Gem Medicine: Honey and the History of Healing Gemstones

One of the fascinating things about gemstones, especially those that have been known for millennia, is that they have collected any number of myths about their mystical and medicinal properties. But could gemstones really heal?

Many myths about gemstone medicine developed in the Middle Ages, which, for the bulk of the population, would mean a world of gray—especially in northern Europe and Great Britain. Gray-brown clothes, rarely washed, edged with mud and dust. Gray-brown houses of mud and straw and mildewed thatch. A gray-brown world of poverty, pain, ignorance, illness, and superstition.

gemstones: Imagine your world is mostly stone gray and mud brown and suddenly, you see a ruby like this 2.72 Burmese. It might well lift your spirits and give you some momentary relief from pain or illness. Might you then believe it could heal you? Photo Mia Dixon, courtesy Pala International.

Imagine your world is mostly stone gray and mud brown and suddenly, you see a ruby like this 2.72 Burmese. It might well lift your spirits and give you some momentary relief from pain or illness. Might you then believe it could heal you? Photo Mia Dixon, courtesy Pala International.

Now add the blazing color of an emerald, ruby, sapphire, opal—the color and value of which people in this world can barely conceive. The stones would not even have had to be of high quality as long as the color was rich. Tell someone that these gems—ground and drunk in wine, held in the mouth, worn around the neck—would heal disease.

Is there any possibility that your cure might work?

If the gems helped at all, it was probably the work of the patient’s mind.

colorful gemstones; Photo: Getty Images. Taken In Phuket, Thailand

Photo: Getty Images.

The glorious colors of stained glass windows in large churches at the time were surely popular, at least partially, because of the uplifting rainbow of colors they produced when sunlight came through them. The effect is still magical.

Even today, in our color-drenched society, color is used to produce specific psychological reactions. Colors are chosen to calm mentally disturbed patients in hospitals or patients in a doctor’s waiting room. They are chosen to irritate patrons in fast food restaurants enough so that they eat and leave quickly, or to induce shoppers to linger longer and spend more money in malls.

But there is also the placebo effect.

There was an episode of the old television program “M.A.S.H.” in which doctors ran out of pain killers. They began to hand out sugar pills telling the patients that they were strong pain relievers. It worked for most of the patients.

Wondering if this episode was based on fact, I went trolling through the internet and found a paper called “The Silent Healer: The Role of Communication in Placebo Effects.” Authors Jozien M. Bensing and William Verheul start their paper with a story:

“Medical history is full of anecdotes. One famous anecdote in the placebo literature is about Henry Knowles Beecher, the well-known Boston anesthesiologist who worked in Europe and North Africa during World War II. The story is about a precarious situation in a field hospital at Anzio Beachhead (Italy) where Beecher once had to perform surgery when morphine ran out while wounded soldiers kept on being brought in. In absence of morphine but unable to watch the wounded soldiers suffering, one of the nurses decided to administer a saline solution, telling the soldiers they were getting a strong pain reliever. To the amazement of all people present, this seemed to benefit the soldiers. Beecher found this such an amazing phenomenon that after the war, he decided to make it the focus of his scientific work. In 1955 he wrote a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled ‘The Powerful Placebo.’ In it he concluded, after having reviewed 15 published intervention studies, that ’35 percent of a drug’s or a doctor’s success is due to the patient’s expectation of a desired outcome, or the placebo response.’“

Citrine faceted stone by Nancy Attaway

Citrine faceted stone by Nancy Attaway. Photo by Jim Lawson

Now imagine you’re a medieval farmer sharing a house with livestock. The doctor places in your hand a gemstone, as richly colored as sunlight streaming through a stained glass window in your church, a color that seems to come from God. The doctor tells you the gemstone will heal you. Would you have doubted him?

gemstones: Blue was considered a celestial color, and was the color of the Virgin Mary’s robes in almost all church paintings. Seeing a color like that of this 22.70 carat Arizona azur-malachite could leave you feeling blessed. In addition, the way the band of malachite splits the azurite in two, might be interpreted as looking into the fields of heaven through the vault of the sky. Strong medicine indeed. Photo Mia Dixon, courtesy Pala International.

Blue was considered a celestial color, and was the color of the Virgin Mary’s robes in almost all church paintings. Seeing a color like that of this 22.70 carat Arizona azur-malachite could leave you feeling blessed. In addition, the way the band of malachite splits the azurite in two, might be interpreted as looking into the fields of heaven through the vault of the sky. Strong medicine indeed. Photo Mia Dixon, courtesy Pala International.

While any healing attributed to gemstones was likely triggered by the psychological response to the gem and the patient’s faith in the healer, there may have been one or more constituents in the physician’s recipe that actually did help the patient. For example, some treatments for eye disease in the medieval medical texts called for malachite, lapis lazuli, antimony, and honey. If the potion worked, it was probably the honey, which is known to be a powerful antiseptic.

The interest in the use of color to heal continues today in the interest in the field of color therapy, or chromatherapy, which claims to use different wavelengths of color to balance the body’s energy chakras. While this is certainly controversial, who’s to say it doesn’t have some effect on some people? Color is certainly a personal thing. Some people are unmoved by it; others are strongly affected by it.

Gemstones and Birthstones - Turquoise - the amazing blue stone of many shades.

Turquoise comes in a variety of colors and varieties, as you can see in this collection, from pure robin’s egg blue to greenish stones, from finely textured “spider web” matrix to stones that can be partially or mostly matrix. Photo by Jim Lawson.

Personally, I love the color turquoise in clothes and in jewelry, so I once painted a room that color. But I couldn’t live with it. I couldn’t say if it had negative energy, or altered my chakras, or affected my health. I do know it gave me the urge, within a few months, to paint it away.

Learn more about gemstones from classic issues of Colored Stone magazine. And don’t miss Sharon’s Smokin’ Stones articles in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine. Have some catching up to do? Get multiple issues of these magazines in convenient, value-priced magazine collections for timeless gemstone and jewelry information.

 


Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing about gemstones and jewelry for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of birthstone romance novels under the name Liz Hartley.


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