Cures for the Black Death

In the 1347 - 1350 outbreak, doctors were completely unable to prevent or cure the plague. For those who believed in the Greek humours there were a range of cures available. ‘Blood-letting’ – deliberately bleeding a vein – was a way of reducing ‘hot’ blood, whilst blowing your nose or clearing your throat was a way of getting rid of too much ‘cold’ phlegm. Mustard, mint sauce, apple sauce and horseradish were used to balance wet, dry, hot and cold in your diet!

A source from 1380 presents a cynical view of their work:

"Doctors need three qualifications: to be able to lie and not get caught; to pretend to be honest; and to cause death without guilt.”Jean Froissart’s Chronicles

Some of the cures they tried included:

  • Rubbing onions, herbs or a chopped up snake (if available) on the boils or cutting up a pigeon and rubbing it over an infected body.
  • Drinking vinegar, eating crushed minerals, arsenic, mercury or even ten-year-old treacle!
  • Sitting close to a fire or in a sewer to drive out the fever, or fumigating the house with herbs to purify the air.
  • People who believed God was punishing you for your sin, 'flagellants', went on processions whipping themselves.
  • In the 1361 - 1364 outbreak, doctors learned how to help the patient recover by bursting the buboes.
  • Doctors often tested urine for colour and health. Some even tasted it to test.