I popped over to the British Library at lunchtime, to take a final look at Evolving English, their current exhibition. I was tickled by this recipe, from ‘Bald’s Leechbook,’ a mid 10th-century book of remedies and potions:
‘Take a bramble apple and lupis and pulegium, pound them then sift them and put them in a pouch. Lay them under the altar, say nine masses over them. Put the dust into milk, drip thrice some holy water on them,’ and take three times a day.
The library notes that ‘Leech’ was a short-hand for doctor, so I guess Bald’s Leechbook was the British National Formulary of its day, and an authentic example of traditional English medicine.
I’ve always been a sceptic about ‘alternatives’ like Traditional Chinese Medicine. Just because something was done a long time ago, it doesn’t mean I want it done to me now. This seems especially true if you’re female – traditional Chinese wisdom had women’s feet bound, and traditional English wisdom was that women shouldn’t be educated. As Hamlet observed, some traditions are better honoured in the breach than in the observance.