Rheumatism

Cornish people used to carry a piece of ASH wood in their pockets as a rheumatism cure (Deane & Shaw), or in Essex a HAZEL nut (Newman & Wilson). Carrying conkers, the nuts of HORSE CHESTNUT, is very well known, not only in England, but also in America (Sackett & Koch), where YELLOW BUCKEYE or BLACK WALNUT nuts would be used as well (Bergen. 1899), or keep a piece of JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT in the pocket (H M Hyatt). The idea is either to prevent, or cure. Some said that the conker had to be begged or stolen. Norfolk people favoured having the nuts in the form of a necklace, and they had to be gathered by children who had never had the ailment (Porter. 1974). A POTATO, too, or half an APPLE (Foster), can be carried in the pocket (two potatoes in Maryland, one for each pocket) (Whitney & Bullock). In Ireland, it is said that as the potato dries up the rheumatism will go away (Mooney) - it will "draw the iron out of the blood", as a Somerset belief had it (Whistler). The same belief was found in France and Belgium, where the potato was carried about as a general charm against pain (Sebillot). Andrew Lang said the potato had to be stolen, or the cure would not work, and Devonshire superstition also required some ritual. Here, a member of the opposite sex had to be asked to put the potato, unseen, in one of your pockets.You could change the pocket at will after this had been done, but the potato had to be worn continuously, or the charm would not work (Hewett). Some say that the potato had to be bound on to the affected part, but it had to be kept there without change until the thing had become offensive through decay (Mooney). Sometimes the potato was changed annually, when the crop was being dug (Heather). A piece of WHITE BRYONY root replaced a potato, at least in Norfolk (M R Taylor. 1929). NUTMEGS, too were carried about as a charm either to prevent or to cure rheumatism, particularly in America. In Alabama, it would be worn round the neck, and that, so it was thought, would prevent rheumatism from the waist up (R B Browne). Another charm is to put slices of green PEPPER under the fingernails. It is the smell, they say, that drives the "spirit" of rheumatism away (Waring). Apparently, ASH leaves are still used to treat the complaint. So are BIRCH leaves, in the form of birch tea (boiling water on a couple of tablespoonfuls of the chopped leaves) (Grieve). NETTLE seeds soaked in gin used to be taken for the relief of rheumatism (Savage), but there were a number of different ways that nettles could be used, by eating the leaves, for instance, which was a Cumbrian practice, as was eating DANDELION leaves (Newman & Wilson). But, more spectacularly, the way to deal with the complaint was to thrash oneself so that the stings took their toll (Vickery. 1992), on the basis, presumably, of the counter-irritant principle. Urtication, it was called, and it continued to be a recognised treatment for rheumatism right into the 20th century (Coats. 1975). You can lie down on them, too, and the more you are stung, the better the cure, for the evil is said to come out with the blisters (Hald). Similarly, in Somerset, they said that you could treat it by getting bees to sting you, and then use GREAT PLANTAIN leaves to ease the stings (Tongue. 1965). HOLLY was used in a similar way. Better known as a chilblain cure, but in some places, Somerset for one, rheumatism was dealt with by beating the part with a holly branch (Mathews). On the other hand, and this is a Cornish superstition, "rheumatism will attack the man who carries a walking stick of holly" (Courtney), a belief that seems quite out of character, given the many virtues of the tree. Another Cornish practice was to wrap a CABBAGE leaf round the affected part (Hawke), which was what some native Americans did with a leaf of the poisonous AMERICAN WHITE HELLEBORE (Veratrum viride) to relieve the pain; others, including the Quinault, boiled the whole plant, and drank it in necessarily small doses (E Gunther).

GROUNDSEL was used in the Fen country to bring relief. All they had to do was to soak their feet in water in which the plant had been boiled for ten minutes (Randell). CHICKWEED is another plant that can be used. Homeopathic doctors prescribe what is described as an essence of the fresh plant, to be taken to relieve the pain, and it can be used externally as a rub (Schauenberg & Paris), or, as in Sussex, it can be crushed and laid on as a poultice (Allen), and in Scotland an ointment made from it is used to like effect (Vickery. 1995). WILD STRAWBERRY leaf or root tea (V G Hatfield. 1994), and also COMFREY root tea can be drunk for rheumatism (Painter), and GOUTWEED has also been used, either drunk as an infusion (A W Hatfield), or by applying hot fomentations of the leaves to to rheumatic joints (Le Strange). MUGWORT tea is still often taken, and a Cornish cure is a draught of the herb, made by pouring boiling water over a handful of it, taken hot, and sweetened with treacle (Deane & Shaw). A similar decoction of BIRTHWORT has also been advised (Schauenberg & Paris), and so has FENNEL tea (A W Hatfield), or AGRIMONY tea (Conway), or, in Cumbria, MARSH MALLOW tea (Newman & Wilson). and, in American domestic medicine, a tea from the leaves of LABRADOR TEA (E Gunther). PARSLEY is another herb well recommended for the complaint, either in the form of a tea (Rohde), or by simply chewing the leaves, which will ward it off (Camp). Actually, parsley for this complaint is of ancient origin; there is a leechdom in the AngloSaxon version of Apuleius for "sore of sinews, take parsley, pounded, lay it to the sore" (Cockayne). People in the Dursley district of Gloucestershire used to pick the leaves of WOOD SAGE in spring, and dry them, for a tea against the complaint (Grigson. 1955). The tops, according to Hill. 1754 "drank for a continuance, is excellent against rheumatic pains". The decoction of the bast of SMALL-LEAVED LIME has also been used (Schauenberg & Paris). CELERY, too, is still recommended, either as a decoction of the seeds (Newman & Wilson), or as a tea (Browning). An American cure was to use celery seed worn in a bag round the neck. A wedding ring in the bag would clinch the cure (Whitney & Bullock). Russian folk medicine agrees that celery is good for rheumatism, but there it is the stem that is used (Kourennoff). MEADOW SAFFRON (Colchicum autumnale) has been used in the form of colchicine, for rheumatism, and this is probably the ailment rendered as "sore of joints" by Cockayne, in his translation of the AngloSaxon version of Apuleius.

POKE-ROOT berries mixed with whisky form a Kentucky rheumatism cure. In the same area the practice was to use the dried berries made into a tea, or just eating the raw berries (Thomas & Thomas), while people in Kansas used to swear by cooked CRANBERRIES as an effective rheumatic pain reliever (Meade). Another American remedy was to boil MULLEIN root and mix it with whisky, to be drunk as needed, or to dip a cloth in mullein leaf tea, and bind it on the affected part (R B Browne). A tea from PUCCOON root used to be another treatment in the same area (R B Browne). The bark of CHINABERRY TREE was used in Indian domestic medicine for the complaint (Codrington). Older writers stressed the sulphur content of HORSERADISH, apparently the reason 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 treatment of a very different kind. Like Poke-root berries in Kentucky, shredded horseradish was put in a bottle of whisky, which was then buried in the ground for nine days. The dose was three spoonfuls daily. Another method for the same complaint comes from Russian folk medicine. Equal amounts of horseradish juice and paraffin were mixed, to be used as a quick rub-down before going to bed (Kourennoff). CANDYTUFT seeds have long been a traditional remedy for the condition (O P Brown).

Like any poisonous plant, WOODY NIGHTSHADE was said to have great powers of evil. Such a witch plant would actually give people rheumatism! But at the same time it was used in medicine to cure the condition, as Lindley confirmed. The stalks had been introduced into medical practice by the German physicians and botanists in the 16th century, and were still being used in rheumatic or skin affections in the 19th century (Fluckiger & Hanbury). It was the year-old shoots, gathered in May or June, that were used, boiled in water, and drunk between meals over two or three days (Palaiseul), presumably as a sort of homeopathic dose. It appears in Thornton's herbal, too, as a recommendation for rheumatic swellings and a number of other complaints. Even a virulent poison like DEADLY NIGHTSHADE or MONKSHOOD has been used to combat rheumatism. In the former, a Warwickshire cure was to apply the bruised leaves (Savage), and in the latter case Russian folk medicine prescribed a liniment made from the dried roots: 4 ounces of the ground root was put in a quart of very strong vodka, and kept in a warm place for 3 or 4 days. After that it was strained, and ready for use. A large spoonful was considered the maximum for a single application, and if the patient had any heart trouble, no more than a teaspoonful. The liniment was rubbed in until the skin was dry, and then the area was covered with flannel (Kourennoff). Two or three drops of oil of JUNIPER on a sugar lump every morning is another recommendation for treating rheumatism ( V G Hatfield. 1994). A decoction of the seeds of BUCKBEAN was once taken to treat, or even prevent rheumatism (Sargent). Even TOBACCO has been tried (Brongers); plasters could be made by damping the leaves, or even using cut-up pipe tobacco. They relieved the pain, and reduced the swelling, so it is said. The poultice had to be kept damp, usually by means of a wet bandage. Another plaster - a spice plaster, it was called, was made with ALLSPICE. The way to make it is to crush an ounce or so of whole allspice, and boil it down to a thick liquor, which is then spread on linen ready to be applied (A W Hatfield).

A poultice of SWEET VERNAL GRASS can be used, applied as hot as can be borne, or a bath with the grass added can be used, too (W A R Thomson. 1978). The American plant TWIN-LEAF (Jeffersonia diphylla) is also known as Rheumatism-root, for it provides a popular American remedy for the complaint (Berdoe), and it is said that Pawnee Indians used the powdered rhizome of JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT to cure their rheumatism and muscular pains (Corlett).

Rhodiola rosea gt; ROSEROOT

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