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ULCERS

LEEK poultices were put on them (Physicians of Myddfai). A Somerset treatment used MALLOW leaves, either by an infusion, or simply by using the leaves as a poultice. Green CABBAGE leaves were a favourite Irish country way to treat an ulcer, by poultice, perhaps? But not necessarily, for the leaves could simply be applied. Herbalists prescribe cabbage juice for stomach ulcers, for which BUCKBEAN infusions were given in Scotland, successfully, apparently. Another Scottish remedy, from the Highlands, was to use ROSEROOT on ulcers. An ointment has been made from WOAD to heal ulcers, and gypsies used the juice of fresh COLTSFOOT leaves in making such an ointment. GOOSE-GRASS is traditionally used to soothe wounds and ulcers. In Ireland a whole mass of the herb would be applied, while the juice was given internally at the same time.

TUBERCULOSIS

Parts of a PINE tree were used for a number of chest complaints. Even the smell of them was said to be helpful. That is why so many were planted around chest hospitals. But it is MUG WORT that has pride of place in folklore. There is a very well-known legend from the Clyde area of Scotland, in which the funeral procession of a young woman who had died of consumption was passing along the high road when a mermaid surfaced, and said: If they wad drink nettles in March And eat Muggons in May, Sae mony braw maidens Wadna gang to the clay. Similarly, from Galloway, there is a story of a young girl close to death with tuberculosis, and a mermaid who sang to her lover: Wad ye let the bonnie May die i’ your hand An’ the mugwort flowering i’ the land? The lad cropped and pressed the flower tops, and gave the juice to the girl, who recovered. A Welsh rhyme takes up the theme: Drink nettle-tea in March, mugwort tea in May, And cowslip wine in June, to send decline away. But why a mermaid in Scotland? Benwell & Waugh came up with an interesting answer — Artemis (the generic name for mugwort is Artemisia) was also a fish goddess, and is sometimes depicted with a fish tail. So it was the goddess herself, Read more […]

TOOTHACHE

Treating toothache by picking at the decayed tooth with a sharp twig of WILLOW, until it bled was recorded in Wales. After that the twig had to be thrown into a running stream. Simply chewing some willow bark would have been useful, for it contains salicin, from which salycilic acid was obtained. Later, this was compounded into acetyl-salicylic acid — aspirin, in a word. Applying a hot FIG (to the tooth or the cheek?) used to be a Cumbrian remedy for toothache, but the strangest remedy must be the use of pine cones. The scales were the part needed, because (and this is pure doctrine of signatures) they resemble the front teeth! A transference charm for the toothache involved BIRCH. It was recorded in Suffolk, and the sufferer was instructed to clasp the tree in his arms, and then cut a slit in it. A piece of his hair had to be cut from behind the ear, with the left hand, and this had to be buried in the slit. When the hair had disappeared, so would the toothache. ELDER was used in various charms for the condition. One from Denmark and Germany involved putting an elder stick in the ground (or a twig held in the mouth) while saying something like “Depart, evil spirit”. In Ireland, clay from under an elder tree Read more […]

TEETHING

GROUNDSEL, “the leaves stamped and strained into milke and drunke, helpe the red gum and frets in children”, or for teething babies. Babies with teething difficulties were given FENNEL tea in America. IVY has been used, too, but as a charm, for in the Gironde, in France, ivy-root necklaces (they had to be green, and an odd number of pieces) used to be put round a baby’s neck, to help teething. So were the stalks of CAROLINA NIGHTSHADE (Solarium carolinense) in America, or, sometimes, a necklace of ALLSPICE, and WOODY NIGHTSHADE, or DEADLY NIGHTSHADE stems and PEONY root, in England. And the juice of the latter, mixed with oil of roses, was a 16th century medicine for teething pains (Phaer, The boke of chyldren 1545, quoted in FLS News. 35; Nov 2001). A piece of the root of BITTER GOURD (Colocynthus vulgaris) set in a gold or silver case, was at one time hung round a baby’s neck as a teething amulet, a charm certainly known as early as the 6th century AD. In Alabama, the necklace was made from nine PAWPAW seeds. In Iowa a bag of ASAFOETIDA tied round the baby’s neck will help it to cut teeth without pain. Domestic medicine in the southern states of America used PERSIMMON sap for teething, the juice from a burned branch Read more […]

GOUT

The primary remedy for gout has to be GOUTWEED, whose very name proclaims its virtue, and not only the common name, for the specific name podagraria means ‘good for gout’, from podagra, gout in the feet. It was even cultivated once specifically for the treatment. Nowadays a tea might be prescribed, but Culpeper even believed that “the very bearing of it about one easeth the Pains of the Gout, and defends him that bears it from the Disease”. Colchicine, the drug obtained from MEADOW SAFFRON (Colchicum autumnale), has been used (in small doses, for it is extremely toxic) to treat gout and rheumatism. Gypsies use a very weak infusion of the sliced roots for the condition. This is an ancient usage going back at least to the Arab physicians, but it probably still stands as the best alleviation for gout. CANDYTUFT seeds have long been a traditional remedy for the condition, and in Indiana eating half a cupful of CHOKE CHERRIES each day was reckoned to be a cure. In Wales, HERB ROBERT was used, and, so it is said, GERMANDER SPEEDWELL, is especially good; the Emperor Charles V is supposed to have got benefit from it. It was so sought after for gout in the 18th century that it was, so they said, “made scarce to find through Read more […]

NOSEBLEED

LEEKS were used, but not in a way easily foreseen. Lupton, in the mid-seventeenth century, ordered the patient to take nine or ten fresh leeks, and to put a thread through the midst of them, “but cut off the tops of the leaves, then hang them round the party’s neck that bleeds, so that the leaves be upward to the nose, and the heads of them downwards…” The homeopathic use of NETTLES for nosebleed is quite traditional. Martin noted the use on Gigha in 1703, the roots being chewed and held to the nostrils, and earlier still, it was claimed that “being stamped, and the juice put up into the nosthrills, it stoppeth the bleeding of the nose”. The Physicians of Myddfai also recommended it, and Wesley prescribed the same cure. Lupton, in the mid-17th century, too, said “let the party that bleedeth chew the root of a nettle in his mouth, but swallow it not down, and without doubt the blood will staunch; for if one keep it in his mouth, he can lose no blood”. A leechbook of the 14th century includes “for bledyng of the nose. Take the bark of (HAZEL), and branse it and blow the powder in thi nose”, a remedy that would probably work quite well, but would be far too long-winded, unless, of course, one had a stock of the powdered Read more […]

MIGRAINE

It is claimed that the condition can be allayed by holding a freshly cut slice of raw POTATO to the temples. BAY berries, too, at least according to Gerard, “stamped with a little Scammonie and saffron, and labored in a mortar with vinegar and oile of Roses to the form of a liniment, and applied to the temples and fore part of the head, do greatly ease the pain of the megrim”, and he also advised “the juice of the leaves and roots” of DAISY to help “the megrim”. CAMOMILE tea will help, both for migraine and any sort of headache, and PELLITORY-OF-SPAIN was also used once. A leechdom from a 15th century collection advises sufferers to “take pellitory of Spain, and stone-scar [lichen] and hold long between thy teeth on the sore side; and chew it and it will run to water”. The root of STINKING IRIS has the reputation of being a painkiller, and a migraine remedy.

MENTAL ILLNESS

Given that WALNUT, by the strange doctrine once current bears the signature of the head and brain, it follows that it must be used for mental cases, from depression and mental fatigue to outright insanity. But the tree was involved in so-called cures for madness long before the doctrine of signatures was fashionable. A 15th century leechdom spoke of a sovereign medicine for madness and for “men that be troubled with wicked spirits: upon midsummer night betwixt midnight and the rising of the sun, gather the fairest green leaves of the walnut-tree, and upon the same day between sunrise and its going down, distill thereof a water in a still between two basins. And this water is good if it be drunken for the same malady”. Another nut featured in cures for insanity is KOLA. But it is the leaf of the Kola, together with leaves of three other shrubs, all ground up and mixed with black soap, that makes a Yoruba Ewe cure for mental illness. The roots of CHRISTMAS ROSE were used as a purge, a dangerous practice, for all the hellebores are poisonous, but this treatment was also prescribed for the insane. As Gerard had it, the treatment was to be given to “mad and furious men… and all those that are troubled with blacke choler, Read more […]

MEASLES

NETTLE tea has been much used for skin complaints, including eczema, boils, even measles (in Ireland). COWSLIP wine or tea can be taken for measles for either has the ability to lower the temperature, so they can be taken for any fever. YARROW tea, made from the flowers, is another folk remedy for the complaint. SAFFRON tea is the medicine used in American domestic medicine to cure the condition in young children, or, as it was put in Ireland, “to bring out the rash”. Lemon and sugar are added in Alabama. A Wiltshire name for MARIGOLDS is Measles-flowers; it is said that children were warned that picking garden marigolds would give them measles. The reason for the name, though, is likely to be just the opposite, for nearby, in Dorset, marigold tea and cider was given as a medicine, and in Scotland, too, though without the cider, there is a record from Suffolk, too. The marigold, it was said, helped to bring out the rash, which was what RED DEADNETTLE roots were reckoned to do, when boiled in milk for the children to drink (that was an Irish remedy), or CORIANDER, which is used in Chinese herbal medicine for that purpose. A decoction of the fruit of the TAMARIND tree is reported to be taken in Guyana as a measles Read more […]

MALARIA

(see also AGUE) In Africa, it is common to see hedges of NEEM TREE (Melia indica) grown close to houses, because of its reputation as a cure for malaria. In the Balkans, it was dealt with by steeping SAGE leaves and stems in brandy, and then straining it off. OPIUM POPPY, and opium itself, used to be the standard medicine for malaria, or ague, as it was called, in the Fen country of England. Doctors said that it had more effect than quinine. Every Fenland garden had a patch of these poppies growing, and “Poppy tea“, made from the seeds, was a general fever remedy there. BUCKBEAN has been used for the complaint, perhaps doctrine of signatures, for this plant prefers wet, marshy ground. Hill, in the mid-18th century, mentions this use for the dried leaves, and it also crops up in Russian domestic medicine. Four or five tablespoonfuls of the dried herb in a gallon of vodka, kept for two weeks, and one small wineglassful to be taken daily. Presumably, the fact that Buckbean is a sedative would help. In Sierra Leone, the leaf of a BAOBAB is used as a prophylactic against the disease, and in central Africa, a decoction of BARWOOD (Pterocarpus angolensis) root is used to cure, not only malaria, but also blackwater fever. Read more […]