The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 5/Irish Folk-Lore



By F. W. Egan, B.A.

[Among the Irish peasantry there is a more or less fervent belief in the efficiency of plants to produce cures—in some cases to such an extent that until all plants fail a medical man will not be called in. Many of these cures appear to have been handed down from time immemorial, while some, possibly, may be of more recent introduction. Some of these cures are undoubtedly most efficient, while others, aided by imagination, may be successful. All, however, seem entitled to be included in the records of Medical Folk-lore. The following list has been drawn up by Mr. F. W. Egan.—G. H. Kinahan.]

Cures or reported cures by means of plants, used by the peasantry in various parts of Ulster, and some, at least, in the co. Dublin, so far as they have come under my observation.

Red Sorrel Cancer Drink decoction of dried blossoms.
Wood Sorrel CancerDo. Apply ointment prepared with the leaves.
Wood SorrelDo. CancerDo. in stomach Eat the leaves.
Plantain (broad and narrow leaf) called "cut grass" "bleeding grass," &c. Cuts Apply bruised leaves, while wet with the juice. Diminishes pain, stops profuse bleeding, and prevents festering.
Potatoes Sprains Bathe in hot water in which they have been boiled. All the "mercury" of the potato supposed to be in the water.
Broom "Water" dropsy, jaundice Drink decoction of leaves and plant tops.
Dandelion Stomach, liver, and kidney disorders Drink decoction, alone or mixed with that of other plants, as root of Tormentilla, &c.
Tonnentil (see last) Liver obstructions Drink decoction of root; also as a substitute for St. John's Wort in the following case.
Rose Noble, Yarrow, St. John's Wort, Mullein Liver and kidneys Decoction of mixture, with or without some other plants, as Tormentil root, Black-head, &c.
Ragwort or Ragweed Rheumatism, sprained joints, sciatica Hot fomentation with decoctions of whole plant in water. Also bruised leaves in lard as ointment.
Burdock "Water" dropsy Drink decoction in water.
Foxglove "Water"Do. and gravel

Tincture made with gin, used in very small quantity on loaf sugar, known to be a dangerous medicine, and, though spoken of, seems little used.

Marshmallow Gravel Drink decoction of roots in water.
MarshmallowDo. Chest and lung diseases DrinkDo. decoctiondo. of rootsdo. in milk (use frequently).
Mullein[1] Diarrhœa Drink decoction in water.
Mullein*Do. Boils Apply leaf roasted between dock-leaves and moistened with spittle, which must be that of an Irishman, at least in co. Dublin. (Probably any one's spittle would do in Ulster.—F.W.E.)
Mullein, Sage, Marjoram, Camomile Cramps in limbs Bathe with decoction.
Blackberry leaves Diarrhœa Decoction in hot water.
Camomile Flatulence, colic, indigestion in general Drink infusion of flowers.
St. John's Wort Gravel Drink decoction of leaves and flowers.
Parsley Gravel and slight disorders of kidneys Drink strong decoction.
Watercress King's Evil
Bruised leaves applied as poultice, and juice taken as drink in warm milk.
Brook-lime Gravel and urinary diseases generally
Decoction, alone or mixed with water-cress.
Yarrow Kidney diseases Drink decoction.
Tobacco, as sold Cuts Leaf bound on wound to arrest bleeding and heal.
Tansy Flatulence, pains in joints
Bathe in decoction of leaves in water with salt.
Mountain Ash Worms
Eat a few berries before breakfast for a few days.
Cranesbill Hæmorrhages, in cattle
Administer decoction of whole plant, and bathe with same.
Sage (wild) Promote perspiration
Drink decoction. This has been somewhat used for tea in parts of co. Dublin up to about 50 years ago, when tea was not so plentiful as at present, when bringing home a pound of tea from "the City" to a man's house was regarded in much the same way as bringing in a bottle of whiskey is now—a cause of rejoicing or mirth. People now in Howth remember it.
Dock Liver obstructions Drink decoction of root.
Garlic Sciatica and severe rheumatism
Leaves boiled in water to make a strong bath for whole body (a barrel has been used for bathing in).
House Leek Corns and warts Apply the juice.
Meadow sweet Scrofulous tendency Drink decoction.
Marjoram (wild) Indigestion, acidity Drink decoction.
  1. In connection with this plant a man in the parish of Gartan, co. Donegal, stated, in reference to its likeness to fox or folksglove, "This plant" (folks-glove) "sometimes cannot send up a flower, and it is then called a mullein. Mullein is a most valuable plant that ever was, as it will cure the worst consumption."