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The sure-fire medieval cure for baldness

Mat Hayward | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 03/30/17

All you need is bear fat, wheat straw ash, and patience.

That Renaissance woman of the Middle Ages, Hildegard of Bingen, was a theologian, playwright, composer, and scientist. Along with her extensive writings of visionary theology, she also had many treatments for illness under her belt. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed her a Doctor of the Church, noting:

In Saint Hildegard of Bingen there is a wonderful harmony between teaching and daily life. In her, the search for God’s will in the imitation of Christ was expressed in the constant practice of virtue, which she exercised with supreme generosity and which she nourished from biblical, liturgical and patristic roots in the light of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Her persevering practice of obedience, simplicity, charity and hospitality was especially visible. In her desire to belong completely to the Lord, this Benedictine Abbess was able to bring together rare human gifts, keen intelligence and an ability to penetrate heavenly realities.

One topic she tackled was the curious problem of male baldness. Hildegard saw a correlation between the amount of hair on one’s head and in one’s beard. Lack of a beard could mean you’ll keep your hair longer, but this leads to infertility, while if you have a thick beard you may find that the hair on your head is quick to fall out. Linking head hair and facial hair to fertility before anyone knew about testosterone is quite a feat. She went on to offer a cure, which shares in this passage from her work On Natural Philosophy and Medicine:

When a young person begins to lose his hair, take bear fat, a small quantity of ashes from wheat straw or from winter wheat straw, mix this together and anoint the entire head with it, especially those areas on the head where the hair is beginning to fall out. Afterwards, he should not wash this ointment off for a long while. The hair that has not yet fallen out will be moistened and strengthened by this ointment so that it will not fall out for a long time. Let him repeat this often and not wash his head. For the warmth of bear fat has the property of causing much hair to grow. And the ashes from wheat straw or winter wheat straw strengthened the hair so that it will not readily fall out. When these ingredients are mixed as described, they will hold a person’s hair for a long time so that it does not fall out.

Bear fat and ashes sitting on your head for “a long while” … I guess the smell would be worth it to keep your hair from falling out. What do you think?

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