Boils

A LEEK poultice was used to "mature" a boil, according to the Welsh medical text known as the Physicians of Myddfai, and of course ONIONS have always been used too. A poultice (with or without black treacle) is a widespread treatment for a boil, not only in Britain, but in the Aegean (Argenti & Rose), and in America (Sackett & Koch). Irish country people used cooked NETTLES to cure boils (O'Farrell). GROUNDSEL poultices were commonly used for boils; there are records from Dorset (Dacombe), Norfolk (Randell), the Highlands (Grant) and northern Ireland (Foster), and doubtless many other areas. Just as commonly used were DOCK leaves, either those of Broad-leaved Dock or of Curled Dock. The Blackfoot Indians used the latter as a poultice (Johnston), and dock tea was another way of dealing with them (Fernie). COMFREY, at least in County Kerry, has been used, too, the roots being made into a poultice. The belief was that the comfrey drove away the worms in the boil. They could not stand the smell of the stuff (Logan). DWARF ELDER was used in the Balkans; the leaf decoction was taken internally as well as being used externally (Kemp). RIBWORT PLANTAIN is mentioned as a Highland remedy for boils and bruises (Grant), and it is common knowledge that a MALLOW or MARSH MALLOW compress should be used to deal with them. A compress made by cooking FENUGREEK seeds until they were like a paste or porridge, was used hot on boils, abscesses and the like (Fluck). A hot poultice of CATMINT leaves was used in Alabama (R B Browne).

OATMEAL poultices were part of Scottish domestic medicine for the cure of minor boils and suppurations. The oatmeal would be prepared with water and a slight dressing of salt butter. For "difficult" boils urine would take the place of butter (Beith). Another possibility is to use the infusion of SCENTED MAYWEED for such a poultice (Fluck), and in Somerset a poultice of GOOSE-GRASS was the remedy (Tongue. 1965).

VIOLET leaf plasters were used for ulcers and boils - there is a recipe from the 15th century for "hot botches", described as inflamed boils: "Take violet, and stamp it with honey and vinegar, and make thereof a plaster; and anoint the head [of the botch] on the beginning of its growing with the juice of violet, and then lay on the plaster" (Dawson). The condition used to be treated by Irish country people by applying a MULLEIN leaf roasted between dock leaves, and moistened with spittle - as long as the spittle be that of an Irishman! (Egan). The inner leaves of a CABBAGE formed the ideal medicament to draw a boil, according to belief in Shropshire and Cheshire (Barbour). An Irish cure was to use a pain-killing poultice made by mixing HEMLOCK leaves with linseed meal, and this could double up as a preparation to put on boils (Maloney). A CHICKWEED poultice used to be a common Dorset remedy for boils (Dacombe), as it was in Ireland, too (Barbour).

In Devonshire, they say that to cure boils, you have to find a BRAMBLE "growing on two men's lands", that is, roots on one man's land, grown over the hedge, and rooted on the other side, on someone else's land. The patient had to creep under it three times (Crossing); similarly in Cornwall, creeping under a bramble was believed to cure boils (Grieve. 1931). In Dorset, the cure was to creep under a bramble three mornings running, against the sun (Udal). Even amulets have been used to combat boils. A CAMPHOR bag round the neck was used in Maine (Beck), for example, and so was a NUTMEG, but it had to be nibbled nine mornings fasting (Hawke). In Devonshire, a little more ritual was needed. The patient must be given the nutmeg by a member of the opposite sex. He carries it in his pocket, and nibbles it from time to time. Only when the nutmeg has quite disappeared will the boils have gone (Devonshire Association. Report. vol 91; 1959p199). SLIPPERY ELM bark could be used to put on a boil. For example, mixed with lard, it can be put straight on the boil (R B Browne), or a paste could be made by pouring boiling water over the bark, and that could be put on (R B Browne, Beck), and splitting a fig and applying that as a poultice was the practice in Indiana (Tyler). From Alabama: "For boils, take equal parts sumac, sage and swamp-lily (that is, ATAMASCO LILY) root, and boil into a strong infusion, strain, and put in a cupful of lard and fry until the water is out. Apply on a flannel cloth" (R B Browne). The Kiowa Indians treated them simply by rubbing the leaves of POISON IVY over the boil. The resultant dermatitis would last about as long as the boil. So the disappearance of the two afflictions together may explain this strange practice (Vestal & Schultes).

Shona witch doctors were reported to use a medicine involving the CANDELABRA TREE (Euphorbia ingens) to treat boils. One way was to to crush the shell of a particular snail into a powder and mix it with the milky sap, and apply that (Palgrave).

Bombax ceiba > RED SILKCOTTON TREE

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