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Medical Glossary

Glossary of Medical Terms from Isham's Confessions


compiled by Michelle DiMeo and Rebecca Laroche





severe fever, characterised by shaking, shivering and sweating



Almon[d]s in the throat





Almond Milk


medical preparation made from sweet blanched almonds and water



Bitonie (Betony)


a herb renowned for diverse medical benefits



Blething (Bleeding)


a 'fit of bleeding' refers to inordinate menstruation





Galenic doctrine used to correct an imbalance in the humours by releasing accumulations of a particular humour. There are various theories as to when, where, and how blood-letting should occur





a medicinal herb, used to comfort the heart and stimulate happiness



Coffe (Cough) of the Lungs


see Consumption



Coldness of stomach


possibly a form of indigestion, as the herbs used to cure this ailment were the same as those used to aid digestion



Consumtion (consumption, or tuberculosis)


most common symptoms affect the lungs, including coughing and difficulty in breathing





a restorative medicine





a compound made from a medical substance (which may be derived from plants, animals or minerals) which is boiled in a liquor until the substance dissolves in it



Elecampan (Elecampane)


a medicinal herb used as a tonic and stimulant





a sudden attack of a recurring illness





an abnormal amount of flowing of a substance



Foal-foot (also known as Colts-foot, or Horse-foot)


a herb, used as a cough suppressant





a medical wash that should be gargled, not swallowed



Gelop (Julep)


a sweet drink, sometimes medicinal itself and sometimes used to facilitate medical treatment



Glister a medicine injected into the anus to empty bowels; a suppository



Greene Sickness


an anaemic disease that produces a pale or 'green' tint to the complexion, which usually occurs in young women at the age of puberty





contractions in the bowels





medical belief that the body is comprised of four elements in nature, each of which has a corresponding bodily fluid. Imbalances can affect temperament and cause illness. The four humours are as follows: 1) Fire / Hot and Dry / Yellow Bile / Choleric; 2) Air / Hot and Moist / Blood / Sanguine; 3) Earth / Cold and Dry / Black Bile / Melancholic; 4) Water / Cold and Moist / Phlegm / Phlegmatic





a laxative medicine, used to incite bowel movements



Margerome (Marjoram)


medicinal herb





combination of mental and physical ailments, including sadness, introversion, thinness and paleness. It was thought to have been caused by an excess of black bile (the melancholic humour), or astrological influences such as being born under the planet Saturn



Mistiness of the eyes


a dimness or haziness of eyesight



Orring Pilles (Orange Peels)


an ingredient used in many medical preparations, usually dried and beaten, or infused in water



Palsie (Palsy)


paralysis of part of the body, often with shaking





a drug mixed with an inactive substance which was rolled into a small spherical shape and should be swallowed by mouth; similar to modern solid tablets that are taken as oral medication





medicine, or a medical substance





an adhesive liquid or solid which is either spread onto a bandage or directly onto the skin, at which point it solidifies and protects a wound; a precursor to modern plasters, or Band-Aids



Posit (Posset)


a medicinal drink, made from hot milk curdled with liquor and flavoured with herbs and spices





a liquid taken orally; though sometimes in reference to magical liquids, the term was also used for medicinal liquid compounds, as it is used here



Purpels (Purples)


purple spots, may occur on their own or as result of plague





the parts of a plant that grow below the ground



Rume (Rheum)







an ointment used to treat wounds



Sasafrus (Sassafras)


tree commonly called 'Ague Tree', since it was used to treat the ague. It grew in Spain, France, and North America, and its roots and bark were used for medicine





in astrological theories, Saturday was governed by Saturn, the cold and dry planet sometimes called "The Star of Melancholy". It could shape a melancholic temperament in a person born under its influence



The Sickness


refers to the plague, an epidemic disease primarily found in densely populated zones spread by rodents, primarily rats. England suffered from a succession of plagues from the 15th through 17th centuries, ending with the great plague of London in 1665



Spelne (Spleen)


the herb spleenwort, meant to alleviate problems of the spleen, which is the locus of melancholy (see Melancholy)



Strong water


any alcoholic beverage





probably an oil made from the herb swallowwort, which purportedly relieved cramps; though possibly an oil made from live swallows





to swoon, or to faint; as in a fainting fit





a thick sweet liquid; many recipes ask for syrup to be mixed with another ingredient (e.g. roses or almonds) to produce an oral medicine





a medicine used to stimulate vomiting, thought to cleanse the body of impurities



Wind collick


severe cramping in the bowels



Womans travell (travail)


labour pains








Gerard, John. The Herbal, or General History of Plants, London, 1663



McGrew, Roderick E. and Margaret P. McGrew, Encyclopedia of Medical


History, London: Macmillan, 1985



Oxford English Dictionary.