Bloodletting was a popular method of restoring a patient's health and "humors." Early surgery, often done by barbers without anesthesia, must have been excruciating.
Medical treatment was available mainly to the wealthy, and those living in villages rarely had the help of doctors, who practiced mostly in the cities and courts. Remedies were often herbal in nature, but also included ground earthworms, urine, and animal excrement. Many medieval medical manuscripts contained recipes for remedies that called for hundreds of therapeutic substances--the notion that every substance in nature held some sort of power accounts for the enormous variety of substances. People outside the medical tradition administered many treatments. Coroners' rolls from the time reveal how laypersons often made sophisticated medical judgments without the aid of medical experts. From these reports we also learn about some of the major causes of death.
Medieval Folklore Therapies: Most folklore medicines were "simples" made of herbal ingredients, which were taken raw or in teas. One medicine that apothecaries (forerunners of chemists and pharmacists) dispensed was called "treacle" (theriac). Treacle was considered a cure-all. It was said to prevent internal swellings, cure fevers, unblock internal stoppages, alleviate heart problems, epilepsy, and palsy, get rid of blemishes, induce sleep, improve digestion, strengthen limbs, heal wounds, remedy snake bites, cure prolapsed uteruses, and cure the plague. .
The formula for treacle stems from a recipe developed by the Greek physician Galen and includes more than 60 ingredients, including the roasted skin of vipers. It took 40 days to make and 12 years to mature. .
Draping colored cloths from the bed and around a person infected with smallpox was a treatment that may have been related to magic and witchcraft. Or it could have been related to that fact that smallpox patients suffered from photophobia--the colored cloths may have protected them from the light.