Medicines and drugs were only one of the ways in which people preserved their health or cured diseases. Medical theory emphasised the importance to health of five or six ‘non-naturals’: diet, emotion, ingestion, excretion, etc.
Surgery was used only for a few conditions where there was no alternative, such as amputations of wounded limbs or removing bladder stones. Surgeons also treated diseases on the surface of the body, such as boils and ulcers.
Religious belief dominated people’s understanding of their lives and experiences. God was believed to be the ultimate cause of disease as well as other events though he normally acted through natural means. Because of this, prayer was a very important preservative or cure from illness.
Supernatural remedies for disease were not limited to the church. Belief in different kinds of magic remained common. Spells, charms, and amulets were often used against illness.
Many of the most famous and powerful drugs in classical and Arabic medicines came from the Middle East and Asia. These were imported into Britain during the middle ages and later, but they were expensive and the supply was not always reliable.
Manufactured medicines were also imported. The most famous of these was theriac from Venice, which could treat plague and poison.
As new trade routes to Asia were developed in the late fifteenth century, the price of drugs and spices fell and the medicines they were used in became more widely available.