Mumia — The Odd Practice of Using Human Remains as Medicine

Since the dawn of time, man has searched for ways to heal the human body both in logical and bizarre ways. By modern standards, some practices of the past are often unethical and disturbing, seemingly founded on belief rather than fact. One of these unsettling methods is prescribing mummy powder (presumably Egyptian) to cure various conditions. This cure is called mumia, and here’s what we know about it.

Prescribing Human Remains as Medicine

15th century apothecary
Mumia — The Odd Practice of Using Human Remains as Medicine

The practice of using human remains for medicinal purposes goes back hundreds of years. From Galen, a Roman philosopher and physician who lived in the second century, to Paracelsus, a Swiss alchemist, and physician from the sixteenth century, there are numerous accounts for healers to prescribe mummy powder, human blood, dung, marrow, fat, and cranium to treat patients.

Mumia’s primetime was between the 12th and 17th centuries, even some time after that. Egyptian mummies were sold by the ton, ground to dust, then bottled for sale in Europe and the Middle East.

What Was Mumia Used For?

For starters, there are mixed historical sources as to what exactly this mumia substance was made of. For some, it was “concreted liquor,” a resinous liquid collected from cadavers, for others it was “mummy powder,” finely ground bones and other remains, and for third ones, it was bitumen, an embalming substance used in Ancient Egypt.

mummy powder for mumia usage
Mumia — The Odd Practice of Using Human Remains as Medicine

Promoted as mummy powder, mumia was widely used as a:

  • Blood thinner
  • Painkiller
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Cough suppressant
  • Menstrual aid
  • Wound healer

A Controversial Practice

16th century apothecary shelf
Mumia — The Odd Practice of Using Human Remains as Medicine

In Western societies, the history of corpse medicines, mummy cures, and medical cannibalism are deeply rooted in racial stereotyping and social inequality. That view on human remains has drastically changed in the last centuries, but it can be traced back to ancient Romans. They believed that drinking hot blood from a gladiator’s wounds is a cure for epilepsy. Since gladiators were slaves, ancient Roman society believed that made them disposable both in terms of providing gruesome entertainment in the arena and for a healing medicinal ingredient that they otherwise couldn’t get.