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The Story of Opium

Earliest surviving tablet describing Sumerian herbal medicine written.

Date: 3000s BCE

The Story of Opium

According to Teall (2014), the tablet "details fifteen pharmaceutical prescriptions...The elements of the treatments are faunal, botanic, and mineral: sodium chloride (salt), potassium nitrate (saltpeter), milk, snakeskin, turtle shell, cassia, myrtle, asafetida, thyme, willow, pear, fig, fir, and date... While this is only one text of few that survived, it offers insight to a more versatile pharmaceutical tradition than might be expected; the few ingredients named on the tablet were recombined into laxatives, detergents, antiseptics, salves, filtrates, and astringents. Opiates were another class of botanical medicine that was utilized by the ancient Mesopotamians...There is evidence that opium poppies were definitely present in Sumeria by 3000 BCE."