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Ancient potions and cures of the Highlands and Islands

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Ancient potions and cures of the Highlands and Islands

Post by Kitkat on Fri 04 Nov 2016, 14:22

I just love this article found in The Scotsman (28 October 2016).  It's like something straight out of a witch's handbook.   witchy

Ancient potions and cures of the Highlands and Islands

Henry and Hornel's Bringing in the Misletoe depicts a group of druids or Celtic priests in presentation of the sacred plant long revered for magical and medicinal properties. PIC Wikicommons.

From otter skin to dung, mice hearts, toads and carrots, the Highlands and Islands have a potent history of natural remedies.

With recipes, rituals and treatment dating to the Celtic era, the apothecary of the ancient north is a fascinating insight into how medicine was derived from the natural surrounds.

Caterpillars were used in the treatment of toothache and were wrapped in a piece of red cloth and placed by sore tooth to bring pain relief. A rusty nail taken from a coffin in a churchyard was also used, according to Mary Beith's seminal book Healing Threads, Traditional Medicines of the Highlands and Islands.

Cow dung

Fresh cow dung was thought to be particularly soothing for an inflamed breast. Scabs and blotches on the face were cured by applying cow's dung in the summer season. Dung was also patted on the throat to cure abscesses.

Toe nail clippings and a piece of silver

Epilepsy was treated with an elaborate ritual that combined a piece of silver with toe nail clippings, which were wrapped together in a piece of paper and placed under the wing of a black cock.

The bird was taken back to the scene of the patient's first fit before being buried alive by the oldest God fearing man in the village.

It was thought the illness would be transferred to the cock and buried with him.

The ritual was usually carried out infront of hundreds of people with the man to sit by a fire all night and ensure that it did not go out.

Frogs and toads

A frog would be cut in half with a piece placed on each side of the patient's belly to cure dropsy, or a build up of fluid in the body.

A live toad was held before someone with a nosebleed, possibly in an attempt to stop the bleeding through shock.

Substances found in the skin of some frogs or toads are used in modern pharmacy.


Boiled, fried or roasted mice were used as a treatment for whooping cough from Shetland across Highland to the Western Isles. It is believed similar practices were used in ancient Egypt to treat children on the verge of death.


Otters were once believed to have a magic skin which acted as a charm again st death by drowning or troubles in childbirth. The skin was also used to make a potion for fever and smallpox.

Anyone who licked the warm liver of a newly killed otter was said to gain the power of healing burns and scalds.


The dried and pulverised liver of a seal was drunk in milk or whisky to remedy fluxes. Swallowing seal oil was believed to be a cure for colds. It was sometimes rubbed on the chest to ease nasty coughs.

Slugs and snails

In 1994, Mary Beith recorded that both slugs and snails were still being used in some areas of the Highlands and Islands to cure warts and corns.

In more ancient times, the juice of roasted snails were given to those suffering from lung disease. The Celts were known to enjoy snails in a soup.

Snail oil was also used for the treatment for chronic rheumatism and on Uist, water which had been infused with live snails were given to patients with jaundice.


Boiled worms were a remedy for stomach disorders.

A stranger who claimed to be a seventh son of a seventh son - and therefore classed as a natural healer - was tested by having an earthworm put in the palm of his hand.

If the man was telling the truth, the worm would die at once.


Carrots were a popular form of remedy in the Highlands, with wild carrot particularly rated for the treatment of cancerous sores and muscle pain.

In Harris, the seeds of the wild carrot were a substitute for hops in crewing and were said to give the ale a "good relish".

The carrot was generally held in high esteem. At the Michaelmas feast on North Uist women would present men bunches of wild carrots following bareback horse races on the beach.

Source:  The Scotsman (28 October 2016) :

(Seems I've lost all the photos that go with this article - but hopefully they'll miraculously reappear when the Photobucket problem gets sorted)  Some great photos!
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Re: Ancient potions and cures of the Highlands and Islands

Post by Stardust on Fri 04 Nov 2016, 16:12

Have to feel sorry for all those poor creatures. Crying or Very sad 
That little mouse is so cute... catlick

Be grateful for even the smallest thing, blessings come in many disguises.

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