Thursday, October 31, 2013

A leech’s work for October

We can celebrate this last day of October by looking at a curious remedy included in the Old English Herbarium:

For a lunatic, take this wort, and wreathe it with a red thread about the mans swere (neck) when the moon is on the wane, in the month which is called April, in the early part of October, soon he will be healed. (Cockayne translation, Volume I, p 101, Chapter X of Old English Herbarium)

The plant to be used is batracion, which has been identified by D’Aronco as Ranunculus acer or R. bulbosus L.: buttercup, bulbous buttercup or upright meadow crowfoot.

Ranunculus acris (Ranunculus acer), by Alinja. Picture from the Wikipedia Commons.

Ranunculus bulbosus, by Kristian Peters. Picture from the Wikipedia Commons.

This suggested plant use for October appears to be an example of use of plants as amulets. Elsewhere in the Anglo-Saxon medical literature, there are references to binding other plants to the body with a red thread – see, for example, two of the treatments for headache in Leechbook III, ch i.

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