Pliny the Elder (24.72.116) wrote:
Bruised holly leaves with added salt are beneficial for afflictions of the joints...Possibly two or three centuries later (we can't date the work for sure but it is often dated to the fourth century) an anonymous author whose work is referred to as the Medicina Plinii prescribed (3.1.3) a similar treatment:
Holly ground with added salt and oil is beneficial for the same thing [joint disease].This use of holly as a treatment was popular with ancient Latin medical authors, because a third medical author who probably dates to the fifth century, Marcellus Empiricus, provides another prescription (34.64):
Holly, rubbed down and applied with frankincense, salt, and oil relieves joints.The sources made no references to amounts, so I made it up as I went along. Now I must say, the holly used is most likely the incorrect type as it as grown in Australia and randomly found in my brother's yard (thanks Justin) and brought home by my mother (thanks Mum). When I first wrote up this research I was curious about the ongoing changes over time and thought the addition of oil would aid its application. Therefore, this not-at-all-scientific experiment was to compare between the three prescriptions to see what difference the development brought about.
Pliny's mix of holly and salt was very dry and doesn't adhere to the skin very well at all. I also think it stinks, even though my family didn't think it was that bad.
|Holly and Salt. Ground and applied|
|Comparison of the Holly and Salt to the Holly, Salt and Oil. Application of Holly, Salt, and Oil.|
|Left: Holly, Salt, and Frankincense before pounding. Middle: Holly, Salt, and Frankincense pounded; Right: application after oil was added to the preparation.|
|Left: Salt and Holly; Middle: Salt, Holly, and Oil; Right: Salt, Holly, Frankincense, and Oil.|
The joints on my left hand (which are the worst joints I applied this to) did start aching as I typed this blog, but this does not mean that this is an ineffectual treatment, and one person messing around in her kitchen not even measuring ingredients properly make no pretence at being a scientific study. My arthritis is described as spondyloarthritis and is a genetic form within the rheumatic diseases, and my sources state that this is for joint disease without any further definitions. For all I know, this could help people with osteoarthritis, and as I stated at the beginning, this is likely the wrong form of holly.
In any case, it has been fun to look at how over a period of perhaps five centuries, the treatment of joint diseases evolved and developed in my own kitchen.