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Herbal Cures of the Desert Fathers

The monks of St. Catherine’s in Sinai are in the news again. For a reclusive bunch, they sure do make a splash. A few months back, I was aching to see the exhibit of their patristic-era icons. Then they caught my eye with their efforts to record and restore ancient manuscripts.

Now they’re back in the spotlight for their project to catalog ancient medicines and conserve medicinal plants. It’s all to make the world a better place. It seems that pharmaceutical researchers have gained a new appreciation for old folk remedies. Several companies have tried unsuccessfully to patent turmeric — a key ingredient in curries — for fighting cancer and senility. I’m way ahead of them on this; just ask the proprietor of Taj Mahal Indian buffet (McKnight Road in Pittsburgh), the favorite haunt of Yours Truly and David Scott.

What are the monks of Sinai finding in those old manuscripts? “For example, acacia was used to treat coughs and eye complaints in ancient times and is still used for that to this day … Colic was treated with anti-spasmodics, such as hyoscymus, cumin and coriander, still vogue today.” But mostly what they’re dealing with is laxatives. There were apparently many, many brands to choose from.

As Jerome might have grumbled as he passed through Egypt: the more things change, the more they stay the same.