Corpse medicine: dead people keepin' us living

Corpse medicine: dead people keepin' us living

Although almost entirely out of practice now, many people in history depended on remedies for the living, made from the dead.

So here’s one for well after dinnertime: corpse medicine. Yes, in our less educated and far-more violence-tolerant past, we often used body parts as a salve or remedy for every kind of affliction one could imagine. Almost all of these ancient cures were pure superstition (i.e. desperation), but people no doubt believed in them because they were, suffice it to say, plentiful. Our past is full of violence and depravation (there were some good things too), and a human body, even a long dead one, was often not very hard to come by.

Mummies in Egypt are as archetypal to our thinking of that area of the world as castles and Europe, samurais in Japan, or overalls and America. According to io9, from the 12th century to the 17th century, mummy powder was considered a valuable remedy for everything from stomach ulcers and headaches. Plaster casts of ground up ancient Egyptian were thought to cure skin ailments and broken bones. They were even given to sick hawks, which were popular for hunting in the Middle Ages.

Also hailing from the ancient times, ancient Rome to be exact, were the restorative powers of gladiator blood. Widely considered a cure for epilepsy, blood and liver would be harvested from fallen gladiators, and would even be administered directly from the fallen warrior’s arm. In fact, the gore was even sold at stands outside the coloseums directly after a fatal fight.

Physicians in the 17th century did not undergo quite the same rigorous education as they do today. In evidence, English physician John French would use human brains, distilled with lavender and other things as an epileptic cure. He recommended using the brain of a young man that had died violently to be marinated in wine and horse dung before being distilled. Even worse, a German chemist diced and mashed an entire corpse into a paste before distilling it.

Some necrotic remedies may exist today. Tai Bao capsules, reportedly composed of powdered placenta and aborted fetus material, are considered valuable in improving virility, beautifying skin, and even treating asthma.

There are plenty of crazy claims out there that go much farther than just “snake oil.” Using a hanged man’s hand to cure cysts, boils, and even hemmorhoids was popular in the 17th through 19th centuries. In addition, executed men would often have their fat excised and boiled into an ointment to cure everything from joint issues and tremors. There’s even a disturbing report from China of a “Mellified Man,” a man that is given only honey until her dies, and then buried in a coffin full of honey. After 100 years the seal is broken and the resulting “confection” is used to treat battle wounds.