The city of Kayseri, the inner court of an Armenian household (Source: B. Chantre, Klein-Azië. Reisherinneringen, in De Aarde en haar Volken, Haarlem, 1899)

Kayseri/Gesaria – Folk Medicine

Author: Adom H. Boudjikanian , 29/11/17 (Last modified 29/11/17) - Translator: Simon Beugekian

The geographic position of Gesaria and an overview of health conditions therein

It is an accepted fact that the climate of an area can have an effect on the lifestyle, daily practices, and health conditions of that area. In consideration of that fact, I hereby present an overview of the climate and geographic position of Gesaria.

The City of Gesaria (modern-day Kayseri; historical Caesarea) is located at an altitude of 1,050 meters, in the central section of historic Cappadocia, in the northern foothills of Mount Argaeus (Erciyes Daghi), an extinct volcano. The name Kayseri was also given to the larger sanjak (province), which, until the early years of the 20th century, was home to many small cities and villages that were populated by Armenians, including Talas, Tomarza, Evereg, Chomakhlou, Germir, Fenese, and Moundjousou [1]. At the end of the 19th century, the Armenian population of the City of Gesaria was 15,000 [2].

The area had a snowy, semi-arid climate, consisting of warm summer days and cool nights. Rain fell in the spring, early summer, and in the autumn [3]. The residents of Gesaria spent their summers in tents pitched in their orchards, where they spent their nights under the night sky [4]. This custom contributed to the reinvigoration of their organisms and the development of immunity against infectious diseases. Infections, alongside the harsh climate of the area and the lack of basic medical knowledge, posed a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of Gesaria residents. We will return to this subject later.

Henry Barkley, who visited the area in the late 19th century, remarked on the choice of the city’s location – “It seems strange that people should choose to live down on a damn flat plain, almost in a swamp, when within half a mile of them are beautiful hills” [5].    Other travelers, namely John MacDonald Kinneir and R.A. Hammond, also commented on the insalubrious conditions of the city. The former wrote in 1918 that “Nothing could exceed the filth and stench of the streets at this place. They were literally blocked up by dunghills, and no pains seemed to be taken to remove dead horses, dogs and cats, the offal of animals butchered in the market, and stagnant pools of water, at the sight of which I was almost every instant sickened with disgust” [6].

Gesaria/Kayseri, the St Garabed monastery and school (Source: Kurkjian family collection, Beirut)

And in 1878 Hammond reported that “The modern city of Kaisariyeh is walled; some of the houses are well-built, but the streets are narrow and dirty, and the place has, upon the whole, a ruinous and neglected appearance” [7].

Under such conditions, it is easy to understand how difficult it must have been to prevent the spread of infections and epidemics among the population.

In fact, a British source notes that in 1847, cholera claimed 600 victims in the area. Gesaria was struck by three famines, one in 1820/1821, the second in 1845, and the third in 1873/1874. These events led to an exponential rise in the number of the hungry and destitute in the city. Thanks to the recordings of Reverend M. Farnsworth [8], we know of efforts that were organized in the city to distribute aid to beggars and the destitute. Predictably, hunger claimed more victims among those who were weak and sickly.

Given that children are some of the most vulnerable in any human society, it is likely that the prevailing unhealthy conditions resulted in a high rate of infant mortality, especially in the smaller and more isolated villages of the district.

Kayseri: an Armenian couple (Source: Ferdinand Brockes, Quer durch Klein-Asien, Gütersloh, 1900)

What do we know of the diet of the people of Gesaria?

Science has long known that the quantity and quality of the food one consumes can greatly impact one’s general well-being. Proper, healthful nutrition can prevent or help the organism fight off many conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and osteoporosis. A healthy diet consists of plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole-grain cereals, and bread products. These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and among other essential nutrients, they contain high levels of fiber, which counteracts the effects of toxic substances within the organism. A healthy diet is one that limits the consumption of oily meats and the fat they contain, makes generous use of vegetable oils, and limits the consumption of salt and calories [9].

Based on this knowledge, we will now evaluate the diet of Armenians in different regions of Gesaria.

Kayseri: a street inside the castle (Source: Alfred Boissier, En Cappadoce, notes de voyage, Genève, 1897)

Small farming villages (like Chomakhlou, Djundjun, and Inje-Sou): In his book on Gesaria, Arshag Alboyadjian quotes the following passage from Aris Kalfayan’s work, Chomakhlu (Chomakhlu, Gotchnak Press, New York, 1930) – “Our ancestors had an extremely austere and frugal diet, and yet they were strong and blessed with longevity” [10]. This hardiness was attributed to the people’s strict observance of religious fasts, and to their propensity of consuming a simple diet on a regular basis, consisting of milk, yogurt, tanabour (yogurt soup) with rye or cracked wheat, and eggs. Meat was not an important part of their diet, and was served only on special occasions. Alongside wheat flour, the locals also used rye flour. Notably, modern medicine recommends rye (Secale cereale) bread to those who suffer from diabetes.

Talas: inside the town (Source: W.J. Childs, Across Asia Minor on Foot, Edinburgh/London, 1917)

The more prosperous villages of the Evereg-Fenes and Tamarza areas: The aforementioned frugality in nutrition was also the norm in these villages, but the locals ate more meat, honey, fruit molasses, and legumes [11]. This latter family of plants included chickpeas, kidney beans, and fava beans, all of which contain as much protein as meat. Other important crops in these areas included potatoes, spinach, pumpkins, lettuce, and eggplants [12].

The larger cities –  Evereg and Gesaria: Here, the situation was different, as meat was an essential element of people’s diet. The people of Gesaria had eight different meat dishes, while the people of Evereg had three. These dishes consisted of generously seasoned sausages (irishkik, sujuk) and a type of cured meat (beef or camel) coated with a paste containing fenugreek, which in Evereg was called chor mis (“dry meat”), and in Gesaria was called basterma. The homemakers of Gesaria also baked various pastries, and in the city, cured meats “played the role of the common cheese”, writes Alboyadjian [13].

A diet rich in meat has a negative effect on health. Battaglia Ritchie et al, in their study titled “Health risks associated with meat consumption: a review of epidemiological studies”, reach the conclusion that the regular consumption of meat, and especially processed meat, correlates with mortality caused by cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and adult-onset diabetes [14]. For his part, Alboyadijan cites the case Doctor Varanian, an Armenian physician working in Istanbul – 90 percent of his patients who suffered from stomach cancer were from Gesaria [15].

Indisputably, the diet of Armenians in Gesaria, especially in urban areas, was not in line with modern medical advice. Added to this was the fact that the men of Gesaria, who were heavy smokers, also made abundant use of homemade arak and wine throughout the year, jeopardizing their health even further [16]. Fortunately, women partook in alcohol only once a year, on the Paregentan holiday.

Kayseri: the town and Mount Argaeus/Erciyes Dağı (Source: W.J. Childs, Across Asia Minor on Foot, Edinburgh/London, 1917)

Popular beliefs regarding medicine in Gesaria

Among these popular beliefs were the miraculous, curative power of prayer and pilgrimage; mystical forces; the influence of good (or evil) spirits; and other superstitious beliefs.

Cassia acutifolia (senna)
Potato

Childbirth

In the villages, and even in the cities, childbirth was performed by midwives who had accumulated traditional knowledge, or in the best of cases, by nurses.

To ease the pains of labor, the birthing woman’s mother-in-law would overturn a pot, then give her raw meat to swallow. The mother-in-law would also store water in her lap, and give it to the birthing woman to drink. After asking the husband to leave the home and cutting the newborn’s umbilical cord, other types of “sorcery” would be performed to keep evil spirits away from the newborn. The mother would be bathed in light for 24 hours, to ensure that she did not fall asleep and have bad dreams. When the mother slept, her husband’s belt and underpants would be placed on her blanket, while under her pillow would be a pair of scissors, a penknife, a cross, a Bible, a skewer, and two onions. If the mother had to leave the home, she would take the skewers with her, in order to defend herself from any spirits that could waylay her. As for the onions, these were thrown out of the door when the newborn was baptized, while calling out “ar dzanrutyunei, door tetevutyunet” [take on your heft, leave behind your lightness]. This was done to rid the newborn of any pains. The new mother was instructed to drink an infusion of senna (Cassia acutifolia) to soothe constipation [17].

An Armenian grandmother with her grandchild - a detail of the photograph (Source: B. Chantre, Klein-Azië. Reisherinneringen, in De Aarde en haar Volken, Haarlem, 1899)

As for the newborns, they were bathed in lukewarm water, and then salt was applied to their armpits. The skin of the armpits of newborns is very delicate, and one can imagine the pain that these infants endured due to both the irritation of the skin, and poisoning by the salt absorbed though the skin. Some boys were nursed until the age of five. To “cut them off from milk,” ground pepper was applied to the mothers’ nipples [18]. It is well-known that breast milk contains immunoglobulin A (IgA) and other antimicrobial components, such as lactoferrin, which boost immunity against infectious diseases. While nursing, children are particularly well-protected against diarrhea, middle ear infections (otitis media), respiratory tract infections, neonatal septicemia, and influenza. Many studies indicate the longer children are breastfed, the longer they are protected against these conditions [19]. Is breastfeeding a child into the age of five beneficial? The Australian Breastfeeding Association, in one of its publications, recommends breastfeeding a newborn for at least six months, and a mixed diet of breast milk and other foods for up to 12 to 24 months. After the age of two, the Association recommends maintaining a mixed diet, including breast milk, for as long as the mother and child desire [20].

Before concluding this section on childbirth, it would be useful to examine the possibility of long-term preservation of breast milk. We know that certain plants have galactagogues properties, among them anise (Pimpinella anisum) and fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) [21].  According to Alboyadjian, the people of Gesaria harvested these plants and stored them for winter [22]. We also know that basterma was a staple Gesaria’s diet, and basterma’s dark red coating contains ever-fragrant fenugreek.

When the time came to wean the infant, the mother would mark the ceremony by walking beneath a bag of ashes mixed in milk, or someone would surprise her by spraying water on her chest [23].

The city of Talas. The entirety of the Upper neighborhood can be seen to the right of the photograph, while a portion of the Lower neighborhood can be seen to the left. The big building in the center is the Greek church with its bell tower. The bell tower and the cupola of the St. Asdvadzadzin Armenian church of the Upper neighborhood can be seen further up. The American missionary schools and hospital can be seen to the right of the Armenian church at the same height. Photograph by the Sdepanian brothers. (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice)

Pilgrimage Sites

The monasteries and chapels of Gesaria, whether standing or in ruins, all served as pilgrimage sites for the locals. Pilgrimage sites also included certain caves and crypts. Notably, there was no tradition of icon worship in Gesaria. Instead of praying to icons, people expressed their piety by lighting candles and making gifts. For example, women would often offer the golden threads they tied into their hair to the shrines of local saints. People came on pilgrimages to beseech for the realization of their wishes, for financial prosperity, or to seek miraculous cures for their diseases or guidance finding their future spouses. Barefooted mothers would walk to the gates of monasteries to seek cures for their children’s diseases. The most famed of the pilgrimage sites in Gesaria was the tomb of Saint Garabed, housed inside of the eponymous monastery. Pilgrimages to this site were undertaken on the Sunday of Vartavar, (the celebration of the Transfiguration of the Lord) with the pilgrims setting out from their homes, alongside the animals they intended to offer to the shrine, on the preceding Friday. The monastery provided rooms for the visitors, who not only filled the coffers with money and valuable items, but also paid madaghakin or badarakuts (fees paid to purchase animals to slaughter and gifts to the monastery). The monasteries of Saint Daniel and Saint Krikor, close to the Saint Garabed Monastery, also had many visitors on this particular pilgrimage day. The pilgrims took back home gifts of “miraculous soil” (juhar) for those who had not been able to make the journey [24].

Talas, the St Toros Armenian church of the Lower neighborhood (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice)

Spirits and other superstitions

The “old crows” of Gesaria and Moundjousoun believed in the existence of good and evil spirits, and in their influence on daily life. Many believed that some of these evil spirits, namely the als or the ghara-ghouras, appeared as young brides and “trampled fecund women, removed their lungs, and threw them in the water,” killing them in the process. The women could only save themselves by biting the ghara-ghouras’ fingers. People also believed that spirits could spread diseases. They could possess children and cause tetanus and convulsive shocks. How could one be protected from spirits? By making the sign of the cross and by reciting special prayers before going to bed. One of these prayers read –

… Lousavorich baban hos e,
Pilone vras dzadzgots e…”
[25]

[… Father Illuminator [Gregory the Illuminator] is here,
His mantle is my blanket…]

If a member of a family was deemed to be mentally ill, or “crazy”, as they were then called, although this was sometimes viewed as a “blessing” for the household, it was common practice to take the affected individual to the Greek monastery of Zindji-Dere, where the Bible would be read to them to rid them of evil spirits [26].

To prevent the introduction of fleas into homes during the warm season, the people of Gesaria would scatter ash on their thresholds. Another practice was the piercing of a white poplar with a nail on Good Friday, which was believed to prevent the appearance of pimples and boils on the body. Also on Good Friday, people believed that they could rid themselves of chronic pains by washing their heads [27].

To treat neonatal jaundice, the people of Gesaria placed bread on the child’s skin, while the people of Talas hung gold on the child.

To prevent crossed eyes (strabismus), the people of Evereg and Talas poured the baptismal water used for the child in question in an area that would not be trodden. As for the people of Moundjousoun, they believed that crossed eyes could be prevented if during the baptismal ceremony, those present refrained from looking backwards.

To treat children who suffered from delayed speech development, the people of Efkerets placed the key of the Saint Garabed Monastery three times into the infant’s mouth [28].

In Moundjousoun and Evereg, parents asked the elderly to spit into their children’s mouths, believing that this would bless their children with longevity.

Silver “moldings” of body parts causing pain would be taken to the monasteries of Saint Garabed, Saint Hagop, or Saint Toros and Minas, believing that the pain could be treated remotely.

To treat those who had been struck by an evil eye, an old woman would pierce a loaf of bread with the tip of a knife, and then spin the bread above the subject’s head seven times while reciting the Lord’s Prayer [29].

Insomnia was treated by placing snake skin underneath the patient’s pillow.

Children who cried excessively were smacked in the mouth with their fathers’ slippers on a Friday.

Returning to the topic of nursing mothers, those who suffered from pain in their breasts women would spread out the long hair of their oldest daughters on the affected breast, and then they and their eldest daughters took turns combing the hair covering the breast [30].

To divine the gender of someone who had cast an evil eye on another, the ladies of Gesaria who deemed themselves to be skilled seers dripped melted lead into cold water, and based on the shape (flat or lumpy) of the lead after it solidified, divined the gender of the culprit. However, Alboyadjian writes that the people of Gesaria were intelligent and practical, and abandoned many such superstitions and practices long before the people of neighboring provinces [31].

Saddlebag, woven carpet and leather, Kayseri/Gesaria. The person depicted here is probably St. Kevork (St. George); his presence keeps away evil and misfortune. This saddlebag, heybe as they would call it in Turkish, was made by Sultan & Krikor Sarkisians, who brought it with them to Cyprus when they moved here in 1932 from Kayseri/Gesaria (Source: Annie Sarkisian Demirdjian collection, Nicosia, Cyprus)

Other popular medical treatments

These other treatments included water treatments (hydrotherapy), used to treat conditions like arthritis (there were many hot springs in the area); natural medicinal treatments (herbs, animal products, and minerals); massages; surgical interventions; and bonesetting.

In this article, we have already mentioned European travelers’ justifiably scathing descriptions of the health conditions in the sanjak of Gesaria. Conditions were probably better in the large cities like the City of Gesaria. Alboyadjian informs us that city residents prevented the spread of infectious diseases by implementing simple antiseptic measures. Among these measures was the steaming of branches of the cedar tree dipped in vinegar, which filled the home with essential oils with antimicrobial properties [32]. Modern phytotherapy confirms the antimicrobial qualities of many of the ingredients of the fragrance of cedar trees [33].

Natural medicinal treatments for various diseases/disorders [34]

Eye diseases

Eye pain

Our source provides information on the treatment of eye pain, but do not specify whether this information related to pain caused by infections of the conjunctiva, the cornea, or the eyelids. We simply know that the people of Gesaria who suffered from eye pain washed their eyes with an infusion of marsh mallow leaves. Modern medicine has established that marshmallow (Althea officinalis) has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and demulcent properties. In folk medicine, this plant is not noted as a treatment for eye pain, but was often used to treat internal infections, such as those of the respiratory tract (coughs, throat pain), mouth infections, stomach aches, and ulcers. It was also used to treat external infections, such as boils and varices [35]. Still, given its chemical composition, it is likely that marsh mallow was an effective treatment for certain external infections of the eye.

Althaea officinalis (marsh-mallow)
Cedrus libani (cedar)

Ocular discharge

The human eye may produce a liquid discharge, sometimes purulent, which can be caused by lengthy exposure to dust or direct sunlight, irritation resulting from the common cold, or keratitis. This discharge coats the eyelids with a sticky substance. To wash off this discharge, the people of Gesaria used the “oil of eggs”, or egg yolk, which contains a mixture of oils, as well as lecithin, cholesterol, biotin (vitamin B7), immunoglobulin, lutein, and zeaxanthin [36]. The oil can dissolve the sticky film and open the eyelid, and the immunoglobulin has antimicrobial properties. Another common treatment was the milk of a woman nursing a female child. We know that a woman’s milk contains a certain percentage of oil, and as we saw in the “Childbirth” section, it provides protection against infectious diseases. We were unable to ascertain why it was preferable that the woman be nursing a female child. People also used compresses dipped in honey to treat eye pain. Honey contains a substance called propolis, which has antimicrobial properties.

Ear diseases

Onion
Allium ampeloprasum (wild leek)

Ear pain

People dipped the core of an onion into a special oil, which had antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties [37]. They then placed the core of the onion inside of their ear. This special oil, called Bekir oil, could not be specifically identified, but it probably served to dissolve the oil-soluble ingredients of the onion core, in order to facilitate the introduction of these substances into the ear.

Deafness

(The information provided here does not specify what level of deafness was addressed by these treatments, nor the causes of deafness that these treatments addressed).

The people of Gesaria filled a slice of apple with incense and baked it in a tonir. This baked slice of apple was used to “open the ears” of the deaf. Incense is a gum/resin extracted from the frankincense (Boswellia carterii), Spanish juniper (Juniperus thurifera), or boswellia (Boswellia sacra) plants, and when heated, it produces a vapor that has antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties [38]. It can be presumed that this baked, hot slice of apple, acting as a tampon, introduced a large amount of vapor into the ear, which in its turn softened accumulated ear wax, thus opening the channels of the ear, and treating deafness caused by the blocking of these channels by earwax. The people of Evereg used a different sort of tampon to open the ear channels, consisting of rotten tar and wild leek (Allium ampeloprassum).  This plant, like other garlic species, contains ingredients that have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic properties [39]. It can be presumed that the vapor produced by these substances also softened ear wax, opening up the inner channels of the ear.

Boswellia sacra
Juniperus oxycedrus (juniper)

Treatments for other types of pain

Tooth pain and mouth blisters

To treat tooth pain and mouth blisters, the people of Gesaria used the oil of the dried buds of cloves, which contains eugenol, which has proven antiseptic and painkilling properties [40]. The locals gargled their mouths with a mixture of clove oils and arak. Arak contains alcohol, which can act as a local anesthetic.  Other treatments included ground red pepper, which contains capsaicin, a spice and a painkiller. Yet another treatment was arak mixed with ground pepper pulp. This mixture resulted in a poultice that was placed on the painful tooth. There was also the mixture of ground pepper and flour, which was used as a poultice, and was placed on the cheek closest to the painful tooth. Nicotine also has short-term analgesic properties [41], and the people of Gesaria drew tobacco smoke over the painful tooth. To dry out wet blisters in the mouth, and to stop them from becoming irritated, the people of Gesaria used an astringent compound consisting of the ashes of gallnut, alum, and nicotine.

Alum
Gallnut

Headaches

Many cultures have used henna (Lawsonia alba) as a dye. However, the people of Gesaria made a paste out of the leaves of this plant, and applied this paste to their aching heads. According to the information gathered by Nizamuddin et al, henna contains multiple substances that have medicinal properties, which may act as antiseptics, analgesics, or antipyretics [42]. Insufflated vinegar has similar properties, and contains acetic acid, a constituent of aspirin. Another treatment for headaches was rubbing arak on the sick person’s forehead. Arak contains alcohol and anise essential oils, which cool down the organism by evaporating, and allowing the patient to “forget the pain”. People also used compresses to soothe pain, by applying pressure on certain nerves, thus stemming the sensation of pain. The people of Gesaria used these compresses to tie salted onions and potatoes around their foreheads with bandanas. As for white mustard (Sinapis alba), its seeds have been used throughout history, in different ways, in folk medicine, both externally and internally. Mustard seeds have been tied to the skin, or have been turned into mustard paste. This latter form of treatment has been used to treat arthritis. Mustard seeds contain sulfuric counter-irritants, which cause localized inflammation, allowing patients to overlook other pain stimuli, such as headaches [43]. The people of Gesaria would dip their feet in a hot aqueous slurry of mustard to treat headaches. They also applied mustard paste to their backs to induce sweating and combat common colds.

Lawsonia inermis/alba (henna, hina)
Sinapis alba (white mustard)

Cough treatments

External treatments: Patches dipped in various solutions were applied to the chest. Among them were patches dipped in a solution of honey and peppers, which are rich in the heat-inducing analgesic capsaicin. Compresses of cotton that had been exposed to the vapor of burning incense were also used to treat coughs.

Internal treatments: Demulcent and antiseptic preparations were consumed to treat coughs. Among these were boiled marsh mallow (see treatments for eye pain), figs boiled in milk, and a sucking of rock or crystal candy. This crystallized sugar was popularly known as nabat sheker.

Various diseases/disorders

Hives (urticaria)

Patients were instructed to drink apricot pulp and the liquid extract of Armenian bole (bolus armenicus). According to the monogram Apricot [44], this particular fruit contains vitamins A and C, as well as other ingredients that have antibiotic properties. In the first century CE, The Cilician/Greek botanist/physician Dioscorides, in his work De Materia Medica, mentions the medicinal properties of Armenian bole. According to the modern pharmacology, the extract of this clay may treat digestive disorders, the effects of poisons, and the effects of animal and insect bites/stings [45]. We can conclude that the extract drunk by the residents of Gesaria did, in fact, soothe the terrible itching caused by hives. This same extract was probably also an effective treatment for internal poisoning. In cases of poisoning, the Armenians of Gesaria also resorted to drinking tan (doogh; diluted yogurt).

Bolus armenicus (Armenian bole)

Scorpion stings

According to the Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org), scorpion stings generally do not require medical treatment if the victim does not develop severe symptoms such as breathing difficulties, convulsions, allergic reactions, an increase in blood pressure, or pain [46]. Still, the people of Gesaria treated scorpion stings by rubbing the affected area with olive oil, having drowned a live scorpion in the olive oil beforehand. Olive oil has anti-bacterial, pain-killing, and slight anti-allergic properties [47]. We were unable to ascertain the benefits of drowning the live scorpion in the olive oil without stepping into the ambiguous realm of homeopathic theories.

Nausea

Patients were instructed to drink an infusion of lemon and mint.

Diuretic interventions

Patients were instructed to drink an infusion of parsley and corn silk. Modern medical knowledge substantiates the use of parsley in such instances [48]. As for the corn silk, it is also used as a treatment for kidney stones and urinary tract infections [49].

Corn silk
Pimpinella anisum (anise)
Syzygium aromaticum (clove)
Trigonela foenum graecum (fenugreek, chemen/çemen)

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is protected by a waxy coating, and is thus quite resilient. The people of Gesaria drank the blood and ate the meat of dog pups to treat this condition.  Such odd practices to treat tuberculosis can be found among the ancestors of the Britons, who ate roasted meet, jelly prepared from deer antlers, and drank buttermilk [50].

Disorders of the digestive tract

Diarrhea: patients were instructed to drink ginger (Zingiber officinalis) juice and rice paste. Rice starch, after being cooked, turns into a jelly and absorbs intestinal fluids. Ginger, on the other hand, has antispasmodic properties [51]. Diarrhea can also be accompanied by colics, which are the result of spasms in the intestinal tract. Another treatment for diarrhea was pignut (Conopodium majus). We were unable to ascertain the exact chemical composition of this nut. As for those who suffered from intestinal pains, they were instructed to place a hot brick on their abdomens. However, this may lead to complications in the case of intestinal infections.

Zingiber officinalis (ginger)
Conopodium majus (pignut)

Fevers

On the day patients were diagnosed with fevers, they were instructed to bathe in cold water.  They were then instructed to drink a mixture of lemon juice and egg shells. This drink was consumed after the preparation had been stored overnight outside, in the cold. Lemon contains anti-inflammatory flavonoids, while egg shells contain glycosaminoglycans, which can actually address the true causes of fevers, thus treating them. In Evereg, another treatment for fever was a mixture of garlic and vinegar. As we have already mentioned, vinegar has properties similar to aspirin, and this would be augmented by the antipyretic ingredients in garlic [52].

Treatments for hemorrhoids

This condition is characterized by the painful swelling and prolapsing of the veins in the rectum. This is accompanied by inflammation, itching, and bleeding, especially in cases of vigorous bowel movements, such as those experienced by individuals suffering from constipation. To ease constipation, patients were instructed to expose their backsides to the steam of boiling water or vinegar (the latter also has painkilling properties). Another suggested treatment was exposure to the steam of the boiling leaves of the tree mallow (Lavatera arborea) plant. We know that plants in the Malvaceae family have anti-inflammatory properties, and contain ingredients that soften the membranes. However, it is unknown whether these ingredients are present in the steam of the boiled plants. There were two other treatments for hemorrhoids in Gesaria, which cannot be explained by modern medicine – patients were instructed to eat camel meat, or to eat fried frog meat.

Massage/kinetic treatments; surgical treatments and bone setting; and hydrological treatments

Massage

Massages were used to treat arthritis and nervous contractions. There were two main types of massages:

  • The patient was massaged with salt and arak, the local panacea, to induce sweating. Such massages and the “manipulation of the flesh” in bathhouses were widespread practices in this part of the world.
  • Patients were instructed to lie down in the prone position, and a child was asked to walk on their backs.

Kinetic treatments

These treatments were used to prevent or treat certain conditions. For example, in cases of nosebleeds, people were instructed to hold their heads up or hold their arms above their heads. In cases of snakebites, a tourniquet was applied to the area of the bite, in order to prevent the spread of venom. The venom was also sucked out of the wound, and the wound was then covered. To revive those who had fainted, the locals bit their pinky fingers.

Linus usitatissimum (flax)
Hibiscus esculentus (okra)

Surgical interventions

  • Infections of the nail cuticles or paronychia: this condition was caused by wounds around the nail that became infected. To treat such infections, patients were instructed to place their infected fingers in a toad’s rectum. It is unknown whether the rectal lining of a toad contains chemicals with antibiotic properties. Another treatment was to tie flax (Linus usitatissimum) around the wound, using a cloth compress, or to treat the wound with sugar in order to drain it.
  • To promote the healing of wounds, patients were instructed to tie okra (Hibiscus esculentus) or sesame halva with tahini around theirs boils. When boils popped, in order to drain the pus, patients would cover the area with a dressing of bee wax mixed with olive oil. Boils were also covered by a poultice of marsh mallow.
  • To treat swellings, bread boiled in wine was tied to the affected area.
  • To treat sword or knife wounds, a mouse pup’s extract in olive oil, was applied to the wounds. The young pups’ bodies probably produce compounds that have tissue-healing properties.
  • In the case of thorns that were stuck in the body, the affected area was treated with an oily extract roasted onion and using a special type of oil. We were unable to ascertain the exact composition of this oil.
  • Bloodletting of infants: The people of Gesaria had a custom of releasing a small amount of blood from newborns prior to the 40th day after their birth, in order to “rid” the newborn of dirty blood. During the spring, women were also bled. This operation was performed in the baths, where women placed leeches on different parts of the body to facilitate the bloodletting.
  • Lesions and bruises: Bruises that appeared as a result of beatings (such as prison beatings or the use of the bastinado), the affected area was covered by raisin pulp poultice. Grapes and raisins contain flavonoids and tannins, which have anti-inflammatory properties, and also strengthen the walls of the veins in the skin.

Bone setting

- Broken or dislocated bones or limbs: Bonesetters manipulated bones and restored dislocated bones to their original positions. After this operation was performed, the affected area was wrapped in the skin from a sheep’s head. Or, the affected area was treated with a mixture of arak and incense prior to being dressed. Poultices of tar, black pepper, and other spices were also used for this purpose. Areas that had been dislocated were also treated with poultices of soap and egg whites. Poultices of tar and spices probably helped by generating heat in the affected areas thus speeding up bone metabolism, and contributing to the healing of the fractures.

Hydrotherapy

The natural springs around Gesaria were used to provide water treatments. Towels soaked in hot mineral water were used to treat pains. Cold water was used only to revive those who had lost consciousness.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that our main source of information on popular medicine in historic Gesaria was Arshag A. Alboyadjian’s History of Gesaria, Volume B, which was published in 1937, this work was sufficient to provide us with accurate information on the state of public health in Gesaria.

Since the early days of civilization, Cappadocia has been in the crossroads of eastern and western civilizations. Therefore, it is not surprising that the people of the area had accumulated ancestral knowledge from times immemorial, and used this knowledge they had inherited in various aspects of life, including medicine and health care.

The people of Gesaria created and used a large variety of medical treatments. In some agricultural areas, the customs of fasting and eating frugally also contributed to maintaining the good health of the population. However, in contrast to favorable conditions, we have ascertained that residents of many parts of Gesaria faced challenging hygienic conditions, while the residents of the City of Gesaria also suffered the negative effects of their unhealthy diets.

Sources

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