Did the 17th Century Plague Doctors have it Right?

It’s the year 1636, a dark quiet sadness has replaced the joyful noise of life that once rumbled the busy streets of Nijmegen Netherlands. Everyone avoids interactions with others and the social events that were a big part of the Dutch culture. Except for one person…

Despite the disturbing appearance of plague doctors’ attire, it was the “personal protective equipment” of their time. In the 21st century, there may be things we can learn from their approach to protecting themselves from illness through the contents of their beak masks, without looking like something out of a horror movie. 

DID YOU KNOW? The beak mask of plague doctors held really high importance in maintaining their health. 

Plague Doctors

At the height of the great plague, the plague doctor’s outfit served as a way for physicians to safely care for their patients with decreased risk to their own health. Stuffed with dried plants, the beak of their mask was used as a sort of “air filter”. The dried plants were believed to purify the air as it passed through them, before being inhaled into the respiratory system. The robe and gloves were a means of protecting their skin. The cane worked as a measuring tool for the distance the physician would maintain between themself and the patient (1, 2). The elements of the protective outfit all served a purpose in keeping the physician healthy and preventing the spread of the plague. Although plague doctors used beak masks with dried plants to decrease illness, it is not documented that this was a preventative measure people would use throughout life to fight illness during the plague. 

Although plague doctors used beak masks with dried plants to fight illness, there is no evidence that normal people used them.

Plague Masks

But let’s talk about the beak mask a little more. The Black Plague is often closely associated with the image of the plague doctor’s beak mask. While it is a bit creepy, this mask held high importance in maintaining the physician’s health. Many plants are known to have antibacterial and antiviral properties (3). The dried plants and herbs stuffed inside helped to purify the air, in a similar way to how we now use essential oils.

DID YOU KNOW? Essential oils are the concentrated form of dried plants. Meaning, we can use the same things as the plague doctors did, in a Füm™, to boost our body's ability to fight illness the same way.

What was in the mask?

The plague doctors used plants in the beak mask as a way to protect their health. Sounds very similar to using essential oils with FUM!. Essential oils are the concentrated form of plants, made from the roots, stems, leaves, bark, fruit, etc., of plants (4). The effectiveness of the plants in enhancing wellness can be utilized efficiently through the use of essential oils. Plants were known to be an excellent way of purifying the air and shielding against illness. Similarly, essential oils could also be a very effective tool to enhance our wellness. 

 It is commonly believed that beak masks would have had dried peppermint, eucalyptus, clove, cinnamon, rose, rosemary, and carnation stuffed in them. There is little documentation of what exactly was used, but these plants are the ones most likely to have been included. These plants are well known as being effective tools for increasing our bodies’ ability to fight illness. Since the plague, this blend of plants has been used in many applications as a way to enhance wellness, in the form of essential oils, dried plants, in foods, etc. Füm™ has formulated many of these essential oils (plus a few other good ones!) into our Shield Cores. Shield Cores contain clove, peppermint, eucalyptus, cinnamon, lemon, orange, and tangerine essential oils. These essential oils are commonly used to promote wellness by supporting your body in fighting illnesses. Shield Cores and FUM are a way to carry a natural wellness booster with you everywhere, without the need of a creepy beak mask.

Füm instead of plague mask


Plants have been known throughout history to be effective tools for supporting wellness. Maybe the plague doctors were onto something - using a tool to inhale the benefits of plants and promote wellness. Füm can be your tool to inhale the benefits of essential oils everywhere. 

 Hannah Pauls Health Researcher at FUM   ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hannah is passionate about helping people live better lives. Trained in nursing, Hannah finds great joy in seeing others create positive habits.



  1. Earnest, M., “On Becoming a Plague Doctor”, The New England Journal of Medicine. May 2020. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2011418
  2. Bogart, N. “A history of pandemic masks: why doctors wore beaks during the plague”, CTV News. April 2020. https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/a-history-of-pandemic-masks-why-doctors-wore-beaks-during-the-plague-1.4890564
  3. Joshi, B., et al. "Antibacterial, Antifungal, Antiviral, and Anthelmintic Activities of Medicinal Plants of Nepal Selected Based on Ethnobotanical Evidence", Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine,vol. 2020, Article ID 1043471, 14 pages, 2020.https://doi.org/10.1155/2020/1043471 
  4.  Swamy, Mallappa Kumara et al. “Antimicrobial Properties of Plant Essential Oils against Human Pathogens and Their Mode of Action: An Updated Review.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine. 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5206475/

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