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6 unbelievable cures for the black death

The black death was probably one of the most devastating pandemics known to man. When the disease spread to Europe between 1346–1353, it killed an estimated 75 to 200 million people, about 30–60% of Europe’s total population at the time.

Modern analysis of the Black Death shows us that the pathogen responsible was the Yersinia pestis bacterium. The place of origin for this pandemic was probably Central Asia. It spread to Europe carried by the traders of the Silk Road. The unlucky people that caught the disease were usually dead just a few days.

Their final days were extremely unpleasant. The diseased people developed symptoms like high fever, severe vomiting, and bleeding from the lungs. The bodies of the victims were also covered with gruesome boils, the pain must have been terrible.

Medicine back in those days was still not a developed science, and the methods used by the physicians were questionable and controversial, if not completely insane. People were desperate, victims of the Black Death were piling up everywhere.

The whole situation forced them to come up with all sorts of crazy and impossible cures. Some of the solutions they came up with were probably worse than dying from the plague itself. Here is a selection of some of the more peculiar and terrible cures that probably didn’t help at all.


1 Treacle

Bottle of Dutch treacle. Source: CC BY-SA 3.0,


This solution is one of the sweetest on the list, the next ones are definitely more unpleasant. Treacle is any uncrystallized syrup made during the refining of sugar. The term “treacle” was used by Middle English speakers to signify a kind of a medicine. Old herbalists and apothecaries used to make a medicine (also known as theriac or theriaca) wich were made out of many ingredients. The theriaca was used in many different situations, such as an antidote treatment for poisons, snakebites, and various other diseases. Apparently, it was considered as a cure for the Black Death also. Unfortunately, in order to be effective, it had to be at least ten years old. People believed that treacle could completely remove the plague from the body. There is a slight chance that this could work, but still, it’s far away from curing a plague completely. The reason it could work is that if the syrup was left to mature for some time, disease-fighting molds, yeasts, and other cultures would have developed in it. Still, drinking this nasty thing doesn’t sound like a good idea.


2 Rubbing the victim’s body with a chicken

Thomas Vicary, the inventor of the Vicary Method. Source: By Unknown, Public Domain,

Yes, exactly, it sounds like a joke, but it was a real method that was often used by people. The whole ritual was called “the Vicary Method.” It was named after Thomas Vicary, the English doctor who invented it. First, a hens butt needed to be shaved and then strapped on the swollen lymph nodes of the sick person. All of this was done with a live and breading chicken. Then, when the chicken got sick too, it needed to be washed and applied on the person again until only the chicken or victim remained healthy. Strangely enough, the technique was widespread. Many chickens got sick and spread their plague-ridden parasites everywhere. Vicary became famous and even today, there is a special lecture held every year in his honor in the Royal College of Surgeons in England.


3 Leeches

Source: By GlebKOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Bloodletting was a popular method for curing people, dating back to 800 B.C. and it was used to cure a wide variety of things. Leeches have proven themselves as a reliable medical aid and are even used in modern medicine. Bloodletting with leeches is a relatively painless technique. The thing is leech collector back in those days asked for a lot of money and not everybody could afford them. That is why people used a more dangerous method of bloodletting – cutting the skin open. The used to push a blade into their veins and drain the blood into a bowl. The pain was not a problem as much as the risk of infection in the unsanitary conditions back then.


4 Consuming a spoon of crushed emeralds

Source: By Rob Lavinsky, – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0,

It looks like this was a cure for kings. The method is simple: They used to ground down this precious stone into a mortar and pestle, mix it with water and then drink it like a potion. They even mixed it with food or just simply swallowed the powder. Emeralds might be pretty, but the thought of eating them is not so pleasant. They probably taste and feel like crushed glass shards.


5 Applying human excrement paste on the victim

Source: janiek.wordpress

This one is probably the most disgusting one. A cure from hell. The inflamed lymph nodes in the armpits or groin of the plague victim were opened in order for the disease to “leave” the body, and then a mixture of tree resins, flower roots, and human excrement was applied directly on the wounds. The “treated” places were then wrapped up. This whole process is probably a good starting point for a whole new disease.


6 Taking a bath in urine

Constantine the African examines urine. Source: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Urine is another one of those all-curing substances, used to treat all kinds of health problems throughout history. People especially loved it in Medieval Europe. Plague infested people believed that if they bathed in urine few times a day, it would help to relieve the terrible symptoms of the disease. A glass or two of the liquid was also recommendable. During the years of Black Death, clean, uninfected urine was collected and given or sold to the people in need.

Boban Docevski

Boban Docevski is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News