The Ebers Papyrus (approximately 1500 BCE), one of the two oldest maintained medical documents, preserved for us most extensive record of Egyptian medical history. In it, the Egyptians show a degree of knowledge of the workings of the human body, its structure, the job of the heart and blood vessels. The oldest well preserved medical document from ancient Egyptian record dated from approximately 1500 BC contains 110 pages on anatomy and physiology, toxicology, spells, and treatment recorded on papyrus. The papyrus also has many prescriptions showing the treatment of many disorders by animal, plant, and mineral toxins that still occur today.
The toxicological importance of the papyrus relates to the vast amount of herbal remedies and explanations of various toxins that the papyrus illuminates. Below is a small list of the herbs highlighted in the script (retrieved from Crystallinks):
Herbal Remedies Mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus
- Acacia (acacia nilotica)- vermifuge, eases diarrhea and internal bleeding, also used to treat skin diseases.
- Aloe vera - worms, relieves headaches, soothes chest pains, burns, ulcers and for skin disease and allergies.
- Basil (ocimum basilicum)- excellent for heart.
- Balsam Apple (malus sylvestris)or Apple of Jerusalem - laxative, skin allergies, soothes headaches, gums and teeth, for asthma, liver stimulant, weak digestion.
- Bayberry(Myrica cerifera) - stops diarrhea, soothes ulcers, shrinks hemorrhoids, repels flies.
- Belladonna - pain reliever;camphor tree - reduces fevers, soothes gums, soothes epilepsy.
- Caraway (Carum carvi; Umbelliferae)- soothes flatulence, digestive, breath freshener.
- Cardamom( Eletarria cardamomum; Zingiberacae)- Used as a spice in foods,digestive, soothes flatulence.
- Colchicum (Citrullus colocynthis) - also known as "Meadow Saffron", soothes rheumatism, reduces swelling.
- Common Juniper tree (Juniperis phonecia; Juniperus drupacea)- digestive, soothes chest pains, soothes stomach cramps.
- Cubeb pepper (Piper cubeba; Piperaceae)- urinary tract infections, larynx and throat infections, gum ulcers and infections, soothes headaches.
- Dill (Anethum graveolens)- soothes flatulence, relieves dyspepsia, laxative and diuretic properties.
- Fenugreek(Trigonella foenum-graecum) - respiratory disorders, cleanses the stomach, calms the liver, soothes pancreas, reduces swelling.
- Frankincense(Boswellia carterii) - throat and larynx infections, stops bleeding, cuts phlegm, asthma, stops vomiting.
- Garlic (Allium sativa) - gives vitality, soothes flatulence and aids digestion, mild laxative, shrinks hemorrhoids, rids body of "spirits" (note, during the building of the Pyramids, the workers were given garlic daily to give them the vitality and strength to carry on and perform well).
- Henna (Lawsonia inermis) - astringent, stops diarrhea, close open wounds (and used as a dye).
- Honey was widely used, a natural antibiotic and used to dress wounds and as a base for healing unguants, as was castor oil, coriander,beer and other foods.
- Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) - mild laxative, expels phlegm, soothes liver, pancreas and chest and respiratory problems.
- Mustard (Sinapis alba) - induces vomiting, relieves chest pains.
- Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) - stops diarrhea, relives headaches, soothes gums, toothaches and backaches.
- Onion (Allium cepa) - diuretic, induces perspiration, prevents colds, soothes sciatica, relieves pains and other cardiovascular problems.
- Parsley (Apium petroselinum) - diuretic.
- Mint (Mentha piperita) - soothes flatulence, aids digestion, stops vomiting, breath freshener.
- Sandalwood (Santallum album) - aids digestion, stops diarrhea, soothes headaches and gout (used, of course, in incense).
- Sesame (Sesamum indicum)- soothes asthma.
- Tamarind (Tamarindus indica)- laxative.
- Thyme (Thymus/Thimbra) - pain reliever.
- Tumeric (Curcumae longa) - closes open wounds (also was used to dye skin and cloth).
- Poppy (papaver somniferum) - relieves insomnia, relieves headaches, anesthetic, soothes respiratory problems, deadens pain.
The Ebers Papyrus was purchased by Edwin Smith, an American adventurer residing in Cairo, in 1862 in Luxor. He kept the papyrus in his possession until 1869 when he placed it on sale. Three years later, the papyrus was again purchased in 1872 by the Egyptologist Georg Ebers, for whom the papyrus is named.
The papyrus is 110 pages long making it the largest medical papyri discovered to date. The exact date when the papyrus was composed is open to some debate due to conflicting dates about its origin that arise in the passage. One passage dates the papyrus to the 9th year of the reign of Amenhotep I which would place the papyrus to around 1534 BCE. However, a passage further down refers to one of the king's of lower Egypt that ruled around 3000 BCE.
The papyrus refers to a myriad of medical spells, treatments, surgeries, and diseases that afflicted the ancient Egyptians. For a full list of what is addressed in the papyrus see the links below.