Irish traditional medicine is based on herbs. Herbal medicine in Ireland is a thread that refuses to be broken and is being invigorated with new knowledge. In 1933, Professor J. O’Reilly of the University College Cork advised the new government that there were three indigenous industries that could be developed for the betterment of the economy. These were the development of peatlands, forestry, and the growing of herbs and essential oil extraction. In 1937 an Irish Folk Lore Commission was established. They recorded many of the folk remedies of Ireland. Traditional remedies and herbal medicine were passed down through families. The knowledge contained in the Folk lore commission notebooks was widespread among the people. Child after child in parish after parish repeat similar ‘cures’ and this information was acquired in the home. The knowledge was not passed outside of families and was passed to heirs.
A good description of medical care in Gaelic Ireland comes from the seventeenth-century Flemish chemist Jan Baptist van Helmont, who wrote:
For I remember the Chieftains of Ireland used each to give a piece of land to a healer who lived with them; not one who came back trained from the universities but one who could really make sick people well. Each such healer has a book crammed with specific remedies bequeathed to him by his forefathers. Accordingly, he who inherits the book inherits also the piece of land. The book describes the symptoms and ailments and the country remedies used for each, and the people of Ireland are cured more successfully when ill, and have generally far better health than the people of Italy.
Often used for bee stings were baking soda, onions, garlic or even urine. Honey which has gained lots of popularity as a cure for many ills was used in Ireland as a cure for the common cold. Honey was often mixed with lemon juice and dandelion leaves and roots was used to treat many diseases. Honey was used as a means of treating boils.
Cobwebs were used as a favorite wound dressings and stops the bleeding of wounds. They were also used in Egypt.
Succisa pratensis or Devil’s-bit was used to treat scabies and sores caused by plague as well as rashes, alopecia, haemorrhoids, external piles, boils, deafness, pain in the sides and kidneys, dry cough and drawing out poisons. The root was believed to cure anything.
Many herbal remedies were commonly used and not found in other herbal use around the world. Many herbalist in Ireland conducted studies and experiments on the use of herbal remedies. Hawthorn was one of those herbs which is now known to greatly benefit the heart.
Bathing with infusions of herbs was used traditionally for many diseases and conditions.
“Herbal medicine is proven, natural and environmentally friendly. Unlike conventional drugs, it is relatively inexpensive and has few side effects. It frequently offers solutions where conventional medicine has failed.” As someone who has benefited, I definitely concur with that.” By Jonathan Self, Irish Herbal Medicine
The Celts lived closed to nature. Exercise and proper diet were very important and a healthy spirituality. Some of their popular remedies were: trees of all kinds, Bilberry, Burdock, Nettle, Mistletoe, Dandelion, Willow, Guelder Rose, St. John’s Wort, and Comfrey. Many of these herbs that many consider weeds were brought over long sea voyages when they left Ireland to settle in other countries. These herbs are still being used today as herbal medicine and are studied for their healing benefits today. In fact Acetyl salicylic acid is derived from the bark of the Willow is commonly known today as aspirin.
Some of Ireland’s folk remedies came from the belief that injuries or illness were the result of disturbing faeries and that the cures came from the faieries themselves. They are a combination of common sense, practical observations and mystical beliefs.
Today most rural communities have local known healers or healing places. Prior to the 19th century they relied on the local healers and fairy doctors. The 2 cultures lived side by side – the educated and those who believed in the underworld of the fairies, superstition and magic.
What is your favorite Irish remedy?
What is your favorite traditional remedy or herbal medicine therapy?
One of my favorites is an onion poultice - it can cure a lung infection and mastitis.
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