the sun, while for whooping cough, a child is passed nine times under and over (Udal), while this rhyme is recited :
Under the briar, and over the briar
I wish to leave the chin cough here (Raven).
That usage is mentioned by Aubrey, too (Aubrey. 1686/7). The remedy in Warwickshire was to pass the child three times beneath a "moocher", as it was called - a bramble that had bent back to root at both ends (Palmer. 1976). The Essex whooping cough remedy was to draw the child under "the wrong way", presumably, that is, by the ankles (Newman & Wilson). In the Midlands, the child had merely to walk under the bramble arch "a certain number of times" to cure his whooping cough (Notes and Queries; 1853). In Somerset, a child was passed through, apparently for hernia (Mathews). As far away as the Balkans, the blackberry arch was negotiated for illness - jaundice in this case (Kemp), and the custom was known in America, too, for, of all things, colic (H M Hyatt). On the Welsh border, an offering of bread and butter was put under the arch after the child had passed through, and sometimes, the patient had to eat the bread and butter while the adults present recited the Lord's Prayer. The rest of the food was given to an animal or bird on the way home - this would die, the disease dying with it (Baker. 1980). There were other, even stranger beliefs connected with a blackberry arch. For instance, if a shrewmouse ran over a horse it "enfeebled his hindquarters and made him unable to go". The cure was to drag the horse backwards through a bramble arch (Jacob), a procedure that must have been worth watching! From Ireland - if a man on Hallowe'en creeps under the long, trailing branches of the bramble, he will see the shadow of the girl he is to marry. If a gambler hides under a bramble, and invokes the devil's help, he will have luck at cards, no matter what colour he bets on. But there were genuine uses for the long shoots - binding thatch was one of them, and making beehives was another (C P Johnson. 1862). Its rate of growth is utilised in a Portuguese belief. A woman who wants her hair to grow longer cuts the tips off and puts them on a bramble shoot. As the bush grows, so will her hair. There is a snag, though. This is sympathetic magic, and it works both ways. If perchance the bush is cut down, her hair, in sympathy, will wither at the roots (Gallop).
There are a lot of medicinal uses for bramble leaves, some perfectly rational in view of the high tannin content, others no more than charms, like this Cornish use in cases of scalds and burns. Nine leaves are moistened in spring water, and these are applied to the affected part. While this is being done, the following charm has to be recited three times:
There came three angels out of the west.
One brought fire,and two brought frost;
Out fire, in frost;
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost
In Somerset bramble tips are used for bronchitis simply by peeling a shoot and nibbling it if the cough starts (Tongue.1965). Bramble vinegar, (made with the fruit) used to be made in Lincolnshire for coughs and sore throats (Gutch & Peacock), and the decoction of the tips with honey was an old sore throat remedy (Hill. 1754) (so is blackberry jam (Page. 1978)). Langham's The garden of health ... was written in 1578, and we can find something very similar there: "the new sprigs . doe cure the hote and evill ulcers of the mouth and throat and the swellings of the gums, uvula and almonds of the throat, being iften chewed ...". Equally efficacious is the use for diarrhoea, for both leaves and the root bark contain a lot of tannin, and so are astringent enough to be useful. Is that why bramble leaves are chewed to stop toothache? (Hatfield. 1994).
They say in Dorset that an ointment made from bramble tips and primroses is excellent for curing spots and pimples on the face (Dacombe), an interesting remedy in view of the fact that as far away as the Balkans, blackberry roots boiled slowly are the remedy for skin diseases. So are leaves in olive oil (Kemp), and on Chios it is bramble leaves that are used to treat a suppurating wound (Argenti & Rose), while in Scotland a poultice made from the leaves is a recognised cure for erysipelas (Beith). Gerard had: "the leaves of the bramble boyled in water, with honey, allum, and a little white wine added thereto, make a most excellent lotion or washing water ." The same preparation, he went on, was a "present remedy against the stone" - so, according to Pliny, are the berries and flowers as a decoction in wine. But what did Gerard mean by "they heale the eies that hang out . if the leaves be laid thereunto"? Something else that must be taken with a degree of scepticism is the use against heart trouble - according to Apuleius, in a 12th century manuscript, the treatment was simply laying the leaves on the left breast. Finally, and something that no herbalist would quarrel with - the berries are good for anaemia (Conway).
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