11 Ancient Remedies that Effectively Treat Modern Ailments
With innovations appearing in our lives seemingly every day it seems that new breakthroughs in science are the only ones we trust. New is always considered better. With this prevalent thinking those who espouse the wisdom of the ancients are ignored and perhaps even ridiculed – right up until the point when modern science backs them up. Sometimes looking to ancient knowledge as a source and then checking with modern science can yield useful results.
Several thousand years ago, people knew how to use frankincense to cure several ailments. It was also one of the commodities that fueled the Incense Route. Ancient physicians found that frankincense had antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties, and therefore prescribed it as a cure for a variety of ailments, including indigestion, cough, and halitosis (bad breath).
Thanks to chemical analysis of this product, we now have a better understanding of the components found in frankincense and the healing effects they may have on the human body. For example, monoterpenes such as alpha- and beta-pinene are an important component of frankincense. It has been found that this compound helps to eliminate toxins from the liver and the kidneys.
Due to its antiseptic property, frankincense oil could also be applied to wounds to prevent them from developing infections. Frankincense may even be ingested to aid the recovery of internal wounds. And in 2010, scientists reported that frankincense stopped cancer from spreading and caused cancerous cells to close themselves down. But the compound in frankincense responsible for this has not been identified yet.
A centuries-old herbal medicine discovered by Chinese scientists to cure malaria could also aid in tuberculosis treatment and even slow drug resistance. Artemisinin stops the ability of Mycobacterium Tuberculosis becoming dormant, a stage of the disease that often makes the use of antibiotics ineffective. Artemisinin is isolated from the plant Artemisia annua, sweet wormwood, an herb employed in traditional Chinese medicine.
TB usually takes up to six months to treat and this is one of the main reasons the disease is so hard to get under control. However the use of the ancient herb could be key to shortening the course of therapy because it can clear out the dormant, hard-to-kill bacteria. This could lead to improving patient outcomes and slowing the evolution of drug-resistant TB.
Donkey milk was hailed by the ancients as an elixir of long life, a cure-all for a variety of ailments, and a powerful tonic capable of rejuvenating the skin. Cleopatra, Queen of Ancient Egypt, reportedly bathed in donkey milk every day to preserve her beauty and youthful looks, while ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote of its incredible medicinal properties. Now it seems that interest in donkey milk is experiencing a renewed interest.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation acknowledges that donkey milk has “particular nutritional benefits”, with a protein profile that may make it more suitable for those allergic to cow’s milk. Moreover, donkey milk is the closest known milk to human breast milk with high lactose ratios and low-fat content.
It is also rich in vitamins, contains anti-bacterial agents, reported to be 200 times more active than in cow’s milk, and anti-allergens, which are believed to be responsible for alleviating psoriasis, eczema, asthma, and bronchitis.
Ancient Greeks, Vikings, Caucasians, prehistoric Siberians and Mongolians, and ancient Chinese emperors were all taken with the medicinal properties of the wild herb Rhodiola rosea (golden root or roseroot). Many centuries after it was introduced to Siberia, people there still say those who drink roseroot tea will live to be 100. In ancient times, Siberians found the root so valuable they would trade it for wine, fruit and honey.
Since 1960, more than 180 studies have been done to gauge the efficacy of roseroot in promoting health. Now medical research shows that oral R. rosea extract versus conventional antidepressant therapy of mild to moderate” depression.
The latest research has found that the ancients were right to be enamored with roseroot: It works not just in reducing some symptoms of depression, but it also gave “significant reductions in fatigue, depression, and performance ratings” in two groups tested in another study.
A recent study supports the efficacy of an ancient Chinese herbal remedy that has been used for centuries in the treatment of pain. The remedy comes from Corydalis yanhusuo, a flowering herbal plant that grows in Siberia, Northern China and Japan. So far almost 500 different compounds have been tested for their ability to relieve pain.
The Corydalis yanhusuo plant is a member of the poppy family, and has been used as pain reliever for most of Chinese history; but unlike opium, the medicine is a non-addictive analgesic that works via a compound that can relieve acute, inflammatory, and neuropathic or chronic pain. The study was found to be especially effective on injury-induced neuropathic pain, which currently has no adequate treatment.
When the roots of the plant are dug up, ground, and then boiled in hot vinegar, they produce dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB), which acts like morphine, but does not work through the morphine receptor in the human body. Instead it acts on the other receptors that bind dopamine.
The use of maggots in medical treatments was developed independently around the world over the last 1000 years by several ancient cultures, for example: the Hill people of Northern Myanmar (Burma) and the Mayan healers of Central America, and, the aboriginal Ngemba tribe of New South Wales in Australia.
In Australia, the maggot medicines of ancient indigenous communities were brought back to life during the First and Second World Wars. “They remove bacteria by eating them and digesting them, and through their excretions and secretions that they place into the wound… So they have anti-microbial properties… This controls the infection sufficiently for the body to heal the wound” Dr. Stadler told reporters.
The maggots can be applied directly on wounds, for a maximum of two to four days, with a net dressing like a ‘fly screen’ to keep the maggots on the affected area, or they can be “sealed into a tea bag-like pouch and placed on the wound, which means they can be applied gently and non-offensively,” according to Dr. Stadler. “This works because maggots don't have chewing mouthparts, they first liquefy the dead tissue with excretions and then suck their food up,” he added. When the dead maggot dressing is removed new maggots can then be reapplied if necessary.
The black cumin seed or “Nigella Sativa” is indigenous to the Mediterranean region and has been used as medicine predominantly by Muslim cultures. However, the plant dates back to before the rise of Islam and was used by other non-Muslim cultures too.
“Habbat ul Sawda” as the seeds are known in Arabic, were mentioned by Muhammad in the Quran and he is believed to have said, “in the black seed is healing for every disease but death.” In Arabo-Islamic culture the seeds are prescribed as a medicine for various ailments including fever, asthma, chronic headaches, diabetes, digestion issues, back pain, infections, and rheumatism. When used externally it can help to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
The seed is believed to have 100 healthy components and is a significant source of fatty acids, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Many studies have been completed in recent years and prove the seed’s strong anti-inflammatory response, anti-leukemic properties, cardio-protective, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, antioxidant, and immune-modulatory properties.
The efficacy of the black cumin seed oil is mostly attributed to its quinone constituents and essential oils components. Quinone promotes healthy oral health and helps manage oral diseases. It has also been linked to enhanced learning and improved memory in elderly patients. The seeds also help improve the immune system and aid in cancer prevention.
Some medievalists and scientists are now looking back to history for clues to inform the search for new antibiotics. The evolution of antibiotic-resistant microbes means that it is always necessary to find new drugs to battle microbes that are no longer treatable with current antibiotics. But progress in finding new antibiotics is slow. The drug discovery pipeline is currently stalled. However the answers to the antibiotic crisis could be found in medical history.
One example is the 1,000-year old recipe called Bald’s eyesalve from “Bald’s Leechbook,” an Old English medical text. The eyesalve was to be used against a “wen,” which may be translated as a sty, or an infection of the eyelash follicle. Styes are often caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (or MRSA) – which is resistant to many current antibiotics.
Bald’s eyesalve contains wine, garlic, an Allium species (such as leek or onion) and oxgall. The recipe states that, after the ingredients have been mixed together, they must stand in a brass vessel for nine nights before use. A modern study shows this recipe turned out to be a potent antistaphylococcal agent, which repeatedly killed established S. aureus biofilms – a sticky matrix of bacteria adhered to a surface – in an in vitro infection model. It also killed MRSA in mouse chronic wound models.
Phellodendron amurense, the bark of the Amur cork tree, has been used in ancient Chinese medicine for thousands of years and has a long history of healing powers. Throughout Chinese history, it has been used as one of the 50 fundamental herbs, typically administered as a painkiller.
Modern researchers have also discovered that the cork tree's extract had the ability to block cancer development pathways and inhibit the scarring that prevents anti-cancer drugs from entering the cancer. Phellodendron amurense prevents fibrosis from occurring around the tumor gland. Additionally, it was found to suppress an enzyme which causes further inflammation within the tumors.
The ancient Chinese remedy could eventually be integrated into cancer treatment. As a first step, the extract has now been made available as a dietary supplement and has been deemed safe for use by cancer patients.
Known as “the plant of immortality” by the Ancient Egyptians, and treasured by numerous subsequent cultures, aloe vera it still known today for its many health benefits. For millennia it has been used to treat more than 50 medical conditions, from obesity to burns, dermatitis, ulcers, asthma, diabetes, acne, and even leprosy.
Aloe Vera is approximately 95% water, but the other 5% is made up of extremely high levels of healthy enzymes. The very special plant has more than 200 bioactive compounds such as minerals, enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, and polysaccharides, which all improve nutrient absorption in the body. It is also rich in calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, potassium, and manganese.
It boasts anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties which help detoxify the body and support the immune system. It also contains the vitamin B12, which is normally only found in animal based foods and it is important in the creation of new red blood cells, making it invaluable to vegetarians.
It is native to Africa and parts of the Middle East, but can be grown in any home, making it accessible to anyone. It once was, and still remains, one of the world’s most popular and widely used remedies.
The burning of plant materials to produce smoke with positive effects has been practiced since ancient times. One of the best-known examples is the use of incense in the ancient Near East. Another popular example is smudging, which has been practiced for centuries by Native Americans and, more recently, in the New Age movement. Although smudging is often performed for spiritual purposes, it also provides a number of health benefits.
Apart from spiritual benefits, smudging is known to have a number of health benefits, many of which are backed by scientific studies. For example, sage smoke increases oxygen supply to the brain, which in turn allows tensed muscles to relax. It can also have benefits to those affected by poor air quality, improving the condition of those that suffer from asthma, respiratory issues, and general coughs and colds.
The smoke from certain types of plants changes the molecular structure of air and energy, inducing a cleansing effect. Moreover, smudging has been found to be an effective practice in aromatherapy. This is due to the fact that the sense of smell is connected strongly to instinct and memory. Therefore, smudging is effective in combating negative emotions, including anger, fear, and grief.
Top Image: A man practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM includes some ancient remedies that can treat illnesses effectively. Source: DragonImages /Adobe Stock