Medicine Main Point

1. The four Humors were believed to be the basic balance of liquids in the human body.
2. It was believed that some diseases were sent from God. They did not know about germs because microscopes were not yet invented.
4. They had many methods for surgery and healing.
5. They used herbs as remedies for many things.

The Four Humors

The four humors were black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. Doctors in the Middle Ages thought every one had these things inside of them. They thought some diseases were caused by imbalances of these humors. If there was too much of one humor doctors would give medicines made from herbs to get rid of it. The four humors also each represented a different season and element. Doctors also measured humors by looking at the patients urine. They believed that they could determine an imbalance of the humors by checking the color, smell, density, and sometimes even taste of the patients urine. In modern times, we have discovered that there is no such thing as black bile.
Yellow Bile
Black Bile

Diseases from God and Germs

Often doctors would learn from a medical school in Italy that started the 1100’s. They read from Arabic, Greek, and Roman medical books. Doctors did not know that germs caused diseases because they had no microscopes, which are necessary to see germs. They believed many diseases were sent from God or were caused by the movement of the planets. Many women died while giving birth, and many men died from being wounded in battle because they had no knowledge of how to deal with complications and diseases. People also had many cures for diseases that wouldnt make sense to us now at all. Like this cure for paralysis: " scarify (scratch) the neck after the setting of the sun and silently pour the blood into running water. After that, spit three times, then say: Have thou this unheal and depart with it." And some of their theories were also very interesting. They believed that chickenpox was caused by evil elves shooting arrows.


Barbers with no medical training often preformed surgery. They removed rotten teeth, set broken bones, and stitched wounds. Sometimes barbers decided that bloodletting was required. They would cut a patient’s vein and let out the “bad” blood. Sometimes they would use leeches to suck out the blood. Opium, henbane, and mandrake root were held to patients’ nostrils to make surgery less painful. Dental procedures were done by tooth pullers who worked at the market. There were no painkillers so the procedures would have been intensely painful. After surgery, because of the lack of knowledge about germs, many patients got infections and died. There were many other healing methods that harmed rather than helped. During the Black Plague many attempted treatments spread the disease. By 1348 about 1/3 of Europes population had died from the black plague.
This is an example of Bloodletting

In the Middle Ages herbs were used to treat minor sicknesses. Fennel seeds were used for the stomach. Cloths soaked in boiled comfrey roots were wrapped around broken bones. Yarrow leaves were applied to cuts to stop the bleeding. Yarrow leaf tea was used for toothaches. Feverfew was a herb with a very strong scent that was used to help headaches and was also used in childbirth. Marjoram was used on bruises and swelling. Lungwort is shaped like a lung, so the medieval doctors used it to treat chest disorders or discomfort. Wormwood was used to get rid of worms that were in the digestive system, and also in cloths to repel bugs such as fleas. Lemon Balm was seen as somewhat of a magic elixir for curing serious illnesses, they used it for colds and fevers because it could make people sweat. Lavender was used to help relieve headaches, and help people sleep. Rosemary was said to prevent baldness and ease back pain.
Lungwort's gray spots made it look like an infected lung.

Related Historical Fiction Books
Igraine The Brave by Cornelia Funke
Matilda Bone by Karen Cushman
The Executioner's Daughter by Laura E. Williams
by Karen Cushman
Bibliography and Picture Sources
Bloodletting picture:
Dawson, Ian. Medicine in the middle ages. New York, New York. Enchanted Lion Books 2005.
Findon, Joanne, Marsha Groves. Science and Technology in the Middle Ages. New york, New York: Crabtree Publishing Company., 2005
Langley, Andrew. Medieval Life. London, England: Dorling Kindersley Limited., 1996
Lungwort Picture:
Steele, Philip. The Medieval World
. New York, New York. Kingfisher publications.,2000
Storm, Laura, Layton. Dr. Medieval: Medicine in the Middle Ages. New York, New York. Scholastic, Childrens Press.
Ward, Brian.
The Story of Medicine. New York, New York: Anness Publishing Inc., 2000