Soil Mould Penicillium

The Coptic Penicillium:

By: Kamel Boulos Rofaiel, B.Sc. Agriculture, King Fouad University, Cairo (1940).



Chimie Copts knew about the healing properties of the soil mould Penicillium without knowing its name. They used and are still using it in many Coptic communities for the cure of acne and other similar skin disease.

Coptic method of preparation of mould Penicillium:

The preparation of the medicine is linked with some Coptic Christian tradition.

The old ladies in the community wake up early Sunday morning before sunrise and prepare a clean glass jar and fill it with oil.

They go out to a well trodden humid corner of cross roads (refer to the cross) and dig a small hole in the mouldy ground. They pour the oil in the hole and mix it thoroughly with the soil while reciting some Coptic prayers. They scoop the mixture back into the jar and leave it for some time. The clear oil on the top of the soil is used for treatment of acnes. A pigeon feather is used to spread the oil on the skin three times per day. Within three days usually the acnes or other spots disappear. The remedy is known as Sunday oil and the saying goes “Sunday oil causes acnes to fade away ”

My encounter with Soil Mould Penicillium:

My first encounter with the Penicillium was when I was 11 years old living with my family in Merowe in Sudan in the early 1924. My father got some eczema in his face. My mother at the time was in southern Egypt, when she came back after 30 days my mother was shocked, during this period my fathers’ face was really infected although he was treated by the Lebanese doctor. She immediately started the ritual for preparing the Sunday oil. When the oil was ready she spread it on my father’s face using a feather. Within three days he was completely healed and the Government medical officer was completely baffled.

My encounter with Petri Dish Mould Penicillium

 The second encounter was during my college days in King Fouad University (now Cairo University) in 1939. In the bacteriology lab we were asked to prepare Petri dish to examine the growth of bacteria in rotten meat. I left mine in the incubator, but when I examined it the next week, there was no growth. My supervisor Prof Saliem was very upset with me and asked me to look into my colleague Petri dish. When I asked for an explanation as to why there was no growth in my dish, he was furious and threw the dish away and asked me to leave the lab.

When I think about this incident now, knowing all the historical back ground, I wonder have I lost the chance to discover Penicillium before Fleming. I doubt it, but there is no doubt that my Copts along the Nile Valley in Egypt and Sudan used Penicillium centuries before Fleming and are still using it