About the Historical Value of Coral and Corundum for Medicinal Use

about the historical use of coral and corundum in medical remedies for human illnesses and beliefs that doses of the powdered stones contained power to cure ailments and diseases


Coral and safran, if wrapped in the skin of a cat, were believed to have marvellous powers; and when emeralds were added to the coral the talisman would drive off a mortal fever. To have the proper effect, however, it must be attached to the neck of the patient. As a cure for hydrophobia, dog-collars set with flint and Maltese coral were recommended in Roman times; "sacred shells" and herbs over which magic incantations had been pronounced were also attached to, or enclosed in these collars. The use of coral in this case appears to have been due to the belief in its power to dissolve the spell cast by the Evil Eye, for Gratius, who flourished in the first century A.D. and was a contemporary of the poet Ovid, asserts that if such collars were put on dogs suffering from hydrophobia, the gods were appeased, and the charm cast by "an envious eye" was broken.

The Hindu physicians found that coral tasted both sweet and sour, and they asserted that its principal action was on the secretions of the mucous membrane, on the bile and on certain morbid secretions. Although the chemical constituents of coral have but slight medicinal value, it is quite possible that some effects upon the secretions may have been observed experimentally after the administration of a dose of powdered coral.

An old pharmacopoeia gives elaborate directions for the preparation of the "Tincture of Coral." A branch of very red coral was to be buried in melted wax, and allowed to remain over a fire for the space of two days, "after which time you will see that the coral has become white, while the wax has assumed a red hue." A fresh branch of coral is then to be put into the partially colored wax, and the above operation repeated; the wax will then be "redder than before." It is now to be broken into crusts, which are to be steeped in alcohol until the liquid has extracted the coloring matter from the wax and has become reddish. In this way, after the removal of the wax by filtration, etc., a tincture was obtained which is represented to have been an excellent tonic, and to have had the power to expel "bad humors," by inducing perspiration, or by its diuretic action. We strongly suspect that in this, as in many modern "tonics," the contents of spirit was the active principle.

An apparent confirmation of the widespread belief of former centuries that red coral changed its hue in sympathy with the state of the wearer's health, caused perhaps by the exudations or sweats arising from fevers or other ailments, is given from personal experience by the German physician, Johann Wittich. Writing toward the end of the sixteenth century, this author relates that he was called in to attend a youth named Bernard Erasmus, son of the burgomaster of Arnstadt. As the youth sickened unto death a red coral which he was wearing turned first whitish, then of a dirty yellow, and finally became covered with black spots. To the anxious questions of the youth's sister, Wittich could only give a mournful answer, telling her to take away the coral, for death was surely approaching, and this prognostication proved to be only too true, as in a few hours young Erasmus was dead.

A rosary of coral beads was sometimes called in France a pater de sang, or "blood-rosary," since it was believed to check hemorrhages. An anonymous author of an eighteenth century treatise on superstitions, assuming that this effect could be produced only by thickening the blood, asserts that such a rosary might do more harm than good, for if it possessed this power at one time, it must possess it constantly, and its action would be very injurious. Pearls and corals were still freely used as therapeutic agents in the last half of the seventeenth century, for we are told that Louis XIV (1638-1715), in 1655, took tablets containing gold and pearls, which had been prescribed for him by his physician Vallot, and, in 1664, a remedy composed of pearls and corals was recommended by the same authority.


A stone, which from the description seems to have been an almost colorless variety of corundum with a faint reddish tint, is recommended in the Syrian Aristotle for the alleviation of diseases of the breast. To have the proper effect this stone was to be worn on the region affected by the malady.

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