AGUE

2010

A charm, using GROUNDSEL. A woman suffering from the disease was recommended to tell her husband to tie a handful of groundsel to her bare bosom while the charmer spoke the necessary incantation. It had to remain there, and as the herb withered, the ague would go away. Wesley prescribed another charm for the same sickness -“For an ague… take a Handful of Groundsell, shred it small, put it in a Paper Bag, four Inches square, pricking that Side which is to [go] next the Skin full of Holes. Cover this with thin Linnen, and wear it on the Pit of the Stomach, renewing it two Hours before the Fit: Tried”. That charm was being used in Cornwall long after Wesley’s time. PANSY leaves in the shoe were said to cure ague, but Gerard was more conventional. “It is good, as the late Physitions write, for such as are sicke of an ague, especially children and infants…”. In Sussex, it used to be said that eating nine SAGE leaves on nine consecutive mornings (or some say seven leaves on seven mornings) is a cure for the ague.

A Suffolk cure for ague was a mixture of beer, gin and ACORNS (Gentleman’s Magazine; 1867). Surely the strangest, and one of the more disgusting, remedies for the ailment was the Scottish one that prescribed “a little bit of ox-dung drunk with half a scruple of masterwort”. Wearing round the neck a bag filled with grated HORSERADISH was a Cambridgeshire ague preventive. TEASEL was used in some parts. The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1867 mentions a remedy where the patient had to gather teasels and carry them about with him. But the remedy lay apparently in what was found inside the teasel — in Lyte’s translation of Dodoens, 1586, he says “the small wormes that are founde within the knops of teasels do cure and heale the quartaine ague, to be worne or tied about the necke or arme” (see HULME. 1895). In the Fen country of England, OPIUM POPPY was grown so as to provide the medicine to treat the endemic ague or malaria rife there (see MALARIA), and the doctrine of signatures would ensure that WILLOWS would feature in ague medicine; it grows in wet conditions, and the disease is caused by damp. A charm used in the Lincolnshire marshes to get rid of the ague was to take a sprig of ROWAN over a stile, and then return home by another route. In that way, the disease would leave the patient, and the next person who passed over the stile would then take it.