October 13


Scotland and the Healing Practices

Hello my wonderful lads and lassies,

Since the dawn of humans, we have been looking for ways to cure the various illnesses that afflict us. Especially since humans started gathering in large groups, there would be at least one person, usually male, who would treat patients with whatever knowledge existed at the time. 

Scotland, of course, was not different. It’s actually important to mention that the very early Scot civilizations might have been much more advanced than we think!

Let’s see a breakdown of Celtic Medicine in the history of Scotland! 🙂

Monks weighing out medicine. Image source.

Early Medicine

When we say early medicine, we mean early!  Little is known about the medical practices from when Scotland was nothing but scattered tribes and regional kings. However, what we do know, is that people would have used treatments based on folklore or rituals passed down through the generations. More specifically, they would rely a lot on seasons, astrology and legend. But of course, the Scotland of the time was influenced heavily by war and sword wounds; most medicine was applied on how to cure and prevent fermentation of injuries.

Primitive people in Scotland were highly capable of using quality flint tools and arrowheads, and demonstrated high levels of craftsmanship in working with the easily damaged flint. Of course, these were used in various fields, but primarily in war and medicine (two opposite ends, huh?). They most often used these tools in a procedure to cure evil or evil spirits in the head; they would cut open the head of the patient and then stitch it back together, using flint tools. 

It is likely that wounds of all sorts would have been treated by the application of cooling and restorative plants and herbs, varying according to locality, season and the cosmological and astrological cycles. Among the plants used for treatments were water pimpernel, club moss and, of course, mistletoe, a plant potent and sacred to druids. Upon its symbolic importance, the plant was reputed to cure infertility and also to provide an anti-poison agent. We now use it to steal kisses at Christmas, hahah!

This man's leg wound is being treated, while herbs for a soothing ointment or healing drink are being prepared. Image source.

The Dark Ages

Scotland in the Dark Ages was a mixture of Scots, Vikings, Celts, Romans and others. While there wasn’t, again, a unity in the healing practices, Christianism was made prevalent in the country by the Evangelists of the time, and influenced the way medicine was practiced. However, again, the healing practices were based a lot on seasons, and the phases of the moon. So, supernatural entities and Christian beliefs formed a hybrid of what would be medicine in Medieval Scotland!

For example, there was a very popular illustration among medical practitioners - the ‘zodiac man’. A representation of a human being, together with the symbols of the zodiac placed on the part of the body which would be affected if the individual became ill during the span of a particular sign. For example, if someone became ill in April, it meant that the neck would be affected, and therefore, should be cured. What an interesting, though, absurd idea that is!

Then, there was the notion of the ‘witch doctor’ - even though it would not have been called that, back then! (They used to burn the witches…). They could be either a man or a woman, who was believed to have the ‘gift’ of the healing practices. The healings they offered were derived from both the natural and supernatural world, and used a combination of incantation, ritual and the application or ingestion of herbal concoctions. 

Kilchoman. Image source.

Plants used in Healing

Of course, it is much well-known, as was mentioned above, that Scots would use a lot of animal or plant based concoctions to heal wounds, fevers, ailments, etc. For example, you might remember Skara Brae - the oldest civilization found in Europe. The people living there used the iris plant, which is said to be used as an astringent, a purgative, a clotting agent and a cold cure! For anti-inflammation, they would use skullcap, for burns dead-nettle, and for rheumatism juniper. To be honest, I had to google them to see which plants they were, and I am still not sure I’ve seen them before! 😛

Of course, Scotland believed a lot in Healing Waters.  The therapeutic uses of water, whether hot or cold, were many — bathing in it, drinking it either on its own or as part of a herbal tincture, pouring it from a height on the patient or applying it topically to the afflicted body part. The so-called ‘tea’ that they would drink for pleasure, they would also pour onto wounds and give patients to be treated for ailments. And to be honest, I think they were absolutely right. My grandma always said that nothing could feel better than a warm cup of tea when you are at your lowest. 🙂

Do you think most of the practices provided results, my dear? 

Let me know in the comments!

Until next time…
Written by
Lydia Kendall


Articles, Scottish Romance

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  • Very interesting article. As a certified aromatherapist, I know essential oils can be used for many purposes including healing wounds, etc. In researching for the presentations I do for various groups, I have found aromatic plants were found in a Neanderthal dig 60,000 years old. Some plants have been found to contain chemicals that are found in modern medicine.

  • I personally can’t see very many of them doing much good. They had to have helped in some way in order for them to be used for so long. Definite curiosity.

  • I wonder how long the people that they cut the evil out of their head lasted. It couldn’t have lasted very sanitary. I don’t know how much they helped the patients. Thank you Lydia for sharing. It definitely gave me the chills.

  • I think your granny was onto something!! Give me a good hot cuppa anyday but especially when I am feeling a tad under the weather. As for ye oldie methods, many healers were great at observation of all things in the natural world & no doubt experimented with a variety of herbs to see which were most efficacious in healing most complaints. Willowbark comes to mind & today it is still a good use for headache & lots of pains. Modern medicine still has uses for many plants & does employ them. The other ones are the use of maggots to help prevent gangrene & spider’s webs to encourage wounds to heal.

  • Yes,interesting it may be but many herbs and plants have been used quite well over the centuries. As seen in the18 th and 19 th centuries and are still valuable to this day.

  • Interesting article, The clan Beaton in Skye were well known as healers and they were healers to all the Scottish kings for centuries.

  • I think that some of the herbs did work because they are still being used today. The article was very interesting. Thank you.

  • Do you know herbs are still used for healing so I do believe they got some healing for some afflictions but not everything they used healed very interesting I still use herbs sometimes instead of Medicine

  • This article is great I had forgot what plants were used. My granny McGregor always believed in the old remedies. With severe stomach craps during my periods she put pepper in a cup of tea not stirred as I drank it, it eased the pains better than painkillers. I did this for years getting strange looks and comments from people. She tried to get me to let her pierce my ears but she wanted to use ice to numb it a hot sterilized needle and a potato to make sure it went through. I may decided i was not that brave

    • Hahahah your granny sounds like a fierce woman! We wish we were like her! (And we are going to use the remedy for period pains…)

  • I believe they work better than you think. Chemo nearly killed my daughter but was then treated by a Doctor who treated her with medical herbs for cancer it and is still alive today. She was 34 then and is 52 now. It has changed the way my family thinks and we are healthier for it. If anyone reading this is ill and can’t seem to get better find a Doctor that is an herbalist and give it a try. A friend of mine did and is doing much better. When life gives you lemons don’t just make lemonade change it, you may just like it better.

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