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The time-travelling sneeze: How healers of the old world dealt with a cold

Team StoryWeavers|November 20, 2020, 13:05 IST| 1

It is 1500 BC, and you’re living on the fertile banks of a freezing river. It’s a cold winter night, and the chilly winds make you scoot closer to the crackling fire keeping you warm. Just as you wrap yourself tight with a shawl, you feel a sensation rising from above your stomach. The feeling rapidly makes its way up to your body and pauses, for a second, near your nose before.


Aah, there it is. You appear to have caught a cold – an affliction that has haunted humans for centuries!

With all the advances made by medical sciences, the pesky common cold has long baffled us. A condition that comes and goes as it pleases, leaving you with a throbbing head and drained energy, the common cold is a mystery. Doctors today will tell you there’s no cure for the cold, but, you were living in 1500 BC, remember? 

What would a doctor there tell you to do?

As we enter the season of the sniffles, wouldn’t it be fun to take a trip through time to see how healers and physicians of the old world treated the cold? Well, what are you waiting for!

Spells, Magic and Scrolls of Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt is one of the best places to catch a cold in the old world. Why? Because the Egyptians had a robust system of doctors and healthcare workers – many of whom specialised in one disorder alone! While some healers believed that magic and spells could cure illnesses, others used herbs to treat ailments. If you were to get a cold in ancient Egypt, a healer would most likely give you a prescription for garlic mashed in olive oil! 

Honey and The Sweet Secrets of Vedic India

If you happened to catch a cold in India during the Vedic Ages, the treatment for it would be a lot sweeter than garlic! Ayurveda, the ancient Indian method of treating illnesses used herbs, plants and the products of plants to bring relief to a patient. When it comes to the common cold, Ayurveda “bee”-lieves honey to be a star. The sweet concoction was routinely prescribed for the sniffles.

Soup, Pepper and The Roman Empire

The Roman Empire is another massive cradle of ancient civilization and had a relatively sophisticated medical system. Romans had buildings called Asclepieia, where people with ailments were housed and treated. They believed that illnesses need to be treated with “opposites”. The Romans would consider the properties of diseases and try to do the opposite of it. Hence, by this logic, the Romans believed that “hot” things like pepper and soup could cure a “chilly” ailment like the cold! Isn’t that one delicious prescription?

The Strange Concoctions of Medieval Europe

Medieval Europe has a reputation for using unsavoury concoctions to cure illnesses, but medical sciences did see a lot of progress during this time! One major school of medieval medical thought involved “balance” within the body. Physicians of the time believed that illness arose when the body lost its natural balance. For a cold, a medieval healer would prescribe anything from a concoction of cabbage leaves to gargles with mustard and turnip! A rather smelly prescription!

A trip through time is undoubtedly a happy reminder that we are lucky to have access to the latest medical expertise in our times. Did any of these age-old remedies for the cold fascinate you? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author

Deepthi is an ambivert who is on a steady diet of good food, filter coffee, and self-improvement. Being an ardent reader, storytelling has been her first love and she enjoys exploring how to convey stories compellingly. Having studied psychology and experienced the learning and development field, Deepthi is driven to understand human behavior and to know what makes each of us unique. You are most likely to find her tucked into a cozy corner at a local cafe with a Kindle or a book in hand. If you find her there, stop by and say hello, she'd be eager to learn your story too. Until then, you can ping her at for anything you may like to share.

Leave a Comment



Swastika Sanghi

November 21, 2020

That garlic and olive oil one was quite disgusting ?
Ayurvedic treatments are the best ❤️


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