Before the uptake of modern scientific methods, medicine was a bit trial and error. Which is unfortunate as, before the advent of hygiene and modern treatments like antibiotics, deadly diseases were rife. Even things we’d now consider trivial maladies could kill (sadly, in some places, they still do). If you became ill in ancient Ireland, there were a number of remedies available to you, some of which were based on observations we’re now realising had quite a lot of accuracy to them – and some of which seem straight-up insane to modern eyes. If you’re feeling under the weather, and want to handle your illness with Irish folk remedies, here are a few suggestions….

Cure For Arthritis

If you were rich in ancient Ireland, you could turn to a variety of expensive salves, soaks, potions, and spells to ward off the pain of your arthritis. However, before things like universal healthcare or medical cover (and bearing in mind that these ‘cures’ generally had a placebo effect at best…), procuring these cures could run through your savings pretty fast. If – like the majority of medieval Irish people – you weren’t rich, you could turn to a remedy which came absolutely free, and could be found in abundance: nettles. People suffering the pains of arthritis would whip themselves with nettles, consume nettle soup, or grind nettle leaves into the affected limb. It sounds painful – but many people continue to swear by this remedy. Indeed, modern trials into the efficacy of nettles for arthritis have found that it does tangibly reduce joint pain – so don’t be too quick to dismiss folk remedies out of hand!

Cure For Stomach Disorders

The idea of ‘sympathetic’ and ‘antithetic’ magic and medicine work on the idea that things which are either very different or very similar to an affliction can help to cure it. In the case of stomach disorders, the ancient Irish believed that a sprig of mint or lavender either tied around the wrist or worn around the neck could quell an upset tummy. While the thinking behind this isn’t entirely clear, it’s likely that the idea has something to do with smell. Both mint and lavender smell lovely and fresh, while stomach disorders often produce rather…unsavoury…scents. So, while the actual disorder wouldn’t be cured by the herbs, its foul-smelling effects could be mitigated by them – which must have been as good as a cure for those living with the ill individual…

The Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son

There are various superstitions all over the world about the seventh son of a seventh son. In Ireland, these people are thought to be able to see the future, and to cure all manner of ailments. When a worm is placed into the left hand of a seventh son of a seventh son, the worm will (according to legend) shrivel up and die. This is how you know that the person truly is what they claim to be. Once you have located your seventh son of a seventh son, you can prevail upon them to charm away warts, cure rabies, and heal a persistent headache (among other things). Be careful, though – in some parts of South America, seventh sons of seventh sons are thought to be werewolves…

Irish Folk Remedies for Ridding A House Of Infection

If a household has been afflicted by infectious disease, it is imperative that the place be cleansed, lest the disease spread further. All modern doctors would agree with this. In ancient Ireland, the way to do this was to drive a number of sheep into the house, and have them sleep there for three nights. This practice is frowned upon in modern hospitals…

Cure For A Broken Heart

Get married. Seriously. There’s an element of peculiar practicality to many of the old folk remedies – and the ancient Irish clearly believed that the best way to get over someone was to get under someone else…

Cure For Nightmares

It was believed until really quite recently that bluebells, when blown in the wind, ‘rang’ with chimes that only the little people could hear, and summoned them. As the little people’s presence is widely acknowledged to bring nightmares to sleeping humans, the best way to keep nightmares away was to destroy all nearby bluebells. Please do not do this, as bluebells are a protected species (and very lovely to boot!).

This is an article written by freelance writer Sally Peters, sally@arialblack.org