Mummy powder typically refers to a dust made by grinding up the mummified remains of a human being. This was a fairly popular form of medicine among European apothecaries throughout the Middle Ages. Origins of this unusual treatment likely stem from the use of bitumen for medical purposes. Bitumen is a a kind of asphalt or tar that was used for mummification and also to treat various ailments. It was often referred to as mumia or mummy. Apothecaries probably used powdered, mummified remains for the bitumen in them, but the people using it often thought the mummy itself was the cause of any improvement.
Strange treatments and medicines:
- Apothecaries gave people mummy powder to treat stomach ulcers and headaches, and even formed it into a paste they applied over injuries or tumors.
- Since actual mummies were in short supply, some apothecaries likely robbed graves and ground up the remains of corpses to make their powder.
- At least two different physicians in the 17th Century prepared distillations from human brains for use as medical treatments.