Curious History

17 October, 2017
Curious History

Ancient cure for allergies and asthma

Allergies and asthma have become a household name. We have read about King Menses of Egypt dying after a wasp sting; Roman Emperor Claudius’s son was allergic to horse and how King Henry III ate strawberries and put Lord William Hastings to death. So, how did our ancestors cure themselves of respiratory problems and allergies?

China (c. 3000 – 250 B.C.)

Shen Nong, the father of Herbal Chinese Medicine, first tasted ephedra (a plant) to treat asthma-like symptoms. Ephedra treated bronchospasms, congestion, and mucus secretion. The Chinese introduced it to the Greeks and gradually the method of treatment spread to other civilizations.

Egypt (c. 3000 – 1200 B.C.)

Ebers Papyrus, written around 1550 B.C., tells how ailments such as asthma, hepatitis, bubonic plague, dandruff, and more were cured in ancient Egypt. Asthma back then was considered a disorder or foulness of the metu, duct thought to distribute air and water to the organs, as well as lungs. Physicians tried to heal the ducts by removing the foulness. Seven stones were heated, and on one stone the herb mixture was placed on it and covered with a perforated jar. A stalk of reed was placed in the hole, and the patient would then put his mouth on this stalk and inhaled the smoke. The process was repeated with the remaining stones.

Greek- Rome (c. 1000 B.C. – A.D. 200)

The Greek and the Romans believed that asthma was caused due to demonic possession or magic. Hippocrates first discovered that patients suffering from asthma developed hunch back. He also understood the relation between respiratory problems and environment. While in Rome, treatments included bleeding, hot wet compresses, diuretics, purgatives. Around A.D. 23-79, Pliny the Elder found pollen to be another source for respiratory problems. He recommended ephedra to be mixed in red wine to cure asthma. In addition, he came up with a folklore remedy of drinking blood of wild horses, fox liver in red wine or millipedes soaked in honey.

Ancient Hebrew (c. 3rd Century B.C. – A.D. 700)

Asafoetida was used for digestion and elimination of oil from the lungs. This treatment prevented asthma, whooping cough, and bronchitis. The Jews believed that the only time a person sneezed was at the time of his death and in case he did not die; he would thank God. They believed that the sneeze released the soul through the nose.

India (c.800 – A.D. 500)

The Indian medicine system was quite developed and became the backbone of European pharmacy in the 17th century. Stramonium obtained from thorn apple helped in treating asthma. The British army practiced this method of treatment.

America (A.D. 1600)

In ancient America, a mixture of plants and religious customs treated respiratory problems. Mexicans and South Americans used rubber to make an enema syringe and treated chest disorders and rheumatism. After Colombus discovered the New World, the dried root of the Brazilian shrub called ipecacuanha and balsam was used. Cocaine was another Incan remedy that was later used to treat rhinitis and asthma. Physicians also believed that tobacco could open blocked airways.

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