When the Black Plague, also known as the Black Death, struck in the mid-13th century. As war raged in Europe and Asia in the late 19th century, people became increasingly desperate for some semblance of redemption. Some were trying to bleed. Others rubbed onions or, in some cases, shredded hose directly on the inflamed boils.

If that’s not entirely true, says Pat McGovern, scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia, a plague patient can always try drinking a wine-based remedy. McGovern has written two books on the archaeological history of ancient wine: Finding the Origins of Viticulture (Princeton University Press, 2019) and Cutting the Past: In search of wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages (University of California Press, 2019).

There is a [recipe] that was developed by a king of Pontus in Turkey called Mithridates, McGovern says. It contains 73 ingredients.

To prepare this special decoction you need viper meat, wine, opium, rhubarb, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and other herbs and spices. This mixture would relieve symptoms such as a weak stomach, shortness of breath, and perhaps even the plague itself.

So it was very important in the Middle Ages, until it was proven that it was not necessarily effective, says McGovern.


Since ancient times, wine has been known for its medicinal properties / Credit: Bridgeman Pictures

In 1348, a report from the Medical Faculty of Paris recommended mixtures of wine and water with ground pepper, cinnamon and other spices. The difference was that you needed pure white wine.

White wines are sometimes preferred because they are more easily digestible, McGovern said. That’s what we called the great tabernacle, molasses, when you take sugar and make it into molasses. But this term is also used to describe this wine mixture against the plague.

But it doesn’t seem to have worked very well, as 500,000 people died in Venice alone, and a quarter of Europe – 20 million people in total – were killed.

The despair of the people was due not only to the torment of the disease, but also to deeply held spiritual beliefs. Some were convinced that the plague was a punishment from God. Groups of flagellants went from town to town to flog each other as a public penance.

You have a kind of middle age where there’s a lot of superstition, McGovern says. If you touch a piece of wood from the cross, it will probably heal you. The same goes for some fiction. Plague cures can be very bizarre and also very superstitious.

This is not to say that wines have been treated with gibberish throughout history. Wine making dates back thousands of years to the Neolithic era. And whatever part of the world we’re talking about, civilizations of the time probably made salutary pronouncements about wine.

Back to the old world

In ancient Egypt, we have papyri that talk about medical treatments, McGovern says. In Mesopotamia, we have been defeated. In China, we have records.

In ancient Greece and Rome, wine was used to heal everything, McGovern says.

It was an antiseptic, which is an anesthetic. It is antimicrobial, so treat all wounds with wine. And it turns out that this is the best way to do it. Alcohol is a disinfectant, but that’s not all: The tannins etc. present in wine create ideal conditions for wound healing.

For thousands of years, wine has been a central feature of all pharmacies in the region. Doctors usually prescribe one wine option or the other.

It’s a painkiller. It’s antimicrobial, so treat all wounds with wine ….. The tannins present in wine, among other things, create an ideal environment for wound healing. – Pat McGovern.

Sometimes it’s just wine, McGovern says. Sometimes one or more herbs are added to act on the healing of poisons, all kinds of mental illnesses. It goes on and on.

In the absence of a cure, the Roman writer Pliny the Elder suggested using wine to sweeten the breath, much like an old mouthwash.

It helps against the rot, says McGovern. To a certain extent, because it has antimicrobial properties. So it’s just like everything else. What would you have done before you had synthetic drugs? It was a panacea for all mankind.

Wine was the focus of pharmacists in ancient Greece and Rome/credit: Bridgeman Pictures

And it shouldn’t just be grape wine. It could be beer. It could be in part. It seems that any liquid with alcohol in it was good to go.

In fact, we are talking about only a fraction of doctors, starting with Hippocrates, who lived for 2500 years until the 19th century. That lasted into the twentieth century, McGovern says.

The modern age

As Prohibition approached, all these wine recipes that had been prescribed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years were gradually watered down. More and more people stepped into the culture of purity that the movement represented, and began to see the ubiquity of wine as something that needed to be reworked.

The negative aspects have become much more apparent since the reclamation of the 19th century, McGovern says. Finally, the wine was fully pressed. Perhaps you can use sherry, which is very well tolerated in the United States, where it used to be banned. Sherry stayed on the forms a little longer until she too was eventually deported.

At the end of the 20th century. At the end of the 19th century, when viticulture was experiencing a cultural boom, the French paradox came into play. This is the name given to the seemingly counterintuitive fact that, on average, the French rarely suffer from heart disease, despite high levels of cholesterol and saturated fat. She has convinced an entire generation that drinking wine and eating a Mediterranean diet is like discovering the fountain of youth.

Because it’s supposed to be healthy, so is drinking two glasses of wine in the evening, and it’s better for your heart, says Jason Wilson, author of Godforsaken Grapes: A slightly offbeat journey into the world of strange, obscure and underappreciated wines (Abrams, 2018). I know people who have literally started drinking wine because of it.

Maar net als de pestkuren die zo’n 650 jaar geleden werden verkocht, is de Franse paradox niet door exacte wetenschap gestaafd.

Geen enkele studie heeft een oorzakelijk verband aangetoond tussen alcoholconsumptie en een betere gezondheid van het hart, zegt Samantha Coogan, directeur van het opleidingsprogramma voeding en diëtetiek aan de Universiteit van Nevada, Las Vegas, en voorzitter van de Nevada Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Hoewel de tannines, flavonoïden en antioxidanten in wijn zelf potentiële voordelen hebben, zijn de aanbevelingen nog onduidelijk en is matiging nog steeds de beste gok. Deze voedingsstoffen zijn ook te vinden in ongefermenteerde bessen en druiven.

Middeleeuwse dronkaards hoopten dat wijn maken hen zou helpen tegen de Zwarte Dood : Bridgeman Afbeeldingen

Hoewel de voordelen voor de gezondheid niet zo duidelijk zijn, is dat misschien niet het probleem.

Misschien nam het wat van het snobisme weg, omdat het logisch was – je had mensen in het Middellandse Zeegebied : Ze dronken [wijn], en ze waren gezonder dan wij, dus dat is een deel van gezond zijn,” zei Wilson. Het haalde hem uit de vuilnisbelt. Dat is wat de mensen dachten. Dat ging hand in hand met het feit dat de mensen veel met olijfolie begonnen te koken – al die dingen die vroeger niet echt gebruikelijk waren.

Mensen hielden van het idee gezond te zijn, misschien meer dan daadwerkelijk gezond te zijn. En het is een fenomeen dat weer in opmars lijkt te zijn, nu steeds meer wijnen als zuiver en schoon worden verkocht.

Of het nu gaat om flitsende etiketten in de kleuren van beroemdheden of om wijnabonnementen die zijn opgezet als ambachtelijke producten, zuiverheid en puurheid zijn de merken van het moment geworden in de wijnwereld. Wilson beschrijft het als magisch denken.

Ik weet niet of het Amerikaans of menselijk is,” zei hij. Mensen willen gewoon een gezondere alcoholische drank. Ze willen dat alcohol gezonder is dan het is. Ik denk dat mensen zich in bochten wringen om een manier te vinden om te [zeggen]: Nou, deze alcoholische drank is gezonder dan de andere.

Als het op voeding aankomt, zit Coogan ergens in het midden. Zij is er niet helemaal van overtuigd dat modewoorden serieus kunnen worden genomen, maar zij staat wel sympathiek tegenover mensen die op zoek zijn naar een andere benadering van wijn drinken.

Ik vind het leuk om te proberen een gezondere versie te doen, hoewel ik een beetje sceptisch ben over de motivatie,” zei Coogan. Vaak zijn dit gewoon marketingtrucs, maar als de boodschap is om gezondheid en een gezondere levensstijl te bevorderen, kan het een positieve invloed hebben, althans mentaal, op iemand die echt probeert het juiste te doen, maar toch wil verwennen.

Voor Mr McGovern is de cirkel rond, ook al is hij verpakt in slimme marketingtaal.

Het is iets dat gezond kan zijn,” zei McGovern. Ik zie dit als een positief teken. Het is iets dat al bij ons is sinds het begin.

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