Roasting a salted owl and pulverizing it to treat gout is one of the strange suggestions found among thousands of medieval medical practices.
Stuffing puppies with snails and sage, grilling over a fire, and using fat to make a sauce, is another suggested gout cure.
Someone with cataracts hundreds of years ago would be advised to mix a hare’s gallbladder with some honey and apply a feather over their eyes.
The treatments are among the 8,000 medical recipes contained in 180 medieval manuscripts – mostly dating from the 14th or 15th centuries – that are being digitized by the Cambridge University Library.
However, some are dated earlier, with one being 1,000 years old.
They also give an in-depth look at the violence of medieval life, with advice on how to detect whether a skull has cracked after a weapon injury, as well as how to place broken bones and stop bleeding.
Some have detailed illustrations and show doctors using “a bewildering array of ingredients” – animals, plants and minerals, said project leader Dr James Freeman.
“For all their complexity, Medieval medical formulas are well suited to modern readers,” he says.
“Many diseases that we still face today: headaches, toothaches, diarrhea, coughs, sore limbs.
“They show that medieval people were trying to manage their health with the knowledge available to them at the time – just like us.”
Dr Freeman added: “They are also a reminder of the pain and precariousness of medieval life, before antibiotics, before antiseptics and before pain relief as we know it today.
“Other treatments include salting an owl and baking it until it can be pulverized, mixing it with wild boar fat to make a salt potion, and rubbing it on the sick person’s body for healing.” gout.”
The texts come from dozens of Cambridge colleges, the Fitzwilliam Museum and the University Library, and are being preserved as part of the £500,000 Curiosity Cures project.
Full transcripts of measures and high resolution images will be freely available in Cambridge Digital Library as the catalogers worked through the texts for the next two years.