The Hedgerow Apothecary Warts and All
I have come across more folk cures for warts in medieval England than for any other ailment. I guess that our ancestors must have been a very ‘warty’ lot!
A child who had developed one of these growths on his hands was said to have handled a toad, with the toad passing one of its bumps to the unsuspecting youngster. Alternatively, he was said to have washed his hands in water that had been used to boil eggs.
Cures: Wart charmers would travel from village to village ‘buying’ warts from unsuspecting sufferers by making the sign of the cross over them, touching them or murmuring a charm over them.
Many cures involved ‘transferring’ the wart onto something else:
‘Rub the wart with raw meat and bury it at a crossroads at midnight’
‘Tie as many knots as there are warts in a piece of string and throw it away’
‘Stealing dry peas or beans and wrapping them up, one for each wart, he carries the parcel to a place where four roads meet and tosses it over his head, not looking behind to see where it falls. He will lose the warts and whoever picks it up will find them’
You could give warts to the dead by one of three methods: rubbing the afflicted area while watching a funeral procession go past, throwing a stone after the hearse, or applying to the wart mud gathered from the boots of the mourners. Each of the three acts had to be accompanied by a special chant, rhyme, or curse, such as “May these warts and the corpse pass away and never more return” or “Wart, wart, follow the corpse.”
Apparently these cures never fail but secrecy is vital and no one must see or hear what you are doing!
Those lacking a corpse could attempt to pass their warts to the unwholesome by sneakily rubbing their bumps against known adulterers who had fathered children out of wedlock.
Slugs and snails had a pretty hard time in the fight against warts as they would be rubbed onto the wart and then impaled on a Hawthorn or blackthorn tree to shrivel and die along with the wart.