This series is based on An Ancient Egyptian Herbal by Lisa Manniche published in 1989 by The British Museum Press.
For those not familiar with her work, Ms. Manniche is an Egyptologist and author of a number of books including Aromatherapy and Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt.
I thought everyone might be interested in the ways food was used as a healing agent in the ancient world, as I have the most information on Ancient Egypt I will start there. I welcome any references on this subject from other cultures.
In subsequent posts I will also add how each of these foods were consumed as well.
Lactuca sativa L. Lactuca virosa L.
Ancient Egyptian: L. sativa (‘bw); L. virosa (‘ft)
Lactuca sativa is the variety known in Britain as Cos lettuce, in France as ‘Romaine’. It is also widely eaten in modern Egypt. An oil can be extracted from the seeds.
In the Assyrian Herbal the seeds were used with cumin as a eye poultice. Dioscorides says that the Egyptians called the plant embrosi. . The latex of the older variety of L. sativa was used as a cough suppressant and mild sedative, and even as an anti-aphrodisiac. In ancient Egypt the plant had the opposite connotations. It was sacred to Min, god of fertility, because of its milky juice, reminiscent of semen. It was also related to the god Seth in an erotic context: he became pregnant after eating lettuces on which had been scattered the semen of his rival, the god Horus. Specimens of lettuce seed have been found, and the plant is frequently represented on the monuments, The priests in the temple of Philae were not allowed to eat lettuce.
The word (‘bw), is conspicuously absent from the medical text, but it has been recently been suggested that (‘ft), hitherto translated ‘merlilot’, is indeed the designation for L. virosa. In that case the Egyptians use it for a number of purposes:
A remedy to treat illness in one half of the belly:’ft 1; date juice1; boil in oil or fat and use as a poultice.
A remedy to remove pain in the belly: fresh beef 5 ro; frank- incense 1/64; ‘ft 1/8; juniper berries 1/16; fresh bread 1/8; sweet beer 25 ro; is strained and drunk for four days.
A remedy to expel worm from the belly: ‘ft 1; chaste tree 1; fermented plant juice 1; is combined and eaten. Afterward the patient will relieve himself of all the worms in his belly.
Treatment of any ailment from which a patient might suffer, that is any purulence: Lower Egyptian salt 1; ‘ft 1; is ground in oil or fat and used as a poultice.
A remedy to treat purulence in the ears: ‘ft: ‘ft is mixed with laudanum and poured into the ear.
Chopped ‘ft was thought to encourage the growth of hair if applied. Boiled with other ingredients, such as fermented plant juice, oil, beer, ‘ft and another plant(?), it was used to sooth a cough when strained and drunk for four days.
Finally, it was used in a general pain-killing beverage and another laxitive concoction, as well as in medicine taken for eye complaints.
The Copts used the seeds of lettuce ground with warm water as a worm killing beverage. The latex of bitter lettuce, mixed with honey and opium was used to treat the eyes.
By Joanna Linsley-Poe
Copyright August 19, 2013
An Ancient Egyptian Herbal,by Lisa Mannich