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Hist Philos Life Sci. 1994;16(2):241-73.

A study in Renaissance psychotropic plant ointments.

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Unité de Neurobiologie et Pharmacologie de l'INSERM, Paris, France.


Various historical sources from the Renaissance--including transcripts of trials for witchcraft, writings on demonology and textbooks of pharmaceutical botany--describe vegetal ointments prepared by women accused of witchcraft and endowed with marked psychoactive properties. Here, we examine the botanical composition and the possible pharmacological actions of these ointments. The results of our study suggest that recipes for narcotic and mind-altering salves were known to Renaissance folk healers, and were in part distinct from homologous preparations of educated medicine. In addition, our study reveals an unexpected connection of these vegetal psychotropes with archaic chtonic beliefs, confirming the tight association between rituals and cults entered on the Underworld and the image of the Medieval witch.

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