Healing with minerals and inorganic substances: A review of Levantine practice from the Middle Ages to the present

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Inorganic materials have constituted part of the inventory of medicinal substances used in various cultures since ancient times and continue globally to the present day in many ethnic and folk medicines. The medicinal interaction between humans and inorganic substances has been ongoing in most societies. Minerals, metals, soils, organic minerals (e.g. asphalt, crude oil, glycerine, sulphanilamide, tartaric acid, and vaseline), and other pure inorganic substances or mixtures (e.g. ink) have played an important, though perhaps minor, role in the healing practice of the inhabitants of five continents. This article systematically evaluates many historical records that document the materials and their uses available from the Levantine (mediaeval Bilad al-Sham) societies from the Middle Ages to the present. An overview of the data reveals that 23 inorganic substances were recorded as used in the Levant from the early mediaeval period to the present; among them, alum, arsenic sulphides, asphalt, borax, Jew's stone, soils (including the substance known as Armenian earth), galena, hematite, iron, lead, lead oxide, mercury, mineral mumia, salt (NaCl), sulphur, tartaric acid, vitriol (blue and green), and zinc. Fifty-four additional substances were first recorded by several ethnopharmacological surveys made during the twentieth century; some of these might have been used in the mediaeval Levant, but they were not recorded.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)700-725
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Geology Review
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - Jul 2010


  • Inorganic substances
  • Levant
  • Mediaeval medicine
  • Medicine
  • Minerals
  • Traditional medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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