WHAT KIND OF MEDICINE DID MACEDONIANS USE TWO CENTURIES AGO?

Head syrup and love balm

An 88-recipe, 33 sheet-long hand-written remedy book by Angel Georgievich, a teacher from Lazaropole, which was found in the village of Piperevo, near Strumica, is now a part of a precious collection of rare, hand-written books at the St. Kliment Ohridski University’s library. Apart from it, very few hand-written recipe books called remedy books, dating from the 19th century, have been preserved in Macedonia. They were written in Macedonian folk language containing advice on how to treat different diseases, and recipes of the remedies.


If there is a remedy for every disease, and recipe for every remedy, then 200 years ago, our people fought around hundred diseases. Namely, in old hand-written books of recipes, remedies and diseases, found in Macedonia, there are approximately the same number of diseases and remedy formulas made of different herbs, roots, fruits, teas, alcohol, ointments, poppy tar, incense, sugar, vinegar, honey, blue stone, sulfur, camphor, eggs, ammonium chloride (nishador), etc..

So, what kind of medicine did Macedonians use two centuries ago? What recipes can be found in the old hand-written books? How were the remedies made? Did Macedonians trust their “primary care physicians”? What did they “prescribe” if “a woman didn’t love her man”, or if “a man didn’t love a woman and vice versa”, if “someone had a thirst” how was he treated; what kind of balm was there for the bald ones; what was the remedy for the “all-evil in the heart” or the “one who had no soul”? Hundreds of remedies such as these, used in the 19th century, can be found in the “secret remedy books”, which were the primary literature used by Macedonian curers on how to diagnose an illness, and how to prepare the remedies.

A cure for the head when the mind is changing

The last known remedy book so far is from the 19th century, and it was found twenty years ago, during an exploration to discover old hand-written and printed books. It is a hand-written remedy book by Angel Georgievich, a teacher from Lazaropole, which was found in the village of Piperevo, near Strumica, and is now a part of a precious collection of rare, hand-written books at the St. Kliment Ohridski University’s library.

Still, the most extensive hand-written remedy book, called The Anthology of Folk Remedies, from the 19th century, and is unfortunately, still kept in The History Archives of Veles. It is made up of 140 recipes written in Macedonian folk language on 149 sheets of paper. Beside the recipes, there are also data on how to prepare cures for the different illnesses, such as molasses for the sick and exhausted; cure for urinating; for stinging; for the heart; for the eyes; cure for jaundice; scabies; fright; sorrow; etc.. There are also complete recipes for the remedies for headaches, when “a man’s mind is changing”. In the explanation of this recipe it says that “when a man’s mind is changing he has a headache”. There was a cure for this kind of headache, and pain was instantly gone if someone’s mind was changing.  Namely, this remedy required 25 drams of ethanol, 5 drams of mustard seed, 12 drams of henna, 3 drams of anise, one gram of ammonium chloride (nishador), one nut, 3 drams of cinnamon, and two yolks; mix them all together, spread on a cloth, apply the cloth on the forehead for 12 hours.  That was the remedy for the headache caused by a change in the mind.

In the same remedy book, beside the remedy for headache, there are also recipes, or more precisely, cures for the ones: who suffer from sorrow; who have toothache; sore eyes; cure for a woman that cannot have children, or haven’t given birth to a boy, or doesn’t have any milk; cure for earache; for insomnia; for people who wet their pants; for people gone mad; cure for a snake bite; for cataract; how to properly set twisted or broken bones; cure for dog bite; etc.

Human and animal doctor

It is very unusual that in this “expert” book, somehow there are cow and horse remedies, too. It is interesting that in this notebook, probably owned by some famous remedy master, beside human cures, there are animal cures as well, so you could say that this doctor “specialized” in two areas, or more likely, treated everything that moved, whether it was a human being or something else.

A very interesting remedy book is the one written by the priest Joanaki in 1884. His handbook contains around 100 recipes written in Macedonian folk language. The manuscript was found in the village of Rakotinci, near Skopje, and is now being kept in the Archdiocese of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in Skopje. And in that book, a lot of recipes can be found, such as cure for strength; stomachache; cough; fever; cold; or cure for stroke. There is a precise list of ingredients and the procedure for making different kinds of balm – for the heart or for stinging; for jaundice; teeth and gums; molasses for the voice, if someone cannot sing; cure for cold; for female discharge; stabbing and swollen eyes and bleariness; cure for the woman that doesn’t have milk; for gun wound; for fright; for sore throat; for back pain, etc.

Judging by the recipes in remedy books such as these, you can see that the Macedonian knew how to cure himself in the past, but they also give the possibility for the development of alternative medicine. It is of great importance for the research of Macedonian language and its dialects that they are written in Macedonian folk language dating 200 years ago. That is why, it is perhaps good that these recipes are studied by experts, for they really are full of medicine and pharmaceutical material, that casts light on Macedonian medicine history.

The remedies were based on herbs, brandy and wine

According to a statement made by Dr. Mihajlo Georgievski, who worked at the department for rare and hand-written books at the St. Kliment Ohridski University Library for years, he himself had the opportunity to discover, so far, the last known remedy book from the 19th century in an exploration of manuscripts and old books. This remedy book was found in the village of Piperevo, near Strumica, and was written by Angel Georgievich, a teacher from Lazaropole.

This hand-written, remedy book made up of 33 sheets of paper was written in Macedonian folk language from the eastern dialectic area. The titles were written in red, while the recipes in black. There is an entry saying that the manuscript, or “God’s secrets”, as it stands in the text, was written by Angel Georgievich from Lazaropole, teacher in Piperevo, in the church “St. George the Martyr” in 1870. At the very end of the manuscript, the author himself has written that everything in the remedy book is true, and that God should be glorified for that. After its discovery in Piperevo, this remedy book was brought in Skopje and is now kept in St. Kliment Ohridski University Library. There are 88 recipes for treating different diseases.

It is interesting that there are a few recipes for one disease, which means there were alternatives in the treatment, but the important thing is that almost every disease that people had back then is covered. Among those, is the disease that was called “grave disease”. By reading through the recipes, without analyzing their ingredients, you can see that almost all of them are based on pharmacy, meaning they were made of different herbs, roots, fruits, seeds, teas, alcohol, wine, brandy, ointments, poppy tar, incense, sugar, vinegar, honey, blue stone, sulfur, camphor, eggs, ammonium chloride (nishador), etc. This remedy book covers the same, or similar, diseases as the other two. So, there are recipes for cure against bad cough; stroke; strength; heart beating; spider bite; cold; disability to urinate; black jaundice; disability to produce milk(for women); epilepsy; clogged ear; insomnia; head wounds; soar mouth; etc.

Recipe description

The remedy book by Angel Georgievich contains information of the ingredients and the procedure for preparing the remedies. It is very probable that nobody had the opportunity to read Angel’s remedy book while he was alive, considering that recipes have always been, more or less, a well-kept secret. He probably didn’t show it to a lot of people, simply kept it as a secret guidebook for the preparation of the remedies. The pharmaceutical industry is not the only one that protects the secret of its original medicine, but the representatives of today’s alternative medicine, too. The secret of their remedies is kept for generations in their families, and rarely did someone else outside the doctor’s house know the recipe. Still, the teacher from Piperevo wrote it all in a big notebook and now they are available to study.

To get a clear picture on how people were treated 140 years ago and on the language used to write the recipes, it is best to quote few remedies that the curer from Piperevo prepared. So, according to the “doctor” cough, which was called “tarduha” was treated by taking “seven chili peppers, seven nuts, mixed together till they become like flour, then add three figs, make them in the form of chickpeas and take three at a time, in the morning, in the afternoon and at night, before going to bed”. This remedy was used to cure cough. There was also a remedy for heart and it was made using basil, wormwood, chamomile, garlic and mint. All the herbs were put in 2 liters of vinegar and left there for three days. After the remedy was prepared, it was “dosed” by putting ten drops in a liter of wine, and drank until the heart healed. There was also a very efficient remedy for “the man whose stomach croaks like a frog”. The sick person had to take a remedy made of 100 drams of a very strong brandy, 100 drams of oil, sage, mint and chamomile. The recipe says: “mix the brandy with the oil, then mix that with the other ingredients, put them in a clean bottle, and drink two drams at a time until the illness goes away”.

One of the remedies made by the teacher from Piperevo, was for pain in the jaw. It was made of one dram of tar and 100 drams of vinegar put on a fire to boil until there is only 40 drams of liquid. After it cools off, the liquid should be kept in the mouth for half an hour and “do that many times so that the gums strengthen” as the manuscript says. The cure for exhaustion was a special sherbet, made of 5 drams of cinnamon, 5 drams of carnation, one dram of nuts, two drams of sugar, pounded together and boiled in a liter of water. After it cooled down, 123 drams of honey were added, and one cup was drank every morning. This remedy restored energy, and afterward a lot of things could be done at home, as well as outside, in the fields.

Cure for when the body is cold

The cure for “when the body is cold” or as we say today, when a man starts shaking for no reason in the middle of the summer, is a very interesting one, and very simple to prepare, because a melon and a watermelon were all the ingredients. Here is how Angel from Lazaropole wrote this down in his remedy book: “Bake one watermelon and one melon, take away their water, spread them across the body, cover it up so it sweats, and it will go away”. And that’s how the cold was cured. Beside from cold, people suffered from swollen eyes as well, and the cure for that was made of: five drams of beans, the core of a watermelon, half a dram of salt, and five spoons of yolk; while that was being prepared, boiled, the ill person’s head was shaved, washed, and the mixture was spread applied on the head where it had to stay for one night, then the head was washed with hot water and the problem was solved. Or at least it was supposed to be solved. If the remedy didn’t cure the illness, the curer surely would have removed it from the remedy book. Actually, all of the recipes were previously tested many times, because they were passed on from people who successfully treated illnesses using them. Such was the cure for “the woman that has no milk”, the woman that had a baby but could not breastfeed it, and was a very simple one, too. A dill’s seed was pounded, mixed with sugar or honey, and taken as molasses, one spoon on an empty stomach. According to the curer, after taking the remedy, the woman would start producing so much milk, that she didn’t know what to do with it.

A diet for the remedy to work

According to Dr. Mihajlo Georgievski, who found the remedy book, the recipes for stomach pain; loss of appetite; heart and chest pain; sorrow; spider bites; or clogged ear were some of the most important ones. For example, the cure for a clogged ear was much more complicated to prepare than the one for “when a man’s stomach is swollen as a frog”. The ingredients for the cure for a clogged ear were 4 okas (around 1,5 kilos) of mallow, and 4 okas of water. They were boiled until 2 okas of liquid was left, then it was filtrated, and then 25 drams of white incense was added and left to boil for a while. Then, the liquid was put in a red jug covered with a thin cloth. The sick person should lie down and put the ear to the bottleneck, and keep it there until the liquid cools down. The process is repeated many times and in the meantime the ear is covered with a piece of cotton. It is interesting that along with the recipe there is a warning that the patient “must not eat chili, salty food or bacon, and must not drink wine”.

Love balm

The recipes for cures of head-related illnesses were more important, and one of them is the cure for the headache that “whoever has it cannot hold up his head”. For such a strong headache, Angel had a very efficient remedy, one very similar to the ones from other remedy books, but different in one ingredient – anise.

The preparation was a very complex process, but the end result probably justified all the efforts. The ingredients were: 25 drams of pure, 100% brandy; mustard seed; 12 drams of henna; three drams of cinnamon; and two yolks. “Mix them all together, spread on a cloth, apply the cloth on the forehead and leave it for 12 hours”. And as it says in the remedy book, twelve hours later, the pain was gone as if it was taken by hand. Except for the physical illnesses, treated by more or less complex remedies, there were also remedies for mental illnesses, or illnesses related to the soul and the spirit, such as sorrow in the heart, insomnia, etc. The cure for insomnia was made of poppy, carnation, and 2-3 other exotic herbs that could only be found in Constantinople. The remedy was prepared by putting all the ingredients in 100 drams of “fine brandy” and given one cup of it to the sick person “and if he doesn’t fall to sleep, give him half a cup more, followed by one cup of water, and he will fall asleep”.

Based on what has been preserved, most of the remedy books originate from Lazaropole. There, a 56-recipe remedy book for curing different diseases was found, also from the 19th century, written in Macedonian folk language. There is another remedy book, written in Miyak dialect, from the Reka region. There are 70 recipes in it. Some of them are: the cure for “a woman that doesn’t love her man”; cure for a “premature birth”; cure for “insatiability”; cure for baldness that in three weeks made the hair grow so long, that it could be tied in a braid; as well as a universal remedy for “a woman that doesn’t love a man or vice-versa”; cure for “all-evil in the heart”; and a cure for “the one who has no soul”.

All of these remedies are too difficult to explain in this text for the old remedy-books and the cures our people used to cure themselves two centuries ago. We will talk about “the one who has no soul” and the “woman that doesn’t love men and vice-versa” but that is a whole other story.

Source: MIA

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