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A tome from the Middle Ages, "The Anatomy of the Elder" details the use of the Elder or Elderberry tree as a physic for a raft of illnesses and makes for intriguing reading.

Book Review: ‘Anatomia Sambuci: The Anatomy of the Elder’ by Dr. Martin Blochwich

6648f45035a47efdafeee4d3f3f056e4_LThe first English edition of Anatomia Sambuci (The Anatomy of the Elder) was published in 1655. It was an accidental but providential discovery, made while researching the history of elderberry-based remedies. In 2010, the book was brought back to life by BerryPharma, in a remarkable labor of love that has tremendous relevance in the world of modern natural healing.

The book, which details countless remedies for physical and mental ailments from head to toe, adult to child, was originally published in Latin in 1644. It’s a remarkable example of medieval, plant-based medicine, much of which still has use today. This new edition is a careful translation, drawing from a 1677 manuscript of the book. It keeps to the spirit of the language, but makes it clearer where clarity was needed. Footnotes have been added for unfamiliar and archaic terms, such as “chyle,” which was a medieval term for lymph and fat-based bodily fluids; and “lithonthrypic,” which pertains to conditions that damage the bladder or kidneys.

The book’s original author, Dr. Martin Blochwich, devoted his career to the undertaking, painstakingly refining and adjusting recipes for tinctures, extracts, powders, poultices — all made from different parts of the Elder, which then grew in profusion throughout Northern Europe. The tree had been known since ancient times to contain healing properties, but just how to make them was not entirely known, and certainly not standardized.

One can imagine Blochwich, sweating over a mortar and pestle as he ground yet another berry-based liquid, measuring out just the right amount for a liquer, tasting another version of elderberry wine. That so many conditions were already diagnosed in the Middle Ages may come as a surprise to the 21st-century reader: from asthma to indigestion, headaches to bladder stones, and the cures are fascinating. In case — while treating a patient for bladder stones — that patient should happen to faint, there’s a treatment for that, too. There are also cough syrups, revitalizing tonics, detoxifying drinks for purging the body in the springtime, and amulets to ward off disease. Melancholy can be purged, the womb can be healed, the eyes can be cleared and babies can be calmed, all with elderberry-based remedies.

Thus Dr. Blochwich connected folklore to healing; tales to medicine; and in so doing made a profoundly important contribution to science — for centuries. (He also took a tremendous risk in translating the document from acceptable Latin to more commonly used English in order to reach as many people as he could.)

In this new edition, the publisher has been loyal to the spirit of the book: it is an exhaustive, helpful, practical medical guide, meant to be consulted as need be, by village physicians and family members. It is filled with the flavor, if not the archaic language, of the Middle Ages, and with the obsessive desire to cure and heal that kept its author busy. There are illustrations throughout, remarkable in themselves, and a well-researched and helpful appendix. And the book ends, faithfully, with a final letter, in which Blochwich bids farewell to his “kind reader,” and wishes us well. Hundreds of years later, we can still feel better — thanks to his work.

For more information on Anatomia Sambuci: The Anatomy of the Elder and Dr. Martin Blochwich, visit the official site.
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About Patricia Gale

Patricia Gale has written and ghostwritten hundreds of blogs and articles that have appeared on sites such as Psychology Today, Forbes, and Huffington Post, and in countless national newspapers and magazines. Her "beat" is health, business, career, self-help, parenting, and relationships.

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