Ancient medicine analyzed

A sample of ancient medicinal tablets dated to 130 BC has been DNA-analyzed. The result: Ancient pills consisted of various vegetables and herbs that can be found in any garden. Read below the fold for more details.

A team led by Alain Touwaide, a historian of sciences at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum and co-founder of the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions, together with Robert Fleischer, a geneticist at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute, used DNA sequencing to determine the ingredients of a medical pill found in an ancient shipwreck off the Italian coast. The result: The tablets are essentially 2,000-year-old bouillon cubes, composed of carrots, broccoli, leeks, cabbage, parsley, onions, radishes and other assorted plants and herbs.

“When you talk about ancient medicine, everybody thinks about exotic drugs: myrrh, incense, cloves—all these kinds of things,” Touwaide said. “Here we have very simple stuff. That might have been surprising, but not for me.” For early doctors such as Hippocrates, he explained, medicine and food were two sides of the same coin. “In all the writings attributed to Hippocrates, supposedly the father of medicine, half of the formulas for medicines are made out of 45 plants, and these plants are indeed very common. For the Hippocratic physicians, medicine starts with what you eat and is an offshoot of alimentation.”

Read the full story on ancient medicines at History.com.

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CEO & Founder of Ancient History Encyclopedia. When he's not working on AHE, he loves to spend time with his family going hiking, visiting historic places, or doing all-day BBQs in the garden with good real ale or whiskey.