The Romans used a wide variety of healing plants to treat illness and injury. Some such as Yarrow had been used for centuries before the Roman Empire. It was referenced in Homer’s Illiad, where Achillies himself uses it to treat a comrade’s wounds. The Romans built upon Greek medicine, using many of the healing techniques the older civilization pioneered for centuries. Roman cities were amongst the largest of the era, which lead to diseases spreading rapidly. This situation made the need for effective medicine crucial.

Herbs such as poppies were useful for their calming effects. Others like cinnamon were scarce and had to be imported from locations like India. It helped treat ailments like poisoned bites, menstrual disorders, and inflammation. The medicinal properties of cinnamon were so potent that it was considered more valuable than gold. A slightly less glamorous treatment was stinging nettles. Believed to have been brought to Britain by Julius Caesar, Roman soldiers used nettles to create a warming sensation. The naturalist Pliny the Elder recommended them as a source of food. History does not tell us if they went down well with his patients.

Artist: Rebecca Sgouros

Mutiple different plants used for healing by Romans

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Credit: Rebecca Sgouros and Open Past

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