From Laxatives to Brain Surgery: Ancient Medical Practices


Wild Poppies

Wild Poppies, photo by Nandaro

In the Old Testament, illnesses were often God’s punishment for sins: “Yahweh will afflict you with consumption, fever, inflammation, with fiery heat and drought, and with blight and mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish. (Deut. 28:22) Or, as in the case of Job, they were a test given to you by God.

Historians and anthropologists agree that the people of the ancient world had nearly every illness that we have today, plus many more due to lack of sanitation and hygiene.

Serious disease was diagnosed and treated by priests, prophets, and professional physicians but the majority of health care took place in the home using natural remedies. Some of them might be familiar to us today:

  • Throat irritations were treated with a mixture of honey and milk.
  • Wounds were treated with honey, olive, oil, or wine.
  • It’s no surprise to us that burns and skin diseases were treated with aloe vera, but the plant was also used to treat worms and relieve headaches, chest pain and ulcers.
  •  Throat infections and asthma were treated with frankincense.
  • Flatulence was a apparently a problem in the ancient world, and was treated with dill, caraway, garlic, or mint.
  • Ancient peoples used dill and the Balsom apple as a laxative.
  • Caraway seed, parsley and mint were used as breath fresheners.
  • Dill, onions, and parsley were used as diuretics.
  • The usefulness of the poppy seed was known in the ancient world as well, and was used to treat insomnia, headaches, and as an anesthetic.



Ancient Bronze Age Skull with evidence of surgical procedures.

Ancient Bronze Age Skull with evidence of surgical procedures. Photo from High Contrast/Wikimedia

More serious ailments required more serious treatments. Surprisingly, surgery was not unknown in Biblical times. Even brain surgery was practiced in dire circumstances. Sculls with rectangular holes have been found in several grave sites. Historians believe brain surgery was performed to relieve pressure caused by infection, to extract an imbedded object, or to provide an escape for evil spirits.

Aside from brain surgery, would you try any of these natural remedies for common illnesses?


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3 Responses to “From Laxatives to Brain Surgery: Ancient Medical Practices”

  1. Anne Brown | November 5, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    What do you mean “aside from brain surgery?” : ) The guy in the picture seems to have come through it ok.

    • Stephanie Landsem | November 5, 2013 at 11:07 am #

      And in fact, if you look at the picture, he (or she) actually had 2 earlier holes drilled that healed over. So did the third one kill him/her? Maybe or maybe not.

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