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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005, 07:34 GMT 08:34 UK
Dieting hope for monastic elixir
Soutra Aisle/Undiscovered Scotland
The monks used herbs and plants from all over the known world
A herbal remedy developed by Scottish medieval monks could be turned into a new dieting pill.

The monks of Soutra Aisle, just south of Edinburgh, used the bitter vetch plant as a means of suppressing hunger.

Samples of the plant have been sent to Highland Natural Products at Muir of Ord, Ross-shire, for investigation as a possible slimming pill.

But pharmacists say slimming pills really only work in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle.

Archaeologists at the 12th Century monastery at Soutra Aisle have discovered that the Augustinian monks chewed the bitter vetch plant to stave off hunger.

They feel no need to eat and drink and this last for weeks, sometimes into months
Brian Moffat

The area's hospital, set up in about 1160, was one of the most important medical centres in Scotland.

Dr Brian Moffat, the director of the Soutra Aisle dig, said there was evidence that the monks were cutting up the tubers of the plant, lathyrus linifolius, to make a potion.

It is believed this was used to help their patients lose weight or cope with the effects of a failed harvest.

Dr Moffat said: "These tiny tubers are eaten two or three at a time. Chewed, they taste of leathery liquorice.

Soutra Aisle/Undiscovered Scotland
Centuries of medical care took place at Soutra Aisle

"Quite simply, according to all the reports we've compiled, around 300, people forget to eat and drink.

"They feel no need to eat and drink and this lasts for weeks, sometimes into months."

He said there was also evidence that the monks treated cryptosporidium food poisoning with blaeberries, could induce women in difficult childbirth and used hemlock as an anaesthetic in more difficult operations.

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