Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Medicinal Wisdom of the Ancients by Guest Elizabeth Kitchens

We all know the power of the cast iron skillet. You can cook just about anything in it, and, as we were delightfully reminded in Disney’s Tangled, it’s a powerful weapon in a woman’s hands. But what about its sister, the copper pot? Has it a use beyond the even heating of soups?

Ancient Egyptian medical text,
 known as the Edwin Smith Papyrus,
located at the Rare Book Room,
New York Academy of Medicine.
Actually, it does. And it’s as useful for protection as the cast iron skillet, only against a different kind of enemy: bacteria and viruses. Long ago, copper, like silver, was well known to be antimicrobial. In fact, the ancient Egyptians stored water in copper pots to prevent water-associated illnesses, but this was forgotten, only recently to be remembered by science. Now, copper pots, along with filtration, are being studied as a means of producing drinkable water in developing countries. Research has also indicated that using copper (on doorknobs, arm rests, etc.) in hospital rooms reduces the spread of pathogens, and therefore the number of healthcare-acquired infections, and that preparing food on surfaces made with copper alloys can help prevent food poisoning by bacteria such as Salmonella.

What other wisdom did the ancients possess that might seem like foolishness at first hearing? Stuffing bread mold in a battle wound, perhaps? Why would anyone let a fuzzy green and white mold near a wound? The answer, as I’m sure you were quick to guess, requires skipping forward thousands of years to Alexander Fleming and his discovery of the antibiotic Penicillin, produced by the fungus Penicillium.
Honey and bees shown on the tomb of Pabasa
 (Ancient Egypt, circa 650 B.C.)

Another favorite of the ancients was honey. A Sumerian tablet, written between 2100-2000 BC, and the famous Aristotle (384-322 BC) both extol the benefits of honey in healing. It’s now known that honey both kills microbes and provides a moist, protective environment beneficial to wound healing.

Have you used any of these ancient remedies?

Elizabeth Jane Kitchens loves tales of romance, adventure, and happily-ever-afters and strives to write such tales herself. When she’s not thinking about dashing heroes or how awesome bacteria are—she is a microbiologist after all—she’s probably photographing flowers, telling people she’s crocheting not knitting, or talking about classic books and black-and-white movies. Elizabeth is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is the author of The Beast’s Enchantress, the story of the enchantress from Beauty and the Beast.


  1. I knew about the mouldy bread & honey, but not the copper.

    I did know that no fungus or bacteria can grow in honey because it is so dense.

    TANGLED is one of our favorite movies.

  2. Great information! I love studying about medicine from days gone by.