Horseradish

(Armoracia rusticana) Fenland couples who wanted to know the sex of an unborn child put a piece of horseradish under each of their pillows. If the husband's piece turned black before the wife's, it would be a boy, and vice versa (Porter. 1958). Slightly more comprehensible was the belief that a piece of horseradish carried in the pocket would ensure that the owner would never to be without money (Swahn).

Horseradish roots are high in Vitamin C content, almost double per 100 grams as orange juice (G B Foster). Older writers stressed the sulphur content. This was apparently why it was used for chronic rheumatism, as a plaster instead of mustard (Rohde. 1926) - perhaps as a counter-irritant? But a report in Notes and Queries; 1935 shows a Welsh rheumatism cure that is very different - shredded horseradish in a bottle of whisky, which was then buried in the ground for nine days. Then the dose was three spoonfuls daily. Another method for the same complaint comes from Russian folk medicine. Equal amounts of horse radish and paraffin were mixed, to be used as a quick rub-down before going to bed (Kourennoff). Chilblains could be treated by wrapping grated horseradish round the finger/toe, and kept in place with a piece of lint (Rohde. 1926).

Headaches can be cured with it, by bruising a leaf, wetting it and tying it to the head (Thomas & Thomas). That is the American way, but the cure is simpler in Britain. All you need do is smell it, so they claim in Norfolk (V G Hatfield), or in Sussex, just holding the scrapings tight would do the trick (J Simpson). The cure in Gloucestershire was also to smell it, better put as inhaling the vapour from the grated root (Vickery. 1995). It is even said that sniffing the juice will cure baldness! (Page. 1978). It will relieve toothache, too, if bound on (Newman & Wilson). That was in Essex, but in Norfolk the grated root had to be put on the opposite wrist for twenty minutes (V G Hatfield). Horseradish figures quite a lot in Fenland medicine. Wearing a bag filled with the grated root round the neck was a Cambridge ague preventive, and Fen people claimed that a slice applied to a cut stopped the bleeding and drew the edges of the skin together quickly so that the minimum of scarring resulted. It is also said that the root, shredded and infused in hot water provided a powerful emetic to sober up a drunk (Newman & Wilson).

Grated horseradish is used in Russian folk medicine as a compress on the calves of both legs, for insomnia. Dry mustard was sometimes added (Kourennoff). Another use in Russia is for asthma - half a pound of fresh horseradish, finely grated, mixed with the juice of two or three lemons. The dose would be half a tea-spoonful, twice a day. Horseradish in malt whisky was an Irish cure for pleurisy ( Buckley), a pleasant way to be cured. It is good for kidney or bladder trouble and is used as such in Alabama (R B Browne), where a tea made from the root is taken for "a weak back". Does that mean lumbago, perhaps? It was certainly used in Britain for that complaint. Fens people grated and mixed it with boiling water, and this would be immediately applied to the patient's back on going to bed. The resultant blister was treated the next day by removing the plaster, baking it in the oven until it was powdery, then mixing it with flour, the mixture being dusted over the blister (Porter. 1958). Gerard recommended it for sciatica, asserting that "it mitigateth and asswageth the paine of hip or haunch, commonly called Sciatica".

The water in which horseradish had been boiled was used as a cough medicine in East Anglia (V G Hatfield). Lastly, it should be noted that eating the green leaves three times a day was a valued means in the Fen country of causing an abortion (Porter. 1958), knowledge evidently not confined to East Anglia, for Whitlock mentions it as a Wiltshire remedy, if that is the right word to use.

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