Send to

Choose Destination
Forsch Komplementmed. 2012;19(4):187-90. doi: 10.1159/000341548. Epub 2012 Jul 27.

Are the correct herbal claims by Hildegard von Bingen only lucky strikes? A new statistical approach.

Author information

Institute for Complementary Medicine, University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland.



Ancient and medieval herbal books are often believed to describe the same claims still in use today. Medieval herbal books, however, provide long lists of claims for each herb, most of which are not approved today, while the herb's modern use is often missing. So the hypothesis arises that a medieval author could have randomly hit on 'correct' claims among his many 'wrong' ones.


We developed a statistical procedure based on a simple probability model. We applied our procedure to the herbal books of Hildegard von Bingen (1098- 1179) as an example for its usefulness. Claim attributions for a certain herb were classified as 'correct' if approximately the same as indicated in actual monographs.


The number of 'correct' claim attributions was significantly higher than it could have been by pure chance, even though the vast majority of Hildegard von Bingen's claims were not 'correct'. The hypothesis that Hildegard would have achieved her 'correct' claims purely by chance can be clearly rejected.


The finding that medical claims provided by a medieval author are significantly related to modern herbal use supports the importance of traditional medicinal systems as an empirical source. However, since many traditional claims are not in accordance with modern applications, they should be used carefully and analyzed in a systematic, statistics-based manner. Our statistical approach can be used for further systematic comparison of herbal claims of traditional sources as well as in the fields of ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for S. Karger AG, Basel, Switzerland
Loading ...
Support Center