Folio 187r

Credit: Serapio, Senior: Practica Io. Serapionis dicta breuiarium, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

To which we respond that, of those things which strengthen, some strengthen members by repairing only spirits, like the aromatic; some by restoring members, like food and drink; some by relaxing, like laxative medicines; some by tightening a limp member, like a plaster made of mastic; some by altering a disordered quality of an injured member, like dyaterascos[1], that is a plaster of storax placed on a stomach made weak by cold; some strengthen by purifying an overabundance which debilitates by weighing down the member, like a laxative medicine, and many other purifying agents. But gold strengthens in this way: by its harshness it cleanses what is superfluous.

[1] Norri, 299: “Plaster containing pitch, beeswax, vinegar, wine, aromatic gums.”

Chap. 4 (f. 187r) : Concerning Asafetida


            Ferula asafoetida

Asafetida is warm and dry in the fourth degree. It is of a very tall tree growing beyond the sea. It is collected in the summertime and since it is very smelly, it is called assa fetida. It may be kept without decay for a long time. It ought to be kept in a moderately dry location, as well. It has the virtue of dissolving, gathering, and of consuming, and the smellier it is, the better.

Five little pills formed solely from asafetida either offered late with egg sop, or given with syrup of violets, with a preceding purge, are of advantage to asthmatics struggling from a humid cause.

Note that any powerful solvent, whether especially dry or even emetic, should not be given to patients on their breast, unless first mixed with an ointment containing marsh mallow or butter.

Against quotidian or quartan[2] fever, however, with a preceding purge, let five scruples of asafetida be cooked in wine in an earthen vessel or a hollowed cyclamen root, and give the strained liquid with honey or sugar added to patients with quartan or quotidian fever before the hour of its onset.

A suppository made of asafetida and galbanum[3] or of asafetida and serapion[4] and sal ammoniac or of only asafetida dipped first in oil or honey or butter, lest it damage the interior, provokes menstruation in a marvelous way and brings out the afterbirth.

A salve made of asafetida and sal ammoniac, wax and honey soothes the spleen.

And it dissolves milk coagulated on/in the breasts.

Asafetida inserted into a cavity in a tooth soothes pain.

A gargle made of vinegar and water and of a decoction of asafetida and rose dries out a swollen uvula.

Against paralysis and gout of the joints and epilepsy and every fault from a cold cause take asafetida and mineral oil together, let them be melted at a fire, and in such liquid be placed the powder of a beaver’s testicle,[5] of euphorbia, of quick sulfur, and with wax added, let a wax plaster be put on the sore spot, or let an unguent be made and put on the sore spot. If epilepsy occurs from a fault of the head let it be placed about the shoulder blades and neck, and also the head. If from fault of the stomach let that part be anointed. If from a fault of the lower regions let them be anointed.

Against other sicknesses let the suffering places be anointed.

[1] Asafoetida is a plant gum from one of several types of Ferula species; the gum is dried and powdered for medicinal use. Platearius seems to think it is the product of a tree, rather than the root of a plant.

[2] Quartan fever is one recurring every third day.

[3] Galbanum is another species of Ferula, in this case Ferula galbaniflua, a giant fennel. It’s resin is still used in essential oils and pharmaceuticals.

[4] A terrestrial orchid.

[5] “Castoreum is obtained from an internal gland located near the testicles” of a beaver; see The Alphabet of Galen, p. 183, n. 1 under Castoreum.

Chap. 5 (f. 187r): Concerning Quicksilver

Quicksilver. From Wikipedia

Quicksilver is warm and moist in the 4th degree. In some books, however, it is discovered that it is cold in the 4th degree. And this is proven to be from its effect: because it dissolves, cuts, and penetrates; but since it actually cold, it is judged according to this by authorities.

For some say that quicksilver comes from a vein of earth by extraction, which is however false, since it is most readily rarefied into a fume by the action of fire. When generated in such earth, moreover, it looks like flowing water is produced. It may be kept for a long time or preserved in a solid vessel in a cool place. It has the power of dissolving, penetrating, consuming, and cleansing.

Let a meal of bitter lupine be cooked in the strongest vinegar until it is very thick and, with 5 ounces of extinct quicksilver[1] added, let the mixture be applied to the head of someone suffering from an abundance of lice, among the parts in the hair.

It is moreover “extinguished” with saliva and rubbed with ash and saliva either in the hair or on the head with the dust of cuttlefish bone and saliva, which is better. It is called “extinct” when it can be mixed with other things, for if it is not extinguished there can be no mixture of it with anything else. Note that quicksilver can’t be placed in something actually hot, since it will be evaporated into smoke, and the smoke of quicksilver is dangerous to those present, since it causes paralysis by weakening the nerves. When taken by mouth or put into the ears it kills by wasting body members.

If, however, it has been taken in the mouth, let goat’s milk be given in great quantity and the patient be kept in motion, or give wine in a decoction of hyssop and absinthe, these are the antidotes for safety.

Against scabies, mix a little vinegar with warm nut oil, but then if let litharge[2] or pulverized white lead if you have an equal quantity be boiled to the thickness of honey, and put quicksilver in this when cold and mix together, and keep it to use.

For face cloths after birth, prepare quicksilver and lead with chicken far and the face, anointed with this, will be clarified and whitened.

Or thus: take sea-snails[3], rose oil, white lead and chicken fat melted on a fire, and place the strained drink on the aforesaid; and last, mix extinguished quicksilver with ash and spit and reserve for use.


[1] “Extinct quicksilver” is defined in Latham as a mercury salt.

[2] Lead monoxide.

[3] I.e. “bellicos marinos” are alternately described as sea snails or pebbles in the shape of navels.

Chap. 6 (f. 187r): Concerning Agnus Castus

Vitex agnus-castus from Wikimedia Commons

Agnus castus[1] is warm and dry in the 4th degree. It is a shrub whose leaves are suited for medicinal purposes, and not its roots — its flowers even more. The flower is called agnus castus, yet commonly it is called marine willow by some. The (whole) plant is called agnus castus; whenever you find agnus castus by itself in a source, you may understand the flowers.[2] Agnus castus can be found in the green at every season, but more in wet places, less in dry. Its flowers are collected in spring and can be preserved for a year, no longer, in great efficacy.

But agnus castus is of the greater efficacy in the green than dried, since it renders man chaste as a lamb by repressing lust.

A bed made from it suppresses lust: the genitals can be warmed by a concoction of it and water. Let its juice be drunk, as well.

Let a pinch of beaver’s testicle be cooked in its juice and given as a drink.

Against vaginal discharge[3], let its flowers and leaves be cooked in vinegar and add beaver’s testicle if you like; this may be smeared on the genitals.

Note that some substances extinguish lust by thickening sperm, like lettuce seed, fleabane, seed of watermelon, of melon, of cucumber, of bryony, of purslane, of escarole, vinegar, verjuice, sumac, camphor, and the like.[4]

Others (work) by banishing spirits and expending the sperm, like rue, marjoram, cumin, calamint, anise. For these are warm and aperient and they dispel and relieve windiness.

Let 3 drams of fennel seed and 3 scruples of spurge be cooked in the juice of agnus castus. Give it strained in the morning with warm wine, for dropsy.

For wine in a mixture with agnus castus flower is very soothing for this.

Let agnus castus be put in oil lees so that it decays, and a decoction be made with strong wine added. With the addition of wax and oil, an unguent is made, which softens hardness of spleen when applied.

A poultice from the liquid of the matrix of agnus castus dries out discharges and constricts their source.

For stimulating menstruation, let a poultice of the liquid of this decoction and clary be made.

Against lethargy, take agnus castus and apium and sage and make a decoction in salt water, and let this be rubbed vigorously on the back of the head.

[1] Agnus castus, a shrubby small tree native to the Mediterranean, is known commonly as chasteberry or monk’s pepper. It is tolerant of salt and can be found close to the shore.

[2] I.e., as opposed to other parts of the plant.

[3] The 1939 ed. reads “gonorream” here, but the early editions have “gomoream”, inflammatory secretions from the urethra or vagina. See Norri, p. 467.

[4] Some of the plant names are in the genitive in this list: presumably their seed is meant.

Chap. 7 (f. 187r): Concerning Alum

Alum crystal, from Wikipedia

Alum is warm and dry in the fourth degree. Alum is a type of earth, according to some, but according to others, it is said to be a vein of earth[1] which, when subjected to high heat, is turned into a white color and becomes alum. It is produced especially in warm countries, and particularly in sulfurous, fiery places. That which is white, sharp, and mixed in with salt is better; that which is dirty and earthen is impure. It can be kept for a long time without corruption. It has the power of drying and of consuming most vigorously.[2]

Against canker: a powder of alum and of marine flesh[3], prepared with worms found in rich soil, is effective when applied.

A wick dipped in such a mixture soothes when placed in the opening of a fistula, or a covering of honey may be laid over a sprinkling of alum powder. But first wash the wound with vinegar.

It heals swellings of the gums when the mouth is rinsed first with vinegar, and afterwards it is rubbed with vinegar and alum. First, however, there must be an application of cupping glasses about the neck and shoulders, with scarifying.

Or thus: first scarify the back portion of the head.