving illustrated Old English manual. “No one knows for sure how this manuscript was used or even where or by whom it was made,” project curator Alison Hudson shares. “Its production has been associated with monastic scriptoria at Canterbury and Winchester, due to its style of decoration and script, but this is by no means certain. Monasteries in those areas functioned both as centers of natural and supernatural healing and also as libraries and centers of learning.”

View the Manuscript HERE

(A translated version is available at Amazon)

Blueberry's picture

After what the Royals did to the Catholic Church and made the King head of the Church of England by way of his puppet The Archbishop of Canterbury. My money would be on Skellig Michael.

David Trammel's picture

While I, like everyone else, have had dreams of giving it all up and retreating to a far off island like Skellig Michael

I suspect that the logistics of such a far off place would put huge restraints on doing something like this manuscript. I don't remember what it takes to produce paper, but just thinking about the colored inks, I wonder if you could make them on your own. I would think you'd have a better time of it, if you were at least in a small city or town and had its resources and trade.

BTW did you read about the medieval woman with the teeth stains of blue pigment? The article has some interesting facts about medieval manuscripts and the monasteries.

I once tried to make a copy of the Necronomicon in Old English script on paper when I was young and its time consuming to say the least.

Blueberry's picture

You must take a trip to Ireland one day.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Hello! Great topic...

I've really been digging the content put up by Sajah and Whitney over at their School of Evolutionary Herbalism. See:

What I like is how Sajah frequently uses concepts of vitalism, brings in medical astrology, and the alchemical tradition of plant spagyrics. These are all things that "ancient" doctors would have understood -people like Paracelsus for example. He has a lot of free content in the form of videos, etc. & courses are available for those who want deeper instruction.

Here in Cincinnati I'm intrigued by the legacy of the Eclectics --which exists in some of the herbal teachers like Matthew Wood who frequently references the Eclectics.

The Lloyd Library is a treasure trove of lore of this sort:

David Trammel's picture

I saw your comment on this week's Ecosophia thread, welcome back.

One of the things we're going to do with the new site is look at alternatives to the Medical Industry's stranglehold on self help medical knowledge for the common person. We didn't used to run screaming scared to the emergency room because we had a splinter.

We'll take it slow but we will look at it.

Thanks for the links, I'll definitely check them out.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Sounds great. I'm looking forward to spending some time here.
"We didn't used to run screaming scared to the emergency room because we had a splinter."
--Yes! Even learning some basic first aid can go a long way to regaining some independence & resilience.