In the first century Dioscorides (fl. ca. A.D. 50-79) employed a drug made from autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale L.), the very plant investigated by A/ P. Dustin in 1938 as an antitumor agent. Dioscorides recommended that the plant (kolchikon) be â€œsoaked in wine and administered to dissolve tumors (oidemata) and growths (phumata) not yet making pus.â€
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Mattaeus Platearius (d. 1161?) and Avicenna employed the plant in ways that suggest antitumoral activity. . . . Abu Mansur (fl. 968-977) said that the drug concocted from it is poisonous but dries up old sores. In light of this evidence one can conclude that prior to the thirteenth century autumn crocus was employed as an anticancer agent, but that its use was not widespread. The reluctance may have been due to the belief expressed by Hildegard [von Bingen], who said that it was more of a poison than a medicine.
Which of course it was, but all medicine is a balancing act between killing and curing, and the ancient and medieval doctors who used autumn crocus apparently knew what they were doing and got results that were promising enough for them to recommend its use to others.