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Dioscorides – De Materia Medica

April 18, 2013

Dioscorides was a Greek physician who had a particular interest in pharmaceuticals and the healing properties of plants in nature. The knowledge he developed and obtained was gathered together in De Materia Medica (Regarding Medical Matters). The volumes were written between AD 50 and 70.


I have been reading the translation by Lily Y Beck (2005) as research for my essay. I wanted to establish what other healing practices people suffering from the Athenian plague might have resorted to in order to cure themselves. I appreciate that the Athenian plague was at a far earlier date than when Dioscorides was writing; but it is likely that some of the knowledge of plant remedies that he refers to were known prior to his record.

Early on in the text the spice cardamom is referred to,

‘It has a warming property. When drunk with water, it is good for epileptics, coughs, for patients suffering from hip disease, for paralysis, for ruptures, spasms, colic, and it gets rid of intestinal flatworm’ (Dioscorides De Materia Medica 1.6)

There are several other uses recorded as well; far too many to note and some a little unpleasant.

I can well imagine that people would seek out plants as a means of a cure which are accorded such properties; observations of the world today provide examples of people rushing to buy pills that make wild claims.

I believe that something particularly noteworthy is contained within this quote. It is the use of the words ‘It has a warming property’ as this possibly signifies a Hippocratic influence on Dioscorides writing (there are other examples of this within the wider text as well). If this is true then it is likely that he followed Hippocratic practices and observed the curative properties of cardamom before committing them to writing. Not being a medical professional I cannot say whether cardamom can cure these illnesses; it is unlikely given some of the illnesses listed. However, the methods of observation that may have been used signify, at the very least, the effects of the spice may ease some symptoms hence why it was included.


Dioscorides,De Materia Medica Translated by Lily Y. Beck, Olms – Weidmann: New York, 2005.


From → Ancient Medicine

One Comment
  1. healthiestbeauty permalink

    Reblogged this on The healthiest beauty.

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