Full Version: Scuvy in the army and the \"Britannica\" plant
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I’ve just finished a fascinating little book by Ralph Jackson entitled Doctors and Diseases in the Roman Empire. At one point, he mentions this passage in Pliny:

Quote: Upon one occasion, in his German campaign, Germanicus Caesar had pitched his camp beyond the river Rhenus; the only fresh water to be obtained being that of a single spring in the vicinity of the sea-shore. It was found, however, that within two years the habitual use of this water was productive of loss of the teeth and a total relaxation of the joints of the knees: the names given to these maladies, by medical men, were "stomacace" and "sceloturbe." A remedy for them was discovered, however, in the plant known as the "britannica,"... This plant has dark oblong leaves and a swarthy root: the name given to the flower of it is "vibones," and if it is gathered and eaten before thunder has been heard, it will ensure safety in every respect. The Frisii, a nation then on terms of friendship with us, and within whose territories the Roman army was encamped, pointed out this plant to our soldiers: the name given to it, however, rather surprises me...

Pliny, Natural History, 25.6.3

He interprets this malady as scurvy, not caused by the water, and the “Britannica” plant as dock. It rather suprises me that a plant like this could have enough vitamin C to fight scurvy. By chance, has anyone heard of this before?
According to the U.S. food and drug administration a cup of chopped raw Dock leaves will give you over 100% of the daily recommended requirement of vitamin C:

Also used by generations of little boys as wilderness toilet paper and for treating nettle stings.
Thanks; I didn't expect that.

I find it interesting that a malady was apparently mis-diagnosed but yet a valid treatment was still found.

Overall, Jackson estimated that only some 20% of Roman treatments had any beneficial effects that could be clinically proven today. However, he places a caveat in that many others may have had a placebo effect, and of course the body often healed itself regardless of treatement, so Roman doctors may have had a better success rate than only 20%.