Few people in Tudor England lived beyond their fortieth birthday. This remains the situation in many parts of the developing world. The life expectancy in present day Sierra Leone is 34.3 years, and in Zambia life expectancy has fallen to 33 years, making it the lowest in the world. This situation continues to get worse due to rampant poverty and the spread of AIDS.
Tudor people experienced war, persecution, poverty, and did not have any of the benefits of modern medicine. If they became ill they relied instead on herbal treatments.
Headaches were treated by imbibing a drink made up of a mixture of lavender, sage, marjoram, rose and rue. Other headache sufferers preferred to press a hangman’s rope to the head! Rheumatism was treated by the patient being made to wear the skin of a donkey. A treatment for Gout was to apply to the affected foot a mixture made out of worms, pigs marrow and herbs all boiled together with hair from a red-haired dog. For deafness the gall of a hare was mixed with grease from a fox. The resulting concoction was warmed and placed in the ear. Those suffering from smallpox had red curtains hung around their bed as it was believed that the red light produced by the curtains will cure the patient. Jaundice could be cured by swallowing nine lice mixed with some ale each morning. The lice and ale mixture should be swallowed for seven consecutive days.
In the towns and cities bleeding was still a popular cure for most ills. The Tudors believed that too much blood was bad for the body and this in itself caused illnesses. If blood was let from the body, the patient’s illness would also go out of the body with the blood. It was common to use leeches to bleed the body.
Most of these remedies seem very strange now. I’m not sure whether I would like to swallow lice! However some of these older cures, discovered through necessity in hard times, are being investigated by present day medical researchers.
Clinical trials have reported that lavender essential oil may be beneficial in a variety of conditions, including insomnia, alopecia (hair loss), anxiety, postoperative pain, and as an antibacterial and antiviral agent.
Aromatherapists also use lavender to treat headaches, nervous disorders, and exhaustion. Herbalists treat skin ailments, such as fungal infections (like candidiasis), wounds, eczema, and acne, with lavender oil. It is also used externally for circulatory disorders, and as a rub for rheumatic ailments. A recent study found that the use of lavender oil may improve postoperative pain control. Fifty patients undergoing breast biopsy surgery received either oxygen supplemented with lavender oil or oxygen alone. Patients in the lavender group reported a higher degree of pain control than patients in the control group.
In addition to training as a mental health nurse, I have also become qualified in aromatherapy and reflexology – due to an interest in the wisdom the past may have to offer. I think that there are a number of ‘old wives tales’ cures, discovered in a world without a modern day understanding of chemistry or microbiology which will turn out to a scientifically verifiable efficacy. I have seen the powerfully convincing results of using essential oils with massage for rheumatoid arthritis, stress and eczema, amongst other conditions.
Leeches have also made a come back! They are used in burns and reconstructive surgery units for their anti-coagulant and blood-draining properties. The leech bite creates a puncture wound that bleeds for hours, while the leech’s saliva contains substances that anaesthetise the wound area, dilate the blood vessels to increase blood flow and prevent the blood from clotting. Leeches are also useful in reducing the painful inflammation of osteoarthritis. There is even a farm in Wales that breeds Leeches for use in the NHS!