GOUT

2010

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 picking for many miles outside London”.

BIRCH tea (boiling water on a couple of tablespoon-fuls of the chopped leaves) has been used for gout, as well as urinary complaints in general. Gerard reckoned that CUCKOO-PINT “hath a peculiar vertue against the gout, being laied on with Cowes dung”. “With Buls tallow, or Goats suet this [DWARF ELDER] is a remedie for the gout” — “Dr Bullen’s remedie”, according to Aubrey. So is MUGWORT; take a handful of it, “and seeth it in sweet oil olive, until the third part of the oil be consumed; then anoint therewith any part that is tormented with the gout, and the pain thereof will be quickly gone or put away”. A tincture of BIRTHWORT is used in Russian folk medicine for gout. TANSY used to be a favourite remedy for the condition. Gypsies used a hot fomentation or an infusion for it, and in Scotland it was the dried flowers that were used. Gerard confirms its use in his day: “The root preserved with hony and sugar, is an especiall thing against the gout, if every day for certaine space, a reasonable quantity thereof be eaten fasting”. And two hundred years before his time tansy was already being used for gout, according to leechdoms of the 14th century. A decoction of DYER’S GREENWEED has been used for gout, as well as other ailments, a remedy that goes back a long way, for we find a 15th century leechdom quoting the use: “Take flowers of broom and flowers and leaves of woadwaxen [i.e., dyer’s greenweed], equally much, and stamp them with may-butter, and let it stand so together all night; and on the morrow melt it in a pan over the fire, and skim it well. This medicine is good for all cold evils, and for sleeping hand or foot, and for cold gout”.

Duke of Portland’s powder was well known at one time for treating gout. It was made up of BIRTHWORT, GENTIAN, GERMANDER, GROUND PINE and CENTAURY. It used to be said that drinking water from a well beside a PEAR tree was helpful for gout. TEASEL seems to have been linked with gout in popular imagination, so it is not surprising to find the plant used in the treatment of that complaint (Blunt), and an early prescription for the complaint required the sufferer to lay pounded MULLEIN to the sore place. “… within a few hours it will heal the sore so effectively that [the gouty man] can even dare and be able to walk”. Dawson. 1934 also quoted a medieval prescription for the same ailment — “seethe mullein in wine, and it helpeth the hot gout; and seethe it in water, and it helpeth the cold gout”. Aubrey 1686/7 quoted an instance of the use of WHITE BRYONY’S leaves for gout: “Take the leaves of the wild vine; bruise them and boyle them, and apply it to the place grieved, laid in a colewort leaf”. As it was used for dropsy as well, one suspects that this was a case of doctrine of signatures, for the root could be taken as resembling a swollen foot. BLACK BRYONY’S roots used to be applied as a plaster for both gout and rheumatism, rather dangerous, one would have thought, for these roots are irritant and acid. Evelyn recommended ELM; all parts of the tree, he said, “asswage the pains of the gout”. LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY has been used for gout, and Gerard, though doing little more than repeat earlier prescriptions, did print a novel way of tackling the disease. He enjoined the practitioner to put the flowers in a glass, “and set it in a hill of ants, close stopped for the space of a month, and then taken out, therein you shall find a liquor that appeaseth the paine and griefe of the gout, being outwardly applied…”

Russian folk medicine prescribed the stalks and leaves of SUNFLOWER, infused in vodka, and given three times a day, for gout. An ointment made from BROOM flowers has been used for the condition. Folk medicine in Indiana advised eating lots of ASPARAGUS, which, so it is claimed, brought relief in just a few days.