Coral has been classed amongst gems from time immemorial by all nations, although, as is well known, it is the product of a marine insect.
It is found in various colours, the pink, red, and white, however, being the only kinds generally used as gems. It is produced in enormous quantities in the Southern Seas, where it forms huge reefs and even islands; but practically the whole of the Coral used for ornamental purposes is obtained in the Mediterranean off the African coasts, the Greeks maintaining an extensive fleet solely engaged in this trade. It is exported in very large quantities to China, Japan, India, and Persia, where it is used not only for its talismanic virtues, but also for its medicinal qualities. Amongst the Ancient Greeks and Romans it was highly valued, being used in many ways for various ailments. Orpheus recommended that it should be powdered and scattered amongst growing crops to safeguard them from locusts, blight, caterpillars, and thunderstorms. Dios-corides considered it efficacious against the delusions of the devil; and the Romans believed it specially favourable for the prevention of childish ailments, Coral in various forms being worn as charms against Whooping - cough, Colic, and Teething troubles; also for the prevention of fits. The Coral rattle of bells used in modern nurseries is a survival from this period when Coral was worn for health purposes, and the bells to drive away evil spirits. They also used powdered Coral, taking it internally in water for pains in the stomach; and, after burning the powder, used it as an important ingredient in ointments for ulcers and sore eyes because of its soothing and healing qualities. The Roman ladies wore small branches of Coral suspended from the neck as charms against sterility.
In India, China, and Japan, it is extensively used in Rosaries, and is very popular, being regarded as a sovereign remedy against cholera and all epidemics, and invaluable in indicating to its wearer the presence of poison, or the danger of illness, by changing colour. In Southern Europe necklaces of Coral beads are worn to avert the Evil Eye.
Camillus Leonardus recommends it to keep evil spirits from the house, prevent mental delusions and nightmare, give relief in intestinal trouble, and to avert diseases of the spleen. It is still extensively used in Italy for the numerous carved charms worn to avert the Evil Eye.