Warts and Charmers
Warts have always been considered as unsightly and associated with old crones and disease. It is therefore no surprise that many folk were keen to rid themselves of wart afflictions by any means possible. As you will see many of the cures are based on the theory that it took the time-lapse of a piece of meat to rot before the warts vanished. This could well have coincided with a period of natural healing that would have occurred anyway? Either way, for centuries people have been and indeed still are using a mind boggling array of wart cures, below are listed the moorland versions:
Find an oak apple (gall) and crush it to a powder, this should then be mixed with a strong vinegar and applied to the offending wart/s.
Take an eel and then cut off its head then rub the wart with the blood that seeps from the severed wound. Once this is done bury the head in the ground, as the head rots away the wart will gradually disappear.
Take as many small stones from a running brook as the number of offending warts, then put them into a clean white bag and throw it into road, preferably at a road junction. Then wash each wart in vinegar on seven consecutive mornings, whoever was unfortunate enough to pick up the white bag will get the warts and yours will disappear.
To get rid of warts you must steal from the butchers shop a very small piece of lean meat. This must then be rubbed on the wart three times from left to right. The meat must be immediately buried and as it is you must say, "As you rot, so depart my warts!"
To cure a wart the first seen blackberry of the season should be picked and rubbed over the wart and then thrown away. As the berry either rotted away or was eaten by some bird or animal the affliction would disappear.
A rather complicated cure was practiced on the western moor and that was to take a live snail which was then rubbed on every wart whilst reciting three times, "Wart, wart, on this snails back, go away soon and don't come back". The poor old snail had then to be impaled on a hawthorn bush by one of its thorns, as the snail rotted away the warts vanished.
Rub the milky juice of the petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus) onto the wart.
For three consecutive nights, rub the wart with the furry inside of a broad bean pod, on each occasion bury it in the ground, as the pod rots so the warts vanish.
This one I heard in Ashburton, Prick the wart with a pin, and then stick the pin into the trunk of an ash tree. Next, recite the following rhyme, "Ashen tree, ashen tree, Pray buy these warts from me". The warts will be transferred to the unfortunate tree.
Here is a modern cure that was related by a farmer, that is to simply cover the wart with Duct Tape and leave in-situ for three days, then rip off the tape and the wart will peel off with it.
Here's an odd one from Tavistock, take an un-opened pea pod that contains nine peas and rub it on the warts whilst chanting, "Wart, wart, dry away". Then bury the pod and wait until it rots by which time the warts will have gone. How would you know how many peas are in a pod without opening it?
Apply the 'milk' from the stem of a dandelion directly on the wart, this cure also worked for spots and pimples. It was recommended that the 'milk' should never put put on healthy skin as it is an irritant.
People would cut the apple in half and then rub one of the halves over the wart, the two pieces would be bound together and buried, as the fruit rotted then so the wart disappeared. Alternately you could cut the apple in half, rub one bit over the wart and then feed it to a pig whilst eating the remaining half.
Cut an onion in half and rub one half over the afflicted area. The two halves must then be tied back together and buried deep in the ground, as the onion rotted so the warts began to disappear.
Another cure from the Tavistock area was to take 9 leaves of Heart Fever Grass (Dandelion) and 9 Scarlet Pimpernel or Shepherd's Dial flowers. These were then placed in a silk bag which was worn around the neck. Then every morning and night the bag had to be held over the wart/s whilst saying:
"Herb Pimpernel, I have thee found,
Growing, on Christ Jesus ground.
The same gift, Lord Jesus have thee,
When his blood He shed to spare thee.
Herb Grass this evil pass,
And God bless all who wear thee, Amen".
But by far the most popular way of curing warts was by way of the 'Wart Charmer'. Even today there are men and women who have the ability to charm away warts by various ways and means. I know of one gentleman who does not even have to see or touch the wart, he will simply ask you exactly where you will be at a certain hour. If for instance you say you will be stood at the kitchen sink at 10.00am then he will imagine the sink and the wart and wisht it away. Mind you if you aren't at the sink at 10.00am the wart won't go and you risk a tongue lashing if you go back for a repeat prescription. But at one time everybody on the moor knew of a wart charmer or someone that did. Other 'charmers' used to buy the warts for a nominal coin which then had to be kept safely stored because if it was ever lost the warts would return. In some cases the coin had to be thrown away as it was thought that the warts went with the coin. Another method that is related in the Holne area is of an old woman who cured warts. She used to instruct her patients to turn up with a thorn from a black-thorn bush, wool from a white sheep and fresh milk from a red cow. Whilst holding the thorn she would dip the wool into the milk and then rub it on the wart. After three visits where the same ritual was carried out the warts would vanish, along with the fresh cows milk. Ruth Ledger-Gordon tells the story of an old moorland squire whose hands had been peppered with warts for years. Whilst walking home from church one Sunday he met an old moorman who took one look at his hands and asked, "how many wurts 'ave ee zir"? The squire replied that in fact there were 27 in total and scurried ashamedly off home, as he did so he heard the old man call, "Theym soon gaw". He was relating the story to his wife when she asked in amazement, "surely you haven't got that many warts, have you"? The squire then did a 'hand count' and in fact found 28 warts, one less than he had admitted to. A few days later all bar one of the warts had vanished and it is believed the remaining one was the mis-counted wart. To this day, nobody can explain the wart charming phenomenon except to say that in many cases it works.
A similar affliction to warts is the dreaded ringworm which again was always frowned upon. This is a fungal disease and not an actual worm, the easiest way to catch ringworm is to come into contact with an infected cow or to lean on a wooden gate where such a beast has rubbed itself against. The spoors can live in untreated wood which is why so much creosote is used in wooden farm buildings. Again, many of the wart charmers had the ability to cure ringworm by various means. However, having caught several doses of ringworm I can remember a cure that was given me. It was simply to take some cattle worming powder that contained Thibendazole and mix it with some cow's udder cream. The salve was then applied to the ringworm which disappeared about three days later. It was after becoming involved in cattle anthelmintics (wormers) I learned that not only was Thibendazole capable of killing worms it was also a powerful fungicide. In fact it was such a good fungicide that the early space shuttles were coated in it to ensure no alien fungi was brought back to earth. I remember at school the worst type of ringworm was that which got onto your head. This resulted in a close shave and a coat of mauve jollup - I think it was gentian violet. In one unfortunate lad's case it was a crop cut followed by a good spray of Kopertox. Which doesn't sound too bad until you realise it was an animal treatment which had a green marker dye in it - he looked like Orville the duck for about a month. So there you have it - warts 'n' all.
PLEASE NOTE - I HAVE RECIEVED SEVERAL EMAILS FROM PEOPLE ASKING IF I CAN CHARM THE WARTS - I AM NOT A WART CHARMER AND WOULD ALWAYS SUGGEST PROPER MEDICAL ADVISE FOR SUCH PROBLEMS.