NETTLE leaves chopped very small and mixed with whisked egg-white were applied to the temples and forehead in the Highlands as a cure for insomnia, but Martin, in the early 18th century, spoke particularly of fevered patients benefitting from the treatment. A Scottish charm for fever was to pluck a nettle by the root, three successive mornings, before sunrise (Dalyell), saying the name of the patient and his parents. Similarly, on the Aegean island of Chios, quartan fever is subject to St John the Baptist, and the patient invokes the saint frequently. But he can also take the following medicine, fasting: nettle-seed, ears of corn, 8 grains of cinnamon oil, all mixed in a mortar, and water added (Argenti & Rose). MEADOWSWEET is useful, too, for the plant contains some of the chemical constituents of aspirin. Boil the flowers for ten minutes in water, and drink three cupfuls of this a day (Fluck).
BIRTHWORT (Aristolochia clematitis) was recommended for fevers in the Anglo-Saxon text of Apuleius, and also in the Welsh medical text known as the Physicians of Myddfai ("For intermittent fever. Take the mugwort, the purple dead nettle, and the round birthwort, as much as you like of each, bruising them well in stale goat's milk whey, and boiling them afterwards. Let the patient drink some thereof every morning, and it will cure him"). WORMWOOD was used a lot to treat fevers. The Myddfai text has "for treatment of intermittent fevers. Take dandelion and fumitory, infused in water, the first thing in the morning. Then about noon take wormwood infused in water likewise, drinking it as often as ten times, the draught being rendered tepid". Gerard has "it is oftentimes a good remedy against long and lingering agues, especially tertians", and there are various complicated leechdoms in Cockayne.
HOLLY leaves do seem to have an effect in relieving fevers and catarrh, and were once stated to be "equal to Peruvian bark" (Dallimore), quinine, in other words. BOX, too, is a febrifuge, still prescribed by herbalists and homeopathic doctors, who treat it as a substitute for quinine in malaria (Palaiseul). Somerset people used to boil the bark of WHITE POPLAR, and drink the infusion for flatulence and fevers (Tongue). A prescription from Alabama is to "take the ashes from burnt HICKORY wood, put them in water, and drink it for fever. Make it very weak, as it will eat the stomach" (R B Browne).
FEVERFEW, by its very name, one would think, would be the best possible medicine for a fever. It is OE feverfugen, from Latin febris, fever, and fugare, to drive away. Yet there is only one specific mention of fever in the list of recorded examples of folk medicine. That came from Derbyshire, and the belief was that all you had to do to cure a fever was to put a piece of feverfew in the bed (Addy). TANSY flower tea was given for fevers (Brownlow), for which the leaf tea was also used in America (Hyatt), where WATER MELON was used, too (Beck). Even the scent alone of PENNYROYAL was thought enough to help patients recover from fevers (Classen, Howes & Synnott).
American Indians used YARROW for fevers, either as a tea, or by putting the flower heads on a bed of live coals, and then inhaling the smoke (H H Snith. 1945). In Britain, there was an odder way of dealing with the problem "For an ague, boil Yarrow in new Milk, 'till it is tender enough to spread as a Plaister. An Hour before the cold Fit, apply this to the Wrists, and let it be on till the hot Fit is over." (Wesley). COCKLEBUR tea has been used in America to reduce fevers (H M Hyatt). A recipe from the Scottish islands for "burning fevers", prescribed " a tea of WOOD SORREL. to allay the heat" (Pennant). Also in the Scottish Highlands, WATERCRESS tea is taken to reduce a fever (Beith). WALLFLOWERS were once popular for fevers - see Gerard: "The leaves stamped with a little bay salt, and bound about the wrists of the hands, take away the shaking fits of the ague" (cf Yarrow above). MARIGOLDS were used in medieval times for fevers, and as a hot drink to promote sweating (Lloyd); into the 18th century, Hill was still recommending a tea "made of the fresh gathered flowers . as good in fevers; it gently promotes perspiration .". WHITE HOREHOUND has been used in Africa for fevers, especially typhoid (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk); the Navajo, too, used it for fevers (Wyman & Harris). BEETROOT leaves have been used for fevers since ancient times. One "confection for the fevers" is included in a 15th century collection of medical recipes, and reads "take centaury a handful;
of the root and of the leaves of earthbeet a handful; of the root of clover a handful; of ambrose a handful; and make powder of them, then mix honey therewith, and make thereof balls of the greatness of half a walnut. And give the sick each day one of them fasting, and serve him nine days ." (Dawson). That may have worked, especially as nine days may have been enough to see the fever off naturally, but one would have to question the Balkan practice of treating a fever by laying beet leaves on the skin round the waist, and changing it morning and evening, for three days (Kemp).
Pomet, speaking of CAMPHOR, claimed that "the Oil is very valuable for the Cure of Fevers, being hung about the Neck, in which scarlet Cloth has been dipped ..". HENNA, too is used in the Balkans in acute fevere, like typhoid. It is heated in water, allowed to cool and the juice of some 20 heads of garlic added, the mixture re-heated, and then the henna is applied solid to the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet (Kemp). Herbalists still use the dried rhizome as a febrifuge (it is a good substitute for Peruvian bark). It was well-known in the 18th century. Buchan, for instance, has a rather complicated receipt for intermittent fevers - "an ounce of gentian root, calamus aromaticus, and orange-peel, of each half an ounce, with 3 or 4 handfuls of camomile flowers, and an handful of coriander, all bruised together in a mortar".
A transference charm from the south of France has the fever patient sleeping with his back to a PEACH tree for two or three hours; the tree would gradually get yellow, lose its leaves, and die (Sebillot).
Ficus benghalensis > BANYAN
Ficus carica > FIG
Ficus religiosa > PEAPUL
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