Groundwater: medicine by the glassful?

Robins, N.S.; Smedley, P.L.. 2013 Groundwater: medicine by the glassful? In: Duffin, C.J.; Moody, R.T.J.; Gardner-Thorpe, C., (eds.) A history of geology and medicine. London, UK, Geological Society of London, 261-267. (Geological Society Special Publications, 375).

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Knowledge of the healing properties of some groundwater sources has been passed down through the generations. A complex array of hydrogeological environments yields a rich and diverse range of chemical compositions, and cures for a variety of ailments were available from some spring waters. Many were sourced with associated religious overtones. It is likely that exposure to clean cold water alleviates the symptoms of leprosy and probable also that it relieves rheumatic pain. However, the only demonstrable medicinal properties of groundwater are its purging effects wherever MgSO4 or Epsom salts prevailed. Clean and potable groundwater is certainly a key to human health and some of the minerals dissolved within it are essential to the human body, although many of these minerals become toxic if present in excess. The modern fashion for bottled groundwater, often perceived to be associated with health-giving and medicinal properties, for the most part, merely offer a safe form of drinking water. The curative and medicinal properties of groundwater have been recognized, correctly or otherwise, for several thousands of years. The founding of the English city of Bath, with its well-known spa waters, goes back to 863 BC when the young Prince Bladud contracted leprosy and was banished from his father’s royal court (Bowman 1998). He was set to work as a swine herdsman, but soon his pigs also caught the disease. But one day, when the pigs had been wallowing in a warm mud spring by the river, one by one they emerged from the mud with clear signs of healing. On seeing this, Bladud did likewise and he too emerged cleansed with greatly improved health. The Prince was able to return to his royal duties, later becoming the mythical God-King, father to King Lear, but, more importantly, making the link between groundwater and medicine. Many years later, Robert the Bruce would enjoy the same cure, this time at a spring emerging from Devonian sandstone at Scotlandwell in Fife (Robins et al. 2004); this was a story that was repeated throughout Europe and the Americas for hundreds of years. The story of Bath encapsulates the belief that groundwater is a healing agent. Several centuries after Prince Bladud’s experience, the Romans came upon the springs at Bath and, with their usual enthusiasm for hot springs, developed the site into the famous Roman baths that survive today. The baths prospered for four centuries before they fell into disrepair with the collapse of the Roman Empire. Interest was renewed from the late seventeenth century, when Bath became a fashionable resort that

Item Type: Publication - Book Section
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Additional Keywords: Groundwater, Medicine, GroundwaterBGS, Groundwater and health
NORA Subject Terms: Hydrology
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Date made live: 16 Dec 2013 14:42 +0 (UTC)

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