A surgeon’s advice for what to do when you have a patient to treat but you’re fresh out of unicorn horn.

John Woodall was a surgeon who held a variety of jobs including stocking the medical chests of the ships bound in the service of the East India Company, the army, and the navy. In addition to these jobs, he also was the Surgeon General of the East India

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The Surgeon’s Mate title page

Company, a surgeon at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, and master of the Barber-Surgeons Company. Woodall is best remembered for publishing a description and treatment for scurvy in a book entitled The Surgeon’s Mate in 1617. The book was reprinted in 1635 and 1655.

It was also in The Surgeon’s Mate that Woodall described an alternative to use if unicorn horn (alicorn) was not available. In the section entitled “Of the vertues and vses of sundry Cordiall Waters,” the entry for Cornu cervi or harts horn read:

“Harts horne is to be numbered among Coridall simples in the highest place, it is giuen in want of Vnicornes horne and not vnfitly, it comforteth the heart, is good against poyson, prouoketh vrine, openeth obstructions, easeth the chollicke, disperseth winde, killeth wormes in the body, is good against paines of the reines, or bladder, and being taken vpon

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Entry for Cornru cervi in John Woodall’s The Surgeon’s Mate

each occasion in liquors proper to the former griefes, it is much the better in force: Thus much is ment of Harts horne vnburned. And being burned the pouder thereof is very good against the bloudy, or any other fluxes of the belly.”



According to John Woodall, a mature deer’s horn was an excellent substitute for unicorn’s horn. The hart’s horn protected against poison – like the unicorn horn – and also was good for the heart and treated colic, worms, and dysentery.

1 Comment

  1. It’s comforting to know there’s something out there to easeth my chollicke, lol.

    I can’t help but feel empathy for the unfortunate patients this Surgeon General treated.

    We’ve come a long way.

    I really enjoy this blog.

    Great entry, Mr. Findley!

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