Did monks in the Middle Ages know more about medicine than we thought? A German medical historian is combing medieval manuscripts looking for recipes that could be helpful today. Pharmaceutical companies have taken a keen interest in his research.
"This medication is delicious," says Johannes Mayer, 56, looking ecstatic. "And it actually helps against digestive disorders and colds."
Its composition is as surprising as its effect: Caraway soaked in vinegar, dates pickled in red wine, dried ginger and green pepper. All of this is crushed with a mortar and pestle and combined with baking soda and honey to make a sticky paste. The name of the remedy is also odd: Diaspolis. "We have no idea what this is supposed to mean," says Mayer, a medical historian. "The scribe apparently made a mess of things."
Mayer, a renowned expert on medieval monastic medicine, is sitting in a neon-lit room full of overflowing bookshelves in the Würzburg Institute of the History of Medicine. Detailed copies of handwritten documents from the Middle Ages are on the desk in front of him. His favorite recipe, with its strange name, is from the "Lorsch pharmacopoeia," the oldest existing book of monastic medicine, written around 795 A.D., in the Lorsch Imperial Abbey near the southwestern German city of Worms....
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