Thursday, 13 March 2008
Wart charmers and other folklore
Many years ago, when your granny's mummy was just a lass, there were people who might claim to be wart charmers. For a small fee, they would offer to "charm" a wart away. In the Wessex of my childhood, various remedies were used. One I heard of was to rub the wart with bacon fat, and then bury the piece of bacon and as it rotted, so would the wart fade. In smart circles, a piece of steak served the same purpose. Others swore by covering the wart with cobwebs, and then burning the latter. Incidentally, cobwebs were always tolerated in stables, as they could be used to stop a wound bleeding (it doesn't do to dwell too long on all the dust and bits of chaff the cobwebs also trapped . . .)
The Elder (which has many useful attributes) was the remedy for other folk - a young elder shoot would have as many notches cut in it as there were warts to be cured and then buried. However, if someone were to find it and pick it up, the warts would be transferred to them . . . apparently. Others, it was said, had a rather more sinister cure, which was to use the blood of small animals such as cats, mice or moles to rub on the wart (fortunately there is no mention of them being buried afterwards . . .) I was told by a lass who grew up in post-War London, that she and her friends used to use the juice of the Greater Celendine (which is egg-yolk yellow!) to treat warts. Apparently it grew on bomb sites, along with the Rosebay Willowherb (some folks call this Fireweed). Fig leaves or dandelion stems were also employed.
Certain plant-based cures were tied to certain parts of the country. In Somerset, along with Huntingdonshire and Lincolnshire, the soft inner part of the broad bean was used to rub the wart, or else the runner bean; in Devon, the Buttercup was known as the "Wart Flower", whilst the Euphorbia family were also used and the Sun Spurge had the alternative name of "wartwort" - which tickles my sense of humour somewhat! In Lincolnshire, the Petty Spurge was called "wart-grass". Red Campion, Toadflax and Scarlet Pimpernel were also employed in the same fashion.
Not that you'd be interested, but these all grew in and around the wild part of our garden when I was growing up.
An American website records a piece of cotton being tied around the wart, and then the thread was buried with the usual "as it rotted" line. The bacon or steak was replaced by rubbing the wart with a Cockerel's comb and burying that. Vegetable cures included rubbing milkweed juice on the wart or rubbing it with a piece of wild turnip. Pokeweed roots were cooked in grease and the resulting mixture rubbed on the wart. After 4 or 5 applications, the wart would go. Rubbing the wart with an old bone was another remedy - and you then chucked the bone over your shoulder. A plaster of brown soap and spit was also apparently efficatious when applied for 24 hours.
Bouncing link removed! Will try and find another link to the whackier wart cures . . .