Article by Jennifer Maez
Egypt: a land of ancient wonders, mysterious hieroglyphs, myths and legends, and a strong belief in the afterlife. Located in North Africa, it is a country which is home to the fertile Nile River valley, great pyramids and tombs of pharaohs. This land has been credited as being the birthplace of the medical profession, as the oldest known medical texts have been discovered here. It is also known for innovations across the millennia in architecture, art, and culture; and for its fantastic wealth throughout most of history. A theory of the use of the pyramids is that they served as electrical generators, thousands of years before electricity was “discovered”. Evidence supports this, as there is no soot inside of the pyramids of Giza.
Herbs played a large role in Egyptian medicine. Archeologists have found extensive sets of medical documents and scrolls in tombs and temples, including the Ebers Papyrus, the Hearst Papyrus, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, and the London Medical Papyrus. The most famous plant – medicine “encyclopedia” is the Ebers Papyrus, a 110 page scroll which rolls out to be about 20 meters long. The Edwin Smith papyrus is still benefiting modern medicine, and is viewed as a learning manual. (NaturalNews)
Statues of pharaohs were commonly depicted holding small rods in both hands. These have come to be known as Egyptian healing rods. Scholars believe that they were used to balance energy in the body. They had a dual purpose of healing and spiritual enlightenment. A copper rod is held in the right hand, and a zinc rod in the left hand, thus creating an energy flow pattern that opens up blocked energy centers in the body. Opening blocked energy centers has long been believed by many cultures and traditions to help heal both body and spirit. Modern forms of these rods are filled with crystals that have been energized inside of a pyramid. It has been described as the Egyptian version of acupuncture, balancing the energy of the body.
The Egyptians produced the earliest recorded writings of a system of medicine, and are attributed as having the first medical doctors, although their healing may have been learned through the traditions of earlier civilizations, such as Sumeria. Homer wrote in the Odyssey: “In Egypt, the men are more skilled in medicine than any of human kind,” and “The Egyptians were skilled in medicine more than any other art.”
Ancient Egyptians, c. 3300 BC to 550 BC, had developed processes of healing that included setting of broken bones; simple, non-invasive and invasive surgeries; a system of gynecological care and newborn care; and an extensive list of medicinal plants and substances. Their practices were also closely tied with spiritual beliefs, and used incantations in conjunction with more physical cures to heal patients. (Wikipedia.org/wiki/healthcare_in_Egypt)
Joshua Mark states “The Kahun Gynecological Papyrus, concerning women’s health and contraceptives, had been written c. 1800 BCE and, during this period, seems to have been made extensive use of by doctors of the time. Surgery and dentistry were both practiced widely and with great skill and beer was prescribed by physicians for ease of symptoms of over 200 different maladies.”
The Papyrus Ebers (named after the gentleman who first purchased it) is the longest of the ancient medical papyri. Written on a scroll approximately 20 meters long are over 200 descriptions of medical conditions, and over 877 “prescriptions” or formulas for cures. Topics covered by the Ebers Papyrus: headache, constipation, diarrhea, colic, various types of worms, liver disease, tumors, eczema, menstrual irregularities, cancer, wounds, gangrene, abscesses, ulcers, breast disease, burns, baldness, insect bites, deafness, and many more. Notes are made on how to prepare medicines, how to take medicines, and how much time is expected to pass before a cure is seen. The papyrus is incredibly detailed in its descriptions, and must have functioned as a textbook for students of the healing arts. An entire chapter is dedicated to the diseases of women, which gives us a peek into the reverence with which women were treated in ancient Egyptian times.
Of particular note is the extensively prescribed use of the castor oil tree, of which every part was used in some form for maladies such as constipation, hair growth, and abscesses. Beer is also a commonly noted remedy, being prescribed in forms such as sweet beer, bitter beer, and fermented beer.
This papyrus mentions uses of minerals as well in the list of pharmacopoeia. One interesting medicine is the prescribed use of alabaster in ground form. One might not think of a type of stone being medicinal; however, alabaster is a mineral that contains a high calcium content.
Plant remedies mentioned include aloe, basil, caraway, coriander, dates, elderberry, flax, garlic, honey, juniper, linseed, onions, peppermint, poppy, saffron, sycamore, and willow, and are known to modern natural healers to have wonderful medicinal benefits.
An interesting face cream recipe was made of ostrich egg (for protein content), bullock’s bile (which provided exfoliating acids), and fresh milk (which provided vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats to moisturize). Queen Cleopatra herself was said to use this concoction to keep her skin beautiful.
A headache formula which is mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus, which is stated to have been prepared by the goddess Isis for the god Ra, is: berry of the coriander, berry of the poppy, wormwood, berry of the same plant, berry of the juniper plant, and honey. These were mashed, mixed with honey, and spread on the forehead.
Considering the extent and antiquity of the medical knowledge discovered in Egypt, we would do well to look more closely at the natural cures they commonly used. Perhaps we can gain additional knowledge and insight into natural medicine from them. As modern science begins to understand the mind-body-energy balance, we are reminded of the ancient Egyptians’ beliefs and practices that encompassed the whole being, even into the afterlife. If it was good enough for pharaohs and gods, we might want to consider what they had to say.
http://www.ancient.eu.com/egypt/ by Joshua Mark, published Sept. 2, 2009
Art Madsen, M.Ed., http://www.transnational-research.com/egypt-health.htm
http://oilib.uchicago.edu/books/bryan_the_papyrus_ebers_1930.pdf (Translated from German) by Cyril P. Bryan, 1930.
Jennifer Maez is a freelance writer who, after living in 12 different states, currently resides in Colorado. She has a B.A. in Psychology. Jennifer enjoys hiking, plant identification, and meditation, and is a self-taught student of natural and holistic medicine. She enjoys cooking paleo dishes for her family, and is currently working on a paleo sauces cookbook.