MARCH 26, 2017 BY
Medieval men also worried about losing their hair. They could turn to Hildegard of Bingen to provide them with a cure for baldness.
Among the many roles that the 12th century abbess Hildegard of Bingen had – scholar, mystic, composer – was that of a medical expert. In the 1150s she wrote the Book of the Intricacies of the Diverse Natures of Creatures, which focused on science and medicine and ranged from discussing the creation of the world to ways of keeping oneself healthy.
Hildegard’s work even includes a couple of references to baldness. In one section, she explains why men lost hair on their heads, connecting with medieval ideas about how the body was regulated between hot and cold and wet and dry states:
A person with a big, wide bald spot has strong warmth inside himself. This warmth and the sweat from his head push out the hair. The moisture of his breath is fertile and moistens the flesh where the beard grows so that much hair can grow there. But a person who does not have much hair in his beard, though hair in abundance on his head, is cold and quite infertile. When his breath touches the flesh around his mouth this flesh becomes infertile.
For Hildegard, baldness was not so much a problem on the head, but not having a beard meant you could be infertile. In short, she writes, “people who have a big, wide bald spot, also have a big and wide beard, and that those who have a thin and sparse beard have much more hair on the tops of their heads.”
Later on in her book the abbess offers a treatment to prevent baldness, which requires one to make use of wheat and a bear:
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.
You can read more of Hildegard’s medical knowledge in On Natural Philosophy and Medicine, translated by Margaret Berger (DS Brewer, 1999).