TUBERCULOSIS

2010

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 nettletea 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, and by extension the plant itself, that was advertising its own benevolence.

An Irish remedy was to boil an ounce of the dried leaves of mugwort in a pint of milk, and give the result to the patient several times a day. In the Highlands of Scotland the liquid in which WOODRUFF had been boiled was given to consumptives — indeed, the Gaelic name for the plant means “wasting plant”. SPLEENWORT, by its very name, must have been used to treat spleen disorders. But in Scotland it was taken for tuberculosis as well. CAMOMILE has been used — even the dew shaken from the flowers was taken (in Wales) for consumption.

POLYPODY has been used for chest complaints, including tuberculosis, and, in America, the bark tea from CHOKE CHERRY was taken.

Kentucky home remedies insisted that “COCK-LEBUR tea is good for the phthisick”, tuberculosis, presumably(?). SAFFRON has been mentioned as a local remedy for the disease, but this is actually an old usage. Gerard, for instance, quotes it: “it is also such a speciall remedy for those that have consumption of the lungs, and are, as wee terme it, at deaths doore, and almost past breathing…” Central American Mayan medical texts prescribed crushed GREEN PURSLANE, rubbed on the body, for the disease (Roys). Mexican Indians like the Totonac use TREE CELANDINE (Bocconia frutescens) leaves, boiled, and the liquid drunk, or they could be used in a bath. And patients in Indiana were advised to drink POKE-ROOT juice.