Saturday, April 20, 2013

I Want My Mummy! Two Strange Medieval Spices...

Medicinal jars circa 1300, originating in Syria, found in London 
Not all items classed as spices in the medieval period had a culinary use. Some were medicinal and not what we would regard as a spice today. One item a physician might require for his preparations for example was a spice known as 'tutty'. Tutty was a panacea consisting of charred scrapings from inside chimneys. But not just any chimney. It was no good popping up to the castle in summer and taking a surreptitious rasp while no one was looking, oh no. Tutty was specifically scrapings from more exotic, far away climes, its point of export being Alexandria. 

To go with your tutty, you might want another spice for your supply chest called 'momie', 'mumia' or 'mummy'. A drug handbook of 1166 defines 'mummy' as a kind of spice collected from the tombs of the dead. This doesn't mean thousands of years old Egyptian mummies as we might imagine, but sligthly more recently enbalmed corpses that still have a bit of give in them. A 15th century treatise tells us that it is 'A spice or confection found in the tombs of people who have been embalmed with spices, as they used to do in ancient times, and as the pagans near Babylon still do. This mummy is found near the brain and the spine. You should choose that which is shining black, bad smelling and firm.' Yuk.
Mummy was thought efficacious when combined with the juice of a plant called shepherd's purse in stopping excessive nose bleeding. Its main function was to stop bleeding. If someone was spitting blood becauses of injury or malady, they were advised to put a mummy pill under the tongue, the latter made from mummy, mastic powder and water in which gum arabic had been dissolved.

3 comments:

Lisa Palone said...

I was going to have that second cup of coffee... But maybe not now.

Sue said...

When I read things like this, I am stopped short with speculation about who the first person was who thought it would be a good idea to scrape up some human loam to use as a coagulant...and why!

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Me too, Sue. Where on earth does it come from?!