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10 Ancient Fertility Treatments You Wouldn’t Want to Use Today

by Jessica Fleming-Montoya
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Fertility treatment in the modern age usually involves assisted fertilization or medication. However, thousands of years ago, people had to get pretty creative when it came to enhancing fertility and guaranteeing pregnancy. Here are ten ancient fertility treatments you probably wouldn’t want to use today.

Related: 10 Crazy Ineffective Historical Treatments For STDs

10 A Potion of Butter and Breastmilk

One odd contraception method doctors have proposed dates back to the 4th century BC. The doctor in question, Hippocrates, was well-known as a physician and is still considered a key player in the history of modern medicine.

However, his remedies for infertility may be slightly questionable. Hippocrates wrote an essay about infertility treatments, one of which was to give the breastmilk of a woman who had birthed a boy and a special plant butter to a fasting woman.

According to him, if the fasting woman vomited after drinking the concoction, it meant that she would get pregnant. One can only wonder just how many women, understandably, vomited from this concoction.[1]

9 An Insertable Lead and Breastmilk Concoction

What Pregnancy “norms” were Like in Ancient Greece

Another questionable infertility treatment offered up by Hippocrates consisted of pulverized rocks and breastmilk. In this treatment, Hippocrates prescribed women struggling with infertility to grind up lead and a stone that attracts iron. The women were to grind these two substances until they were smooth.

Then, according to Hippocrates, the woman should tie the ingredients up in a rag. Next, they needed to dip the rag in breast milk and insert it into the vagina. The idea was that the vagina would soak up these ingredients and be better able to retain a man’s semen.

Like the butter and breastmilk recipe, it’s hard to say how effective this infertility treatment really was. Still, it was one of the few options available at the time for women who were struggling to have children.[2]

8 Throwing Offerings in a Hot Pool

Most ancient civilizations believed in gods and goddesses who were responsible for the way the world worked. Gods like Poseidon were responsible for the sea, for example, and would therefore require offerings if you were crossing the ocean. Similarly, many of these ancient societies had fertility gods who they believed were responsible for helping women get pregnant.

One ancient civilization that believed in these types of fertility offerings was the Etruscan civilization. In Tuscany, archaeologists have dug up small statues of newborn babies that were thrown into a thermal hot spring. These offerings date back to the Etruscan period.

The belief is that the thermal hot spring symbolized healing, whereas the offerings symbolized whatever illness Etruscans were struggling with. By throwing small statues of babes into the hot spring, Etruscans believed they’d be able to increase their chances of getting pregnant.[3]

7 Whipping a Woman’s Belly

One of the stranger ancient methods for improving fertility in women dates back to ancient Rome. The Romans celebrated the god Mars in October. During this particular festival, they took it upon themselves to treat infertility.

According to historians, during the feast of Mars, one of the rituals practiced was that priests would run through the streets of Rome. When they did, they would carry whips made of goatskins, which they would use to strike the bellies of women who were struggling with infertility.

Of course, it’s difficult to say where this strange habit came from or whether it really worked. Still, it was one of the earliest—and strangest—attempts at curing infertility.[4]

6 Reciting the Lord’s Prayer

One of the more modern historic fertility treatments arose during the 13th century. This treatment was prescribed by an Englishman named Gilbertus Anglicus, who wrote several manuscripts about various medical and surgical practices.

According to Gilbertus, one solution for infertility was for a man who was at least 20 years old to recite the Lord’s prayer at a specific time of day. As he did so, he’d have to uproot a comfrey and daisy plant and squeeze the juices from the plant.

His next step was to write the words “The Lord said: increase and multiply and fill the earth” as well as several magic words on an amulet. With that task out of the way, he would then have to wear the amulet the next time he engaged in intimate relations. According to the manuscript, doing so would cause the woman to get pregnant with either a girl or a boy.[5]

5 Sacrificing a Virgin

One of the more horrible fertility treatments ancient civilizations cooked up stems from the Aztec empire. The Aztecs were a notoriously brutal group, so it’s no surprise that their choice of fertility treatment involved human sacrifice.

The Aztecs worshipped a goddess called Xochiquetzal, who they believed was responsible for fertility. In order to treat women who were struggling with fertility, they thought that those women had to be in favor with the goddess.

To ensure the goddess’s continued good favor, the Aztecs would select a virgin to pretend to be the goddess and marry a warrior who represented one of the goddess’s husbands. One year after this seemingly sweet ritual, however, the virgin girl would be sacrificed and have her skin removed.

Next, one of Xochiquetzal’s priests would wear the skin while the goddess’s disciples danced around him and drew blood from their tongues as an offering to the goddess. The idea was that this ritual would ensure the goddess continued to bestow the blessings of fertility and healthy childbirth upon the disciples.

As the Aztec empire collapsed in a little under 200 years, it ensured this bloody fertility treatment’s demise as well.[6]

4 Drinking Catnip-Infused Wine

During medieval England, there were several recipes for infertility floating around. As with many remedies, this one involved cooking up a tonic that hopeful parents could take.

According to some medieval doctors, one simple remedy to help a barren woman get pregnant was to head into the field and pick some catnip plants. Next, the patient would need to boil the catnip in wine.

Once the wine had boiled down to a third of its original volume, it was ready to drink. The patient would have to drink the catnip wine on an empty stomach for three days. According to medieval doctors, this would help ensure that the woman would get pregnant soon and be able to bear a child. Let’s just hope there were no cats around to drink the wine before the mothers-to-be got to it![7]

3 Drinking Wine Mixed with Pig Testicles

If the catnip wine sounded unpleasant, this next medieval remedy is far worse. Some doctors had other methods of helping women fall pregnant, using a concoction with slightly different ingredients.

This remedy involved removing the testicles from a male pig and drying them out. Once the testicles were dry, the patient would need to grind them down into a powder. The next step was to mix the powder with wine.

According to the text that laid out this remedy, the patient would need to drink the wine for three days in order to ensure fertility. What’s interesting about this remedy is that the doctor who wrote out the recipe never specified whether it was the woman or the man that had to take the potion. Perhaps both poor partners had to drink this pig testicle delight to help them conceive.[8]

2 Leaving Umbilical Cords Under Your House

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Not all fertility treatments throughout history have involved ingesting something. There are several infertility treatments that require women and men to take certain steps instead.

One rather unpleasant infertility treatment stems from the Batak community in Indonesia. The Batak people are an indigenous group that still exists today. However, they’ve modernized their conception of infertility quite a bit.

However, back in the day, the Batak community’s remedy for infertility was quite simple. They believed that you had to palace umbilical cords and placentas beneath the home of any woman who wanted to fall pregnant.

Once again, we can’t say for sure how effective this infertility treatment really was. However, we do know that the Batak people seemed to have been able to reproduce successfully, as there are currently about three million Batak alive and well today.[9]

1 Drinking Urine

Of all the fertility medications that ancient doctors prescribed, perhaps one of the most unpleasant was proposed by Pliny the Elder. Pliny the Elder was a scholar from Rome who lived between AD 23 and AD 79. Although Pliny’s career originally was as a military man, he was far more interested in studying and writing. He wrote extensively on a number of topics.

One topic that Pliny the Elder decided to cover was that of medicine and, in particular, fertility. In one of his texts, he described that a simple cure for infertility was to drink the urine of a eunuch. The idea was that doing so would work against any negative infertility spells.

Eunuchs’ urine wasn’t the only urine that Pliny the Elder proposed people drink, either. He also suggested that horse, bull, and boar urine were great ways to help improve sexual arousal and increase desire in the bedroom.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen