Chesty? Pass the goose fat

PUBLISHED: 12:34 25 May 2006 | UPDATED: 13:30 04 May 2010

LAST week, I talked about some of the folklore and remedies used for horses. Of course, these traditions applied to other creatures as well, including those of the human variety. In rural communities, the health and well-being of the family largely relie

LAST week, I talked about some of the folklore and remedies used for horses. Of course, these traditions applied to other creatures as well, including those of the human variety.

In rural communities, the health and well-being of the family largely relied on the women.

For the vast majority of people living in The Fens, poverty and low-wages meant that they could ill-afford to pay the expense of consulting a doctor.

Access was also another issue and, before the advent of tarmac roads, many doctors were unwilling to travel over the rough and muddy fen droves, except for an emergency.

Therefore, it was up to the women of the house to make up and use the herbal potions and salves required, or to seek the advice of the local wise woman for her remedy.

The application of many of the cures seem now to be rather strange because many were based on the traditional idea that disease was caused by evil spirits that had to be driven out in some way.

The tried and tested (well, possibly) way to relieve a chest cold in The Fens was goose grease or tallow smeared on brown paper and tied on to the patient's chest.

How long it should have been left in place is unclear. In some areas, the grease was also applied to the soles of the feet.

The same remedy of goose grease was applied to burns along with cold tea or marshmallow ointment.

Earache was relieved by holding a hot onion against the ear. Vinegar and the crushed roots of Solomon's seal were applied to bruises.

Headaches could be healed by the application of hot water in which mint, sage or vinegar had been boiled.

In The Folklore of East Anglia, by Enid Porter, she says that "a Cambridgeshire remedy for a cut finger was to tie it up with a bandage, which had been sprinkled with pepper".

This was thought to stop the bleeding and prevent scarring, by drawing the skin together.

These remedies are not unlike the ones we can now buy across the counter that use tea tree oil.

For other illnesses, the cures were dependent on transferring the illness to something else.

A good example of this is whooping cough, a very common ailment before vaccinations against it and the cough could last for months.

Children would be held head down over a hole until they coughed. This was in the belief that the ground would "swallow" the cough.

In the fens, live fish were taken from the river and held in a child's mouth, still alive. Once this had brought on a fit of coughing (just the thought of it is enough for me) the fish was released, carrying the whooping cough away. Children living in these parts were also given a roasted or fried mouse to eat in the vain hope that this would cure them.

Apparently, they tasted like chicken but seem to have had little effect in themselves.

Probably the most well-known remedy in the fens was the poppy tea brewed from white poppies, a patch of which grew in every garden.

These opium seeds were infused and taken to relieve aches, pains and fevers, such as fen ague. The tea was also given to the young children, sometimes to relieve teething pain and colic, but often so that the child would sleep while the mother was working in the fields.

Commentators on the fens often refer to the area being renowned for opium and laudanum, but these were also common remedies in poor urban areas of the country as well.

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