Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 6/Precepts in Medicine


Medical properties enter largely into the common notions of our peasantry. Most heads of families possess a knowledge of herbs and roots sufficient to enable them to treat ordinary diseases with considerable success; and at the proper seasons they never fail to lay in an ample stock of these simples for future use. Herbals are in much request; and herb doctors are met with in every town and village, who profess not only to know what herbs to prescribe for any given disease, but also to gather them "when their proper planets are ruling." There is, however, much to be added to this medical folk-wisdom which is purely superstitious. Thus, in order to cure warts, we are instructed to put the same number of small pebbles into a bag as there are warts; then to drop the bag where three or four roads meet, and the person who picks it up will obtain the warts in addition. Warts will also disappear soon after they are rubbed with a black snail; but it must afterwards be impaled on a spike of the hawthorn, or no effect will be produced. A farmer, lately resident in Cliviger, found one of his visitors suffering from toothache; and after exhorting him to have more faith in Jesus, gave him the following charm, written on paper, which he was to wear suspended from his neck, and over his heart, in full assurance that he would never again suffer from pain in his teeth. "As St John sat on a stone weeping, Jesus passed by, and saw him, and said, 'Why weepest thou?' And John answered and said, 'Because my tooth doth ache.' Jesus answered and said, 'Whosoever keepeth this charm for the sake of me, his teeth shall never ache again.' The same is good and for ever." Placing a cold iron key on the nape of the neck is frequently practised in order to stop bleeding at the nose. When persons are afflicted with tumours of any kind, they are advised to rub them with a dead man's hand. Smoke from a lime-kiln, the fumes from ammonia, or liquor from a gas-manufactory, are remedies for whooping-cough. This disease is also supposed to be cured by passing the patient nine times round the body of an ass. Those who suffer from rheumatic pains are advised to carry small potatoes in their pockets, which are held not only to cure, but to prevent a return of the disease. Consumption is believed to be produced, in many cases, by drinking water which has been boiled too long; and it is frequently sought to be cured by digging a hole into the earth and causing the patient to lie down and breathe into it. This remedy is supposed to be effectual in cases of ordinary coughs, asthmas, whooping-cough, low spirits, and hysteria. Twin children are said to be sympathetic; when one is suffering the other is more or less affected. The same medicines cure both. When one dies the other is expected to increase in strength, and to enjoy more vigorous health. In the vegetable kingdom, the bane and the antidote always grow near each other. The common dock is the antidote to the nettle; and hence we are told from childhood that when we are stung by a nettle we must rub the leaf of the dock over the part, repeating the words—"Nettle come out, dock go in;" and the smarting will gradually cease.