Treatment of kidney diseases in the thermal springs of Pithecusa during the XVIII Century


The island of Pithecusa (Ischia) is a volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea in the north end of the Gulf of Naples at about 30 kilometers from the same city. Pithecusa is very popular for its hot springs which even the ancients used. This report aims to analyze the renal therapeutic benefits of the Pithacusa thermal mineral spring through a review of two different manuscripts: i) “Di Napoli il seno cratero” (The gulf of Naples) of Domenico Antonio Parrino (1642-1708) and ii) “De’ rimedi naturali che sono nell’isola di Pithecusa oggi detta Ischia” (On the natural cures of the island of Pithecusa known today as Ischia)of Giulio Iasolino (1583-1622). These two manuscripts published during the 18th century and both manuscripts highlight the thermal virtues of the thermal springs of Pithecusa. In the past natural remedies were important in the treatment of different diseases including that of thermal springs dating back to ancient Rome. Thermal springs were used to treat spasms, skin diseases, hair loss and various renal ailments. Both manuscripts describe the thermal springs in Ischia and their therapeutic benefits in medical diseases.

Key words: hot springs, kidney, pithecusa, renal pathology



The volcanic island of Pithecusa (today called Ischia) is located about 17 miles to the southwest of Naples, on the western edge of the Gulf of Naples. It is a popular attraction particularly for the therapeutic benefits of its thermal mineral springs. In fact the thermal springs of Pithecusa are well known today not only to the islanders but also to the tourists it attracts for the treatment of different ailments including that of diseases of the kidneys. The therapeutic merits of the springs of Pithecusa have been known since ancient times. Two manuscripts (Figure 1, Figure 2): i) “Di Napoli il seno cratero” (The gulf of Naples) of Domenico Antonio Parrino (1642-1708) and ii) “De’ rimedi naturali che sono nell’isola di Pithecusa oggi detta Ischia” (On the natural cures of the island of Pithecusa known today as Ischia) of Giulio Iasolino (1583-1622), published in the 18th century discuss in details the curative virtues of the Pithecusa hot springs in the prevention and cure of several renal diseases [1] [2].

Themal springs in Pithecusa

Parrino and Iasolino provide the precise sites where the hot spring of Pithecusa are located. In the book written by Iasolino, each described site is associated with its benefit to different kidney diseases. The treatment of kidney pain is associated with the following locations: “Bagno di soliceto”, “bagno di Vimitello”, “sudatorio di Barano (sweating bath of Barano)”, “bagno di Gurgitello”, “bagno di Nitroso” and “Fornello”; that of kidney stones with “sudatorio di Sant’Angelo”, “bagno di Soliceto”, “Carta Romana” and “Giardino di Pontano”, at that of renal ulcers (?infection) with “bagno di Spelonca”, “bagno di Castiglione”, “bagno di Fontana”, “bagno di Ferro”, “bagno di Succellaro” and “d’Ulmitello”.

The rich mineral content of the waters were deemed effective in the treatment and improvement of kidney function, for curing kidney stones, for regulating diuresis and for their uricosuric properties. Among the main components were: sodium, calcium, cloride, sulphur and carbon. For instance, the hot springs close to the Aragonese Castle were described and cited as the most popular for their ability to dissolve kidney stones. Drinking the thermal spring water of Pithecusa was considered effective in the treatment of kidney and urinary tract pathologies, promoting the expulsion of kidney stones and preventing kidney stone formation.

Amongst the places that Guido Iasolino describes, he devotes twenty-two pages of his treatise to the thermal waters of Gurgitello (little vortex) that are located in Casamicciola Terme. The name of Gurgitello was given by the Romans (in Latin “gurges”) inspired by the hot stream that flowed outside and poured into the sea. Iasolino explained how those suffering from kidney stones were healed after taking a bath in the thermal waters of Gurgitello (Figure 3Figure 4). 

As for the book written by Parrino, he describes all the thermal baths. Specifically he perfectly locates the area that nowadays is known as “Poseidon” garden, still fully operating as a thermal park. Parrino demonstrates the properties of hot springs as: ‘Drinking cold water from the hot springs not only “open the kidneys” inducing a diuretic response and deflating the belly but also it seems to reduce kidney pain’. Finally during the description of the hot springs of the island, Parrino reports that many famous people of the period had been to Ischia to enjoy the benefits of its thermal waters. Lastly both authors emphasize that the beneficial properties of the waters is due to the presence of sulfur.


To conclude, this report highlights the popularity of Pithecusa in the 18th century as demonstrated in the attendance of famous people of the time, and illustrates the importance of natural remedies for the treatment of renal diseases in the 18th century.

Herbal treatment of the urinary system diseases based on 16th and 17th century herbals in Poland


The medicinal use of herbs is a principal achievement of human ingenuity. The most renowned doctors of antiquity: Hippocrates, Dioscorides, Theophrastus, Pliny the Elder and Galen   mentioned herbs in their works. The first printed herbal was published in Mainz in 1485. Outstanding scientists e.g. Otto Brunfels, Hieronymus Bock, Leonard Fuchs and Andreo Mattiola published herbals in the 16th century. Polish doctors also contributed to the development of herbal treatment. The first work: “Of Herbs and their Potency” by Stefan Falimirz, published in 1534, triggered other publications in the 16th century, the “age of herbals”. In 1542, Hieronymus Spiczynski published a herbal: “Of Local and Overseas Herbs and their Potency…”. Then, in 1568, Marcin Siennik published his: “Herbal, which is the Description of Local and Overseas Herbs, their Potency and Application…”. In 1595, Marcin of Urzedow published: “The Polish Herbal, the Books of Herbs…”. Completed in mid-16th century, it was only published 22 years after his death. The last work discussed is “Herbal Known in Latin as…” published in 1613 by Simon Syrenius – a graduate of   Ingolstadt and Padua universities and lecturer at the Academy of Krakow. The work was Europe’s most complete elaboration on herbal treatment. The herbs described in the herbals worked as diuretics, demulcents, analgesics, relaxants and preventives of kidney stones. Published in Polish, they are still to be found in Poland. All the works presented herein are held by the Library of the Seminary of Wloclawek, and the Ossolinski National Institute in Wroclaw.

Key words: 16th -17th century medicine, herbal treatment, Poland, urinary system diseases


Natural medicines, chiefly in the form of medicinal plants, remained the only therapeutics available to a practicing doctor for centuries. The use of plants and their preparations in medicine seems to be one of the oldest achievements of the human ingenuity. The ability to store medicinal plants dates back as far as four thousand years BC and is traced to the Sumerian culture thriving in the Tigris and Euphrates valley. Moving further on the axis of time, we learn about herbal treatment from Ancient Egyptian papyri with that of Ebers as the most prominent one, which is an interesting source of nearly 900 recipes composed mainly of herbs.

Egypt and Europe by no means were the only places where herbal treatment flourished as the Eastern Medicine of Ancient India  and China was also largely founded on herbs and medicinal plants. Coming back to the Old World, however, one must not omit the greatest Greek doctor of antiquity – Hippocrates of Kos who, in his work Corpus Hippocraticum, gave a description of approximately 300 medicines based on plants. Following in his footsteps, another Greek physician of the Roman period – Dioscorides – described 600 herbal medicines in his De Materia Medica. Interestingly, this work served as a medical course book at medical universities up to the 16th century. It was early in the 2nd century AD when Galen of Pergamon created a new discipline in pharmacy known as Galenic system, which is the science of preparing medicines from fresh plants or dry herbs. One century later, the famous Roman compiler, Pliny the Elder, wrote his natural encyclopedia Historia Naturalis Libri where he discussed no fewer than 1000 plants and methods of producing medicines from them. Other outstanding contemporaries were Scribonius Largus and Cornelius Celsus with his De Medicina Libri Octo [1] [2].

The period following Galen saw a decline in the popularity of herbal treatments and it was not before the Middle Ages when orders, especially those of Saint Benedict and Cistercians revived this method. In the 10th century, the Salerno Medical School emerged with its most renowned booklet written in Latin: Regimen Sanitatis Scholae Salernitanae dedicated to the King of England Richard I, the Lionheart. The work, which provided advice on the application of medicinal plants and herbs, was translated into Polish by Hieronymus Olszowski in 1640. Later, in Renaissance, the legendary Paracelsus added no small input by developing his doctrine of signatures and the arcana. Two groundbreaking events at the dawn of renaissance, the invention of the printing press by Guttenberg and the discovery of America by Columbus, triggered a surge of authors of great herbals including Prospero Alpini, Otto Brunfels, Hieronymus Bock, Leonard Fuchs, Andrea Matthioli and Carl Clusius [3] [4] [5].

Closer to modern times, in the 19th, and especially in the 20th century, rapid development of chemistry brought along an explosion of chemotherapeutic medicines and the pharmaceutical industry as such. Consequently, especially with the wake of antibiotic therapy, many thus-far-incurable diseases stopped claiming their toll.

Polish doctors and researchers also left their mark in the development of herbal treatment in the 16th and 17th centuries. The first work on medicinal plants to be published in Poland was De Herbarium Virtutibus by Emiliusz Macer, originally written in the 12th century but later edited by Simon of Łowicz and released in 1532 and 1537. The significance of the work rests in the fact that it was the first publication to contain the Polish names of plants. Remarkable as it may be, however, this work shall not be considered in detail in this article. By contrast, we wish to concentrate on herbals in the chronological order of appearance by: Stefan Falimirz, out in Krakow in 1534, Hieronymus Spiczynski’s On Local and Overseas Herbs and their Potency, out in 1542 and serving as a supplement to Falimirz’s work, Marcin Siennik’s Herbal, that is the Description of Local and Overseas Herbs, out in 1568 in Szarfenberg’s printing house in Krakow, Marcin of Urzedow’s Polish Herbal, out in 1595 in Officina Lazari in Krakow and Simon Syrenius’ Herbal Known in Latin as …, published in 1613 also in Krakow [6] [7] [8] [9] [10].

Stefan Falimirz

The work by Stefan Falimirz is the oldest Polish herbal translated from Latin. The author, who was a botanist, doctor, translator and editor lived and worked in the early 16th century. His skills and knowledge won him a respectable position at the court of the Podolia Voivod Jan Tęczyński in Kraśnik. His work Hortus Sanitatis on Herbs and their Potency proved to be a bestseller and, following Florian Unglers advice, it was revised and released several times. The herbal includes numerous woodcut images depicting medicinal plants, three of which relate to urinary system diseases and have been selected for a closer consideration. These are: genista, valerian and pine. According to Falimirz, genista has diuretic, “stone-crushing” and anti-gout properties. Valerian works as a diuretic and pine can be used as a disinfectant [11] [12] [13] (Figure 1).

Hieronymus Spiczynski

Hieronymus Spiczyński was born at some point before 1500 in Wielun, Poland. In 1517 he joined the Krakow Academy but never finished his education there which did not stop him from being a patrician and member of the city council in Krakow. Being a remarkably versatile man he was known to be knowledgeable in such areas as medicine, nature and astronomy. On top of that, he was also a poet and a translator. As such, he is renowned for being the first translator of the Bible from Latin into Polish and a possible translator of the works of the famous Erasmus of Rotterdam. Hieronymus Spiczyński died in Krakow in the summer of 1550. From the rich reservoir of herbs described in his work three have been selected: anise, chamomile and calamus. These herbs have diuretic (wild ginger), relaxing and disinfecting (chamomile) and diuretic and analgetic (calamus) properties [14] (Figure 2).

Marcin Siennik

Born into a bourgeois family in the early 16th century, Marcin Siennik never studied medicine or any other science. This, however, did not stop him from mastering a number of languages such as German, Italian, Hebrew and Latin. Siennik died in Krakow in 1588. His work was in fact a remake of Spiczyński’s herbal and comprised over 600 pages with the descriptions of more than 800 plants. In order to facilitate navigation through the herbal Siennik added an index of the diseases and medicines mentioned in the book. The list of herbs was prepared in Polish, German and Latin. The herbs which Siennik regarded helpful in the treatment of urinary system diseases included wild ginger, artemisia and parsley. All of them can work as diuretics, additionally parsley can help in cases of kidney stones and artemisia has relaxing properties [15] (Figure 3).

Marcin of Urzedow

In the Pantheon of authors of Polish herbals there are also two graduates of the Universities in Krakow, Poland and Padua, Italy. The first one to be discussed here is Marcin of Urzedow. He was born around 1500 in Urzedow near Lublin, an important city renowned for its enlightened citizens. Marcin of Urzedow started his education at the Krakow Academy, later the Jagiellonian University, in 1517 and graduated with a masters’ degree eight years later. He must have been a distinguished student as, following his graduation, he stayed at the University to teach physics, mathematics, logics and philosophy specializing in Aristotle. In 1532, he was appointed Dean and took priestly orders. Soon he set for Italy to study medicine and natural sciences at the University in Padua where, in 1538, he obtained the title of a doctor of medicine. He then travelled widely in Europe visiting Venice, Switzerland and Hungary. Having returned to his native Poland, he settled down in the town of Sandomierz and took on the position of a canon and ran the hospital organized by the Holy Spirit church. Apart from that, he was employed as court doctor to a number of the most distinguished Polish gentry and aristocracy. His life came to an end in 1573 in Sandomierz where he was buried in the local cathedral. It is worth mentioning that for many years Marcin of Urzedow was nicknamed the Polish Hippocrates by authors and scientists. Marcin of Urzedow’s herbal contains the description of more than 600 plants and their medicinal properties. In his bibliography he included the names of no fewer than 54 philosophers and doctors whose works inspired the creation of his opus magnum. These renowned figures fell into two categories: “the old” ones (ancient), and “the new” ones (his contemporaries). The list includes such luminaries as Pliny the Elder, Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Herodotus, Theophrastus, Dioscorides, Avicenna and others. Out of the many plants recommended by Marcin of Urzedow to treat urinary system diseases three have been chosen for closer consideration: clove, fennel and consolida. The author’s recommendation was to apply clove in case of renal stones, fennel if a diuretic or relaxing means was sought and consolida as a combination of the previous two [16] [17] [18] (Figure 4).

Simon Syrenius

The other one is Simon Syrenius, author of the most voluminous botanical and medical work in Poland. Simon Syrenius was born in Oswiecim in 1540 and studied philosophy at the Krakow Academy. He continued his education in Ingolstadt, Germany and in Padua, Italy where he graduated from medical studies. Afterwards, he worked as a doctor in Lviv and, in 1588, moved back to Krakow to join the staff of the Academy and teach medicine. In 1602, after the establishment of one of the world’s first departments of botany, Syrenius was appointed its Head. His opus magnum, the herbal, comprises 1584 pages and features the description and woodcut of as many as 765 plants, chiefly of medicinal kind, with the description of the method of preparation and intake results. The Swedish princess Anna Vasa, the granddaughter of the King Sigismund I the Old and Bona Sforza, nicknamed the “queen of Polish botany” had no small contribution in the creation of the Herbal by providing the necessary funds. Anna Vasa was probably the first author of a Polish herbal.

Out of about 1000 issues of the work, approximately 100 have survived until now in the libraries of the universities of Gdansk, Krakow, Warsaw, Wloclawek and others. Among the hundreds of plants described in the Herbal a few dozens were used in treatment of urinary system diseases as diuretics, anti-inflammatory and relaxing means. Six plants are selected to highlight their possible positive role in the treatment of the urinary tract. The most prominent plants to treat such diseases included: glycyrrhiza, lavender, iris, viola, betonica and cumulus.

All the above mentioned herbs display a number of medicinal properties. Glycyrhiza is a disinfectant and relaxant and, additionally, preventing urolithiasis. Lavender, on the other hand, is a diuretic and renal stone “crusher”, while viola has diuretic and disinfecting properties. Betonica disinfects and prevents the formation of kidney stones. Finally, humulus can be used as s disinfectant and diuretic [19] [20] [21]. (Figure 5)

Table 1 lists some of the herbs included in the Polish herbals from the 16th and 17th centuries discussed in the article and their particular indications for treatment of various symptoms accompanying the urinary system diseases.

The 18th century brought a number of distinguished figures in the field of herbal treatment. These included Jan Kluk, Stanisław Jundzill and, the professor of the Jagiellonian University, Napoleon Czerwiakowski. The discussion of their work and input will be, however, a subject of a separate article.


Medicinal plants have been used to treat various diseases since prehistoric times. The catalogue of diseases subjected to herbal treatment also includes those of the urinary system. The development of herbal treatment was rather abruptly thwarted by emergence of medical chemistry, pharmacology and the pharmaceutical industry as such. Nevertheless, recent years have seen signs of revival in the interest in this area among doctors worldwide. Of interest, approximately half of the medicines produced nowadays contain plant-derived active substances. Moreover, the ever-growing cost of treatment seems to add to the popularity of herbs and medicinal plants. This trend is documented by the number of talks and lectures on medicinal plants presented during congresses of the history of medicine including the history of nephrology. This subject is frequently brought up by researchers from many countries such as the USA, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Poland. Needless to say, though, this kind of treatment must be administered only as auxiliary and supplementary means and must always be supervised by a qualified medical doctor. This approach finds its confirmation in the directive of the European Economic Community Council no. 64/65, which treats herbal preparations as medicinal products. The notion of herbal medicine has been approved by the international community and remains in line with the WHO directives [22].

The authors of this article are firmly convinced that the works presented herein, especially those by Marcin of Urzedow and Simon Syrenius, should be subject to a more thorough analysis for the application of the plants depicted in them to treat the urinary system ailments.


[1] Touwaide A Epidemiology and treatment of kidney conditions in antiquity. Journal of Nephrology 2013 Dec 23;26(Suppl. 22):175-179

[2] Touwaide A, Pollio A, Aliotta G et al. Medicinal plants for the treatment of urogenital tract pathologies according to Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica. American Journal of Nephrology 1997;17(3-4):241-7

[3] Iorio L, Nacca RG, Simonelli R et al. Cistercian medicinal herbs for renal therapy in the 15th century. American Journal of Nephrology 1997;17(3-4):286-8

[4] Aliotta G, De Santo NG, Ongaro G et al. Some useful plants for renal therapy listed in De Plantis Aegypti Liber by Prospero Alpini in the 16th century: modern considerations. Journal of Nephrology 2013 Dec 23;26(Suppl. 22):180-186

[5] Balat A From past to present: traditional herbs used in the treatment of nephrologic diseases in southeast Turkey. Journal of Nephrology 2013 Dec 23;26(Suppl. 22):187-191

[6] Brzeziński T. Historia medycyny. Wydawnictwo Lekarskie PZWL. Warszawa 1995.

[7] Szumowski W. Historia medycyny. Sanmedia. Warszawa 1994.

[8] Ożarowski A., Jaroniewski W. Rośliny lecznicze i ich praktyczne zastosowanie. Instytut Wydawniczy Związków Zawodowych. Warszawa 1987.

[9] Volák J., Stodola J. Rośliny lecznicze. Państwowe Wydawnictwo Rolnicze i Leśne. Warszawa 1987.

[10] Zemanek A. Renaissance botany in the light of contemporary science. Wiadomości Botaniczne 1997; 41(1): 7-19

[11] Falimirz S. Hortus sanitatis, O ziołach i o mocy ich. Drukarnia Florian Ungler. Kraków 1534

[12] Matuszewski A. Kwartalnik Historii Nauki i Techniki. 1993; 38(4): 119-129

[13] Zemanek A., Zemanek B., Harmata K. et. al. Selected foreign plants in old Polish botanical literature, customs and art (acoruc calamus, aesculus hippocastanum, Cannabia sativa, Fagopyrum, Helianthus annuus, Iris) In: Morel J., Mercuri A. (ed) Plants and Culture, seeds of the cultural heritage of Europe. Edipuglia 2009

[14] Spiczyński H. O ziołach tutecznych i zamorskich i o mocy ich… Drukarnia Florian Ungler. Kraków 1542

[15] Siennik M. Herbarz, to jest ziół tutecznych, postronnych i zamorskich opisane… Drukarnia M. Szarfenberg. Kraków1568

[16] Marcin of Urzędow. Herbarz polski, to jest o przyrodzeniu ziół i drzew rozmaitych. Drukarnia Łazarzowa. Kraków 1595

[17] Dłużewski S. Dzieło Marcina z Urzędowa. Panacea 2004; 1 (6): 30-31

[18] Rostafiński J. Medycyna na Uniwersytecie Jagiellońskim w XV wieku. Kraków 1900

[19] Sirenius S. Zielnik Herbarzem z języka łacińskiego zowią. To jest opisanie własne imion, kształtu, przyrodzenia, skutków, i mocy ziół wszelakich… B. Skalski. Kraków 1613

[20] Rostański K. Simon Syrenius and his work. Wiadomości Botaniczne 1997; 41(2): 7-12.

[21] Zemanek A., Rostański K. “Habent sua fata Libelli” czyli uwagi o egzemplarzach Zielnika (1613) Syreniusza zachowanych w Polsce. Kwartalnik Historii Nauki i Techniki 1996; 41/3-4: 159-188

[22] Drozd J. Phytotherapy – yesterday and today. Przegl Med Uniwersytetu Rzeszowskiego i Narodowego Instytutu Leków w Warszawie. Rzeszów 2012; 2: 245-251

Tabella 1
Index of plants used for threatening pathologies of the urinary tract

Lp Scientific name English name Reference Therapeutical purposes
stones analgetic disinfectant relaxing anti-inflammatory gout diuretic
1 Genista tinctoria Genista Stefan Falimirz + + +
2 Valeriana off. Valerian +
3 Pinus sylvestris Pine +
4 Pimpinella vulgaris Anise Hieronim Spiczyński + +
5 Chamomilla recutita Chamomile + +
6 Acorus calamus Calamus +
7 Asarum europoeum Wild ginger Marian Siennik + +
8 Artemisia abrotanum Sagebrush + +
9 Petroselinum crispum Parsley + +
10 Herba tunici Clove Marcin of Urzędów +
11 Foeniculum vulgare Fennel + +
12 Delphinium consolida Consolida + +
13 Glycyrrhiza glabra Glycirrhiza Simon Syrenius + +
14 Lavendula anustifolia Lavender +
15 Iris germanica Iris + +
16 Viola tricolor Viola + +
17 Betonica off. Betonica + + +
18 Humulus lupus Humulus + +

Diuretic plants in the Bible: ethnobotanical aspects


Besides its religious importance, the Bible, because of its ancient origin represents a relevant witness of the way of life of the people mentioned in it. The Holy Scripture is also the first text revealing the utility of plants for man, as natural sources of food, wood, fibers, oils and medicinal herbs. In the last 60 years, several distinguished botanists have attempted to identify the scientific names of the plants cited in the Bible. Nonetheless, these scholars have provided different lists of plants appearing in the Bible, none of which could be accepted as indisputable. The authors have combined their expertise to focus on the identification of the diuretic plants, through an historical analysis of the literature on this issue.

Key words: Bible, Diuretic plants, History of Herbals



The existence of the kidney was well known during biblical time, most likely through the study of the internal organs of the animals killed for sacrifice o for food. However, its role in making urine was not recognized until Second century (about 1,400 years after the Old Testament), when Galen established the connection between the kidney and urine formation. There appear to be 13 references to the kidney in the Old Testament and one reference in the New Testament. Moreover, in the Bible, the kidneys were considered to be associated with the innermost part of the personality. They were viewed as central to the soul and to morality. Most of the biblical understanding of the anatomy of kidneys and their anatomic relationships appears to be derived from observations made in domestic animals [1] [2]. Besides the religious importance of the Bible, because of its ancient origin it represents a relevant witness of the way of life of the people mentioned. The Holy Scripture is also the first text revealing the utility of plants for man, as natural sources of food, wood, fibers, oils and medicinal herbs. In the last 60 years, several distinguished botanists have attempted to identify the scientific names of the plants cited in the Bible [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]. Nonetheless, these scholars have provided different lists of plants appearing in the Bible, none of which could be accepted as indisputable. The present state of research allows the listing of 206 species of Bible plants, of which 95 are recognized by all the contemporary researchers of biblical flora [9].The manner in which prescientific people selected and manipulated plants for their medicinal and edible plants qualities can be approached from such disciplines as ethnopharmacobotany and the origins of human diet and medicine [10].The widespread practice of using plants in medicine in Eurasia, especially around the Mediterranean Region, and China, has been transcribed to us through Egyptian pictographs, Babylonian clay tablet ideographs and Vedic Sanskrit. The study of plants in a modern sense began in Asia Minor in the VI century BC, then it moved towards the West, spreading to Greece, and subsequently to the Greek colonies of Southern Italy. The founder of Western Botany was Theophrastus (370-285 BC), who was a philosopher of Lyceum in Athens and became its director after Aristotle retired in 323 BC. The botanical works of Theophrastus, Historia Plantarum and Cause Plantarum, both of which have been preserved intact, deal with almost every aspect of modern botany, from morphology to physiology and pharmacognosy. They represent the apex of ancient thought in this field [11]. In the following centuries botanical science survived almost exclusively as the study of medicinal herbs, with the exception only of Natural History written by Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), including the teachings of Theophrastus, in which botany was regarded as a subject in its own right and not only from a medical point of view [12]. Our knowledge of Greek pharmacognosy was preserved in Dioscorides’ Materia Medica, written in about 60 AD (and, surprisingly, not quoted by Pliny) which for centuries served as the standard pharmacopeia of the West [13] [14] [15]. After Dioscorides the great physician Galen (131-200 AD) made an important contribution to our knowledge of plants, although his interest was exclusively pharmaceutical, listing over 450 herbs, with their medicinal uses and effects in therapeutical methods.

From the second century onwards there followed a period of 1000 years during which empirical data increased, but little progress was achieved either in medical science or in botany. It was only at the end of the Middle Ages that botany became the object of renewed interest. Moreover the study of pharmacognosy received a new impulse. The Renaissance was the period of the great herbals, in which many medicinal plants were added to the list of herbs of Dioscorides’ classical pharmacopeia and then herbs were, in turn more accurately described in an attempt to establish a correspondence with native plants. These various European developments taken together sparked the beginning of Western cosmopolitan medicine [16] [17]. Writings on medicine at this time were used and read for their content, irrespective of the period in which they had been written, most physicians believed that the experience of the preceding generations had to be assimilated if progress were to be achieved. An impressive work was the book: Icones Plantarum Medicinalium Secundum Systema Linnaei et Usus medici chirurgici et Diaetetici, published in folio in both Latin and German by Joseph Jacob Plenck (1735-1807) [Figura 1]. For each plant, the author reported: the name, place of origin, and pharmaceutical role. This work represents perhaps the first successful approach in reporting names, descriptions, habitats and uses of 758 medicinal plants on the basis of the Linnean system of plant classification (1735-1753). One hundred of the 758 species reported by Plenck concern renal therapy [18]. This attitude towards the medicine of the past changed radically in the second half of the nineteenth century, when a new medical science developed and progress was achieved such as had never before been seen. The past seemed dead. To the average physician the history of medicine appeared as a history of errors: nothing could be learned from it, to study it, to read the ancient writers, was a waste of time. Science was worshipped and the best minds turned to the laboratory with great enthusiasm. At the beginning of last century the discovery and use of sulfonamide drugs, antibiotics such as penicillin, and synthetic drugs led to a dramatic decline in the popularity of medicinal plants in therapy. Now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. A resurgence of interest in the study and use of medicinal plants has taken place during the last two decades. In fact, the importance of plant-derived drugs is underlined by the following data: The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that 80% of the world’s population rely chiefly on traditional medicine. Most of traditional therapies involve the use of plant extracts or their active constituents. 25% percent of all prescriptions in the U.S.A. between 1959 and 1990 contained extracts or active principles prepared from higher plants. Similar percentages (22-25%) appeared in certain European countries. With these aspects in mind we joined our expertise for searching the following diuretic plants cited in the Bible.

Allium cepa L. Onion [Figura 2]; Allium porrum L. Leek [Figura 3]; Allium sativum L. Garlic [Figura 4].

Numbers 11,5: We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlics: But our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.

Amygdalus communis L.(Almond).

Genesis 43: Their father, Israel, said to them, “If it must be so, then do this. Take from the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry down a present for the man, a little balm, a little honey, spices and myrrh, nuts, and almonds”.

Anethum graveolens L. (Dill).

Matthew 23,23-24: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Artemisia herba-alba Asso (White Wormwood).

Amos 5,4: For those who turn justice into wormwood and cast righteousness down to the earth.

Astraragalus gummifera Labill. (Locoweed resin).

Genesis, 37,25: Then, just as they were sitting down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. It was a group of Ishmaelite traders taking a load of gum, balm, and aromatic resin from Gilead down to Egypt.

Atriplex halimus L. (Mallow).

Job 30,4: From want and famine they are gaunt. Who gnaw the dry ground by night in waste and desolation, who pluck mallow by the bushes, and whose food is the root of the broom shrub.

Brassica nigra (L.) Koch [Figura 5].

Mark 4.31: It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: But when it is sown, it grow up, and become greater than all herbs, and shoot out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.”

Capparis spinosa L. (Caper) (Figura 6).

Ecclesiastes 12,5: When the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags itself along and caper and the caper berry no longer inspires sexual desire.

Ceratonia siliqua L. (Carob).

Luca 15,16: And he would fain have filled his belly with the carob’s husks that the swine did eat; and no man gave to him.

Cicer arietinum L. (Chickpea).

Isaiah 30,24: The oxen and the asses that till the ground will eat salted chickpea, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork.

Cinnamomum cassia Blume (Cinnamon).

Psalms 45,8: All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; from palaces adorned with ivory the music of the strings makes you glad.

Cinnamomum zeylanicum Nees (Ceylon Cinnamon).

Song of Songs 4,13: Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard, and saffron, calamus and Ceylon cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree, with myrrh and aloe and all the finest spices.

Cistus incanus L. (Rockrose, Ladanum).

Genesis 37,25: They looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and ladanum, and they were on the their way to take them down to Egypt.

Citrullus colocynthis (L.) Schrad. (Gourd, Wild Colocynth).

Kings 7,24: Under its brim gourds went around encircling it ten to a cubit, completely surrounding the sea; the gourds were in two rows, cast with the rest.

Commiphora gileadensis L. (Balm).

Ezechiele, 27,17: Judah and the land of Israel, they were your traders; with the wheat of Minnith, cakes, honey, oil and balm they paid for your merchandise.

Coriandrum sativum L.(Coriander).

Exodus 16,31: The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey.

Crocus sativus L. (Saffron) (Figura 7).

Song of Solomon (4,13) (See Cinnamomum zeylanicum).

Cucumis melo L. (Cucumber).

Numbers 11,5: (See Allium spp.).

Cuminum cyiminum L. (Cumin).

Isaiah 28,27: For the dill is not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cumin; but the dill is beaten out with a staff and the cumin with a rod.

Cuprersuss sempervirens L. (Italian Cypress).

Isaiah,44,14: He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.

Eruca sativa Miller (Rocket).

2 Kings 4,39: And one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered his lap full, and come and shred them in the pot of pottage.

Ficus carica L.

Genesis 3,7: Fig leaves are not good enough, as they represent man’s work, and works will not save anyone.

Hordeum vulgare L. (Barley).

Hexodus 9,31: Now the flax and the barley were battered and ruined [by the hail], because the barley was in the ear (ripe, but soft) and the flax was in bud.

Juglans regia L. (Walnut).

Song of Solomn 6,11: I went down to the grove of walnut trees and out to the valley to see the new spring growth.

Juniperus communis L(Juniper).

Isaiah 41,19: I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together.

Malva sylvestris L. (Mallow).

Job 6,6: Can something tasteless be eaten without salt, or is there any taste in the water of mallow?

Myrtus communis L. (Myrtle).

Isaiah 55,13: Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of the stinging nettle myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.

Nigella sativa L. (Black Cumin).

Isaiah 28,25: The fitches of the Bible, Nigella sativa (fennel or nutmeg flower), were cultivated for their seeds which were used as a substitute for black pepper and as an appetite stimulant. Both fitches and cumin are cited in Isaiah 28:25 in the form of a parable in which a farmer’s orderly methods are compared to God’s plan for sustaining his people: “When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cumin.”

Olea europaea L. (Olive).

Genesis 8,11: He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark.The dove came to him toward evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf.

Phoenix dactylifera L. (Date Palm).

Hexodus 16,27: Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.

Populus alba L. (White Poplar).

Genesis 30,37: Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches.

Ruta chalepensis L. (Rue).

Luke 11:42: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.

According to Timothy Johns, the plants of the Bible bring in to perspective the massive knowledge acquired by our ancestors to retain their health by using the plants around them. People have always been attracted to food rich in calories, fat and protein, yet the biblical admonition “they shall eat the flesh that night roasted, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall it eat (Exodus 12,8), suggests that unpalatable plants play an important role in our diet[10].Nature is still man’ greatest chemist, and many unknown compounds present in plants are beyond the imagination of even our best biochemists. Moreover, in the recent past, a combination of data obtained empirically together with the most technically advanced experimental laboratory and clinical procedures, has given us a number of our most important contributions to our well-being [19] [20] [21].The physician, the laboratory scientist and the botanist can now hopefully join forces in a united search for more effective diuretics. Finally, the loss of the empirical wisdom developed from human interactions with the environment over millennia is the loss of a fundamental part of our cultural heritage.


[1] Eknoyan G. The origins of nephrology–Galen, the founding father of experimental renal physiology. American journal of nephrology 1989;9(1):66-82

[2] Kopple JD. The biblical view of the kidney. American journal of nephrology 1994;14(4-6):279-81

[3] Moldenke NH, Moldenke AL. Plants of the Bible. Dover Publications, Inc., New York; 1952.

[4] Zohary D. Plants of the Bible. A complete handbook to all the plants with 200 full-color plates taken in the natural habitat. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; 1982.

[5] Hepper FN. Pflanzenwelt der Bibel. Eine illustrierte Enzyklopadie. Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;1992.

[6] Duke JA. Handbook of medicinal plants of the Bible. CRC Press, Boca Raton; 2008.

[7] Musselman LJ. A dictionary of Bible plants. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; 2012.

[8] Grilli Caiola M, Guarrera PM, Travaglini A. Le piante nella Bibbia. Gangemi Editore, Roma; 2013.

[9] Wlodarczyk Z. Review of plant species cited in the Bible. Folia Hort. 2007, 67-85.

[10] JohnsT. With bitter herbs they shall eat it. The University of Arizona Press,Tucson;1990.

[11] Morton AG. History of botanical science. Academic Press, New York;1981.

[12] Aliotta G, Pollio A. Useful plants in renal therapy according to Pliny the Elder. American journal of nephrology 1994;14(4-6):399-41

[13] Ridle JM. Dioscorides on pharmacy and medicine. Austin, University of Texas Press, History of Science Series, n. 3, 1985.

[14] Touwaide A, Pollio A, Aliotta G et al. Medicinal plants for the treatment of urogenital tract pathologies according to Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica. American journal of nephrology 1997;17(3-4):241-7

[15] De Matteis, Tortora M. Some plants described by Dioscorides for the treatment of renal diseases. American journal of nephrology 1994;14(4-6):418-22

[16] Petrucelli RJ. 2nd Monastic incorporation of classical botanic medicines into the Renaissance pharmacopeia. American journal of nephrology 1994;14(4-6):259-63

[17] Aliotta G, Capasso G, Pollio A et al. Joseph Jacob Plenck (1735-1807). American journal of nephrology 1994;14(4-6):377-82

[18] Plenck JJ. Icones Plantarum Medicinalium, secundum sistema Linnaei digestarum cum enumeratione virium et usus medici, chirurgici atque diaetetici. Apud Rudolphum Graeffer et Soc. Viennae. 1788-1812.

[19] Duke JA. Handbook of medicinal plants. CRC Press, Boca Raton; 1986.

[20] Pechan P, de Vries G.E. Genes on the menu. Springer, Berlin 2005.

[21] Béliveau R, Gingras D. Les aliments contre le cancer. Sperling & Kupfer Ed. 2006.

Tabella 1
Nomenclatural update and cross-reference of diuretic plants cited in the Bible, by Dioscorides, Pliny the Elder and Plenck
Scientific and

vernacular names

Bible Dioscorides

De Materia Medica


Naturalis Historia


(Icones plantarum medicinalium)

1 Allium cepa L.




II,151 Allium cepa


2 Allium porrum L.




II,149 Allium Porrum


3 Allium sativum L..




II,152 Allium Sativum


4 Aloe vera L.

Mediterranean Aloe



5 Amygdalus communis L.




6 Anethum graveolens L.




7 Artemisia herba-alba Asso

White Wormwood



III,113 XXVI, 81
8 Astraragalus gummifera Labill.

Locoweed resin



III, 20 XXII, 45
9 Brassica nigra (L.) Koch

Black Mustard



Sinapis nigra


10 Capparis spinosa L.




XX, 165 Capparis spinosa


12 Ceratonia siliqua L.

Carob, St John’s bread



XXIII, 131
13 Cicer arietinum L.




II,104 XXII,149
14 Cinnamomum cassia Blume




15 Cinnamomum zeylanicum Blume

Ceylon Cinamom



16 Cistus incanus L.




17 Citrullus colocynthis (L.) Schrad.

Colocynth, Bitter apple



18 Commiphora gileadensis  L.

Myrr tree



19 Coriandrum sativum L.




20 Crocus sativus L.




I, 26 XXI,138 Crocus sativus


21 Cucumis melo L




II,135 XX,10
22 Cuminum cyiminum L.




XXIV, 180
23 Cuprersuss sempervirens L.

Italian  Cypress



I,74 XXIV, 15
24 Eruca sativa Miller




II,129 I,28 Brassica eruca


25 Ficus carica L.




III,76 XXIII, 120
26 Hordeum vulgare L.




II,86 XXIV, 54
27 Juniperus communis  L.




I,84 XXIV, 54 Juniperus communis


28 Malva sylvestris L.




III,5 XXII, 24
29 Myrtus communis L.




I,112 XXIV,152
30 Nigella sativa L.

Black Cumin



III,79 XX,182
31 Olea europaea L.




32 Phoenix dactylifera L.

Date Palm



33 Populus alba L.

White Poplar



34 Ruta chalepensis L