Ancient Use of Rocks and Minerals in Medicine and Drugs

Ancient Use of Rocks and Minerals in Medicine and Drugs

Posted by Oak Rocks on 19th Jul 2023

Here are some of the many rocks and minerals used for medicinal purposes in the past.

This information is presented strictly for fun and education. We do not offer any medical advice, DO NOT suggest you ingest any type of rock or mineral, and firmly advise you to consult your doctor about any health issue you may be experiencing.

Belief in the supernatural healing properties of rocks, crystals and minerals bringing peace, wellness and protection goes back beyond recorded history. In ancient times, drugs were not just used for physical maladies, but were also associated with religious and spiritual healing. Religious leaders or medicine men were often the administrators of drugs. Prehistoric humans probably had their first medicinal experiences through eating earth and clays. They may have copied animals, observing how some clays had healing qualities, when animals ingested them. The earliest drugs were derived mainly from plant products and supplemented by animal materials and minerals.

The earliest recorded use of medicinal drugs was in Mesopotamian times. A list of 30 different medicinal substances was written on clay tablets around 2,100 B.C. that included animals, vegetables and minerals.

The library of the Assyrian King Assurbanipal at Ninevah was also written on clay tablets in the 7 th century B.C. It includes 120 minerals for medical uses. Assyrian and Babylonian texts contain descriptions of the magical medical powers of minerals. At the time it was believed that diseases were caused by ghosts and spirits. Minerals, like lapis-lazuli, hematite and native copper were used as talismans to protect from evil spirits. Minerals were also pulverized and drunk or used as lotions to rub into your skin.

The Alchemists of Alexandria developed an “elixir” made of liquid gold. They believed it would cure a multitude of diseases as well as restore youth and perfect health.

The Ebers papyrus, written in Egypt around 1500 B.C. has many recipes for medical drugs that contain minerals; such as alum, copper, and halite. Malachite was also a popular ingredient for medicine, believed to cure, as some preserved medical scrolls describe, diseases of the abdomen and dental problems.

In the 3 rd century A.D., a Greek physicians named Galen, wrote a list of 473 drugs made from animal, vegetable and mineral origins. Perhaps the greatest Greek contribution to the medical field was to dispel the notion that diseases were due to supernatural causes or spells.

In the Middle East pharmacy shops were common that sold rare and exotic, and expensive, drugs made from minerals. And court apothecaries stockpiled drugs made from minerals, including gold, precious gems, and silver. Monastic pharmacies used minerals as well.

In the New World, Aztecs built an extensive collection of plants, animals and minerals for their medicinal values.

In India medicine, called Ayurvedic medicine, can be traced back 3000 to 5000 years and was practiced by the Brahmin sages of ancient times. According to Indian sources dating to the 13th century, diamonds were pulverized and ingested medicine against impotence and to increase longevity. Aquamarine cured fever and topaz was used for skin diseases.

Minerals are rich in resources in China and are still believed to have significant curative effects as medicines, and are a unique component of traditional Chinese medicine. The use of drugs made from minerals have a history of more than 2000 years. Fifty-two disease prescriptions, the earliest existing medical classic, recorded the clinical application of 20 kinds of mineral drugs, such as realgar, cinnabar, saltpeter, gypsum, calamine, and ochre. Chinese remedies called for the use of fossil remains of extinct animals. Many fossil species were described from such material recovered in traditional apothecaries.

Arsenic sulfide is used in traditional Chinese medicine to kill parasitic worms and treat sore throats, swellings, abscesses, itching, rashes, and malaria. Galena, a lead mineral, is used to treat ringworm, skin disorders and ulcers, and is thought to "detoxify" the body. It is crushed and taken orally or used on the skin. Lead tetroxide is used to treat anxiety, itching, and malaria. Mercury sulfide (cinnabar) has historically been used in Chinese medicine, where it is called zhūshā, and was highly valued in Chinese Alchemy. Cinnabar has been used in Traditional Chinese medicine as a sedative for more than 2000 years, and has been shown to have sedative and toxic effects in mice. In addition to being used for insomnia, cinnabar is thought to be effective for cold sores, sore throat, and some skin infections. Please note that all three of these minerals are known to be extremely toxic!

Islamic medical books show a great influence of Roman and Greek medicine. Fossils and precious gemstones were used for tonics to cure or strengthen the inner organs.

Medical drug development started to follow more scientific techniques in the late 1800s. More drugs were made in manufacturing plants, as opposed to using drug products made from natural sources. After World War I, the modern pharmaceutical industry was founded. From the early 1930s, drug discovery concentrated on screening natural products and isolating the active ingredients that worked for treating diseases and of isolation and purification of compounds, chemical synthesis, and computer-aided drug design. These man-made or synthetic versions, have to go through many tests to ensure they are safe and effective. The use of natural minerals used in drugs has been curbed because of the problems of inferior water solubility, high content of heavy metals, and in some cases, severe toxicity.

Be sure to check back next month as I plan on writing about minerals that we humans need to survive, and minerals that are still used today in medicinal drugs.

Thanks for reading and happy hunting!