10 surprising facts about wine’s use in medicine
‘Self-medicating’ with a glass of Cab Sav at the end of a stressful day is nothing new, but doctors in days gone by relied heavily on wine as part of their healthcare arsenal
1. The Jewish Talmud, which was written between 536BC and 427AD, says that “Wine is the greatest of medicines.”
2. Greek physicians were the first to prescribe wine undiluted, and it was one of their most recommended medicines. A practitioner named Galen (131-201AD) was famed for treating gladiatorial combat wounds with wine for its antiseptic properties. He developed numerous wine and drug combinations known as Galenicals, which dominated western medicine for hundreds of years afterwards.
3. Renowned Roman scientist Pliny the Elder was a strong advocate of wine as medicine and in his work ‘Historia Naturalis’ – the famed encyclopaedia on plants and medicine – he lists no less than 100 different types of wines and their individual medical applications. Pliny also came up with the famous quotes ‘In vino sanitas’, meaning ‘In wine there is health’, and ‘In vino veritas’, meaning ‘In wine there is truth’.
4. Doctors in the Middle Ages would use compresses soaked in wine to help prevent infections and avoid smallpox and measles contamination.
5. In Medieval Europe, the general population would largely rely on monks for healthcare, and each different order of monks had its own ‘secret recipe’ for wine-based medicine. Some of these exist today, such as D.O.M. Benedictine.
6. Doctor Hieronymous Brunschwig (1450-1533) treated Alsatian soldiers and their gunshot wounds with ‘Aqua Vite Composite’, a mixture of strong Gascony wine, herbs and brandy. He claimed his concoction could “cure palsy, putteth away ring-worms, expel poison and it was most wholesome for the stomach, heart and liver”.
7. Hospitals in the 18th century relied heavily on wine as a medicine. In 1773, for example, the single biggest expense for Leicester Hospital was wine, while in Germany, 755 patients at the Alice Hospital in Darmstadt made their way through 4,633 bottles of white wine, 6,332 bottles of red and 60 bottles of Champagne during a six-month period!
8. Wine was used as a preventative medicine during the settlement of Sydney in Australia in 1787. English surgeon John White was in charge of the health of convicts, soldiers and settlers on board the first fleet sailing from England, and insisted on having plenty of wine available to keep everyone healthy during the six-month voyage.
9. Alcoholic drinks have served as a safe alternative to polluted and infected water throughout history, particularly during periods of cholera, typhoid and tuberculosis. Scientist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), who proposed germ theory and created pasteurisation, said wine was “the most healthful and hygienic of beverages”. Even in 1892, doctors recommended sterilising water with wine during cholera epidemics.
10. In 1992, Professor Serge Renaud’s groundbreaking ‘French Paradox’ article helped cement wine’s reputation as the healthiest alcoholic beverage when it demonstrated that, despite eating a diet high in fat, the French population suffered fewer cases of coronary heart disease than Americans because they drank wine. Since then, numerous studies have been published revealing wine’s many health benefits – providing, of course, that it’s taken in moderation!