A recent column on traditional folk medicine involving the use of plants and herbs for treating various ailments drew a response from several readers.
Indeed, some such treatments are still practised, like the use of dock leaf juice on nettle burns and various local prescriptions for warts.
Tom Lynch tells us his family in Dingle, Co Kerry, had a cure for hiatus hernia, which was very common in times past due to injuries sustained while lifting heavy weights and jumping off high walls and ditches.
It was commonly believed herbs picked locally were used in this cure, but that was not the case.
Burgundy pitch (a crystalline, soft-type rock), beeswax, Venice turpentine and a red powder called bols Armen, from Armenia, made up the concoction for this cure.
These were heated in a saucepan until a red liquid like tar resulted. This liquid was rubbed onto canvas cloth shaped like the gable end of a house and it dried out.
“When the patient came to our house, the ‘plaster’ was heated slightly until it became tacky and then it was stuck on to the lower chest area,” says Tom.
“It usually stayed stuck to the patient for three or four weeks, by which time it had healed or righted the hernia.”
The plaster was usually given to a person who complained of reflux, vomiting, and a tenderness and soreness of the breastbone.
“The success rate was very high,” says Tom. “My great grandfather, then my grandfather, Tom Lynch, known locally as Dr Tom, my father, Tadhg, and myself at the very end made the plaster for people.
“Like all cures, it did not work for everyone, but it did for most people. Most of the people who came for a plaster were locals but, in later years, I remember people coming from Galway, Monaghan, Cork, Tipperary and Limerick.”
The Lynches also had other cures for boils and sores, using the comfrey wildflower, and a cure for a headache from wild sage, but other people also had those cures and many more.
Rushes and water used for cooling hot iron in a blacksmith’s forge were widely used for warts.
Numerous other cures are recorded in the Duchas schools’ folk collection from the late 1930s, with Mary Bradfield, then aged 12, of Currabeha, Crookstown, Co Cork, reporting as follows: “About a mile from Bealna-blath is a wart well. People come to it at all times and leave something at it such as buttons, cord, or stones.
“But everyone would not get cured of their warts, only people that believe in it.
"You must visit it three times and say three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys before you are cured of your warts.”