close X

COVID-19 Update

The Ulster Museum, Ulster Folk Museum, Ulster Transport Museum and Ulster American Folk Park are all reopened.  We’re looking forward to welcoming you back!  Pre-book your date and time slot online now.

More information

Cures from the Archives

Exit Menu

My name is Claire Brown and I’m a first-person interpreter at the Ulster Folk Museum. Over the past few months, I’ve been looking through the museum’s collection of handwritten notebooks which were compiled by individuals and organisations in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The purpose of these notebooks was to record, by county and locality, all manner of things including domestic life, schooling, local characters, customs, folklore, trade and agricultural practices. There are many reoccurring themes in the notebooks. One of the most prevalent is cures – it seems that everyone's granny had a cure for almost everything going! How many do you remember? 

Cures for sprains

  1. Bathe the sprain alternately in cold and warm water containing Epson salts.
  2. Bathe a sprained ankle in spring water.
  3. Tie a cloth soaked in vinegar or mustard around the sprain. This will remove all swelling.
  4. Rub the sprain with goose oil.
  5. Tie the skin of an eel tightly around the sprain.
  6. Put the leaf of a dandelion on the sprain and wrap a tight bandage around it.
Image: View of two men handling an eel, BELUM.Yt733.
View of two men handling an eel, BELUM.Yt733.

Cures for styes

  1. Rub the stye with a cat’s tail.
  2. Prick it nine times with a gooseberry thorn. Then throw the thorn over the left shoulder.
  3. Rub it with a widow’s wedding ring.
  4. Bathe it in cold black tea.
  5. Rub it with tobacco spittle.
  6. Allow a dog to lick the stye.
  7. Obtain lint from flax mill, warm it, and apply to the eye.
Image: Tea set in the form of cottages, BELUM.Y5108.
Tea set in the form of cottages, BELUM.Y5108.

Cures for warts

  1. Bathe them in burn water.
  2. Sell your warts to someone and they will disappear.
  3. Rub them with washing soda.
  4. Squeeze the milk from a dandelion stem on the wart.
  5. Rub the wart with a black snail. Then place the snail on a thorn bush. As the snail decays, so will the wart.
  6. Rub it with spittle each morning before breakfast.
  7. Take a piece of raw meat, rub it over the wart, and then bury it.
  8. Rub it with pig’s blood.
  9. Place a tobacco leaf on top of the wart and tie a tight bandage around it.
  10. Rub the wart with a raw potato and bury it in the garden. As the potato wastes away so will the wart.
  11. Rub it with the milk of a herb known as the seven sisters.
  12. Bathe the wart in water found in hollow stone.
  13. Put the wart in still water.
  14. Rub the wart with the sand from St. Aidan’s Grave in Magilligan Chapel. Besides curing warts, this sand has brought relief to people suffering from several skin diseases.
  15. Rub the wart with a penny and throw it away.
  16. Bathe the wart with a mixture of salt and warm water.
  17. Cut a potato in half and when the new moon comes out, stand facing the moon saying, ‘New moon, new moon, take away my wart as you go away’.
  18. Tie a horsehair around the wart and as the hair cuts into the wart it will disappear.
Image: Gallaher Ltd., cutting tobacco leaf, BELUM.Y2863.
Gallaher Ltd., cutting tobacco leaf, BELUM.Y2863.

Cures for nosebleeds

  1. Place brown paper on the roof of the victim’s mouth.
  2. Place a cold stone on the back of the head or on the forehead.
  3. Tie a tight cord around the little finger.
  4. Put a cold cloth or key at the back of the neck.
  5. Place a penny on the forehead.
  6. Lie flat on the ground and place a cold damp cloth over the nose.
  7. Place blotting paper on the tongue.
Image: Belfast market scene, inspecting cloth, BELUM.Y8554.
Belfast market scene, inspecting cloth, BELUM.Y8554.

Cures for burns

  1. Rub soap on the burn if it hasn’t blistered.
  2. Rub goose oil on the burn.
  3. Rub paraffin oil on the burn and hold it as close to the fire as possible. Holding the burn as close to the fire as possible is said to alleviate the pain by itself.
  4. Rub it with castor oil or olive oil or butter.
  5. Prepare a mixture of buttermilk and baking soda and rub it on the burn.
  6. Rub the burn with carron oil and apply healing leaf to the sore. Healing leaf can be obtained in the bogs.
Image: Crusie lamp for burning fish oil, HOYFM.WAG.266.
Crusie lamp for burning fish oil, HOYFM.WAG.266.

Cures for a festering wound

  1. Prepare a poultice of bread and water and tie it around the wound.
  2. Prepare a poultice of red soap and sugar or baking soda and bread and treat the wound with it.
  3. Tie a slice of bacon around the wound.
  4. Boil chicken weed place it on the wound and tie a cloth around it.
Image: Exhibition stand, J. & T. Sinclair, Irish hams, bacon and lard, BELUM.Y3804.
Exhibition stand, J. & T. Sinclair, Irish hams, bacon and lard, BELUM.Y3804.

Cures for ringworm

  1. Rub the white of an egg on the infection.
  2. Rub it with a mixture of soot and lard.
  3. Take the ashes from a pipe and rub it on the infection.
  4. Rub it with a mixture of gunpowder and butter.
  5. Rub it with dry sulphur.
  6. Prepare a mixture of soot and sulphur and rub it into the infection.
  7. Rub it with wetted soot.
  8. Apply a mixture of lard and burnt lime.
  9. Place a boiled turnip over the infection it is important to keep the infection covered if one is to prevent the infection from spreading.
Image: Churning butter, HOYFM.WAG.295.
Churning butter, HOYFM.WAG.295.

Cures for heartburn

  1. Lick baking soda.
  2. Put a pinch of clay in the mouth.
  3. Lick white ashes.
  4. Add pepper to milk and drink.
  5. Baking soda added to cold butter and milk – drink this ad mixture.
  6. Add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda to sweet milk or buttermilk or water.
  7. Refrain from eating jam.
Image: Men laying down sections of cut clay to be dried by the air, HOYFM.NITB.928.
Men laying down sections of cut clay to be dried by the air, HOYFM.NITB.928.

Cures for headaches

  1. Tie a tight bandage around the forehead.
  2. Drink black tea.
  3. Rub it with vinegar and tie a scarf around the head.
  4. Find a piece of brown paper soak it in mentholated spirits and place it on the crown of the head. Make a little cap to place over this by knotting the fours ends of a handkerchief.
  5. Place a cold wet cloth on the forehead.
  6. Rub eau de cologne on the bridge of the nose and smear it across the eyebrows.
  7. Place a cold stone or some other cold object on the forehead.
Image: Cutting fabric using a band knife, HOYFM.BT.1159.
Cutting fabric using a band knife, HOYFM.BT.1159.

Cures for rheumatism

  1. Dab paraffin oil on the pain.
  2. Wear red flannel cloth next to the skin.
  3. Place garlic in the shoes of the sufferers.
  4. Put a piece of sulphur in the patient’s socks.
  5. Boil yarr weed in water. Keep the liquid for two or three days before drinking it.
  6. Lick a pinch of salt every morning.
  7. Make nettle soup (ingredients – water – a bone and nettles) and take it at regular interviews.
  8. Keep a raw potato in the coat pocket.
  9. Keep a bag of corks in the house.
Image: Wild garlic, HOYFM.WAG.3639.
Wild garlic, HOYFM.WAG.3639.

Cures for sunburn

  1. Rub the burn with buttermilk.
  2. Rub with olive oil and take the victim to a cold place where cool water should be sprinkled over the burn often a little brandy and water helps.
  3. Rub with the cream of milk.
  4. Rub with goose oil.
  5. Apply a mixture of buttermilk, oatmeal and baking soda to the burn.
  6. A mixture of buttermilk and baking soda alone are often quite sufficient.
Image: An Irish harvester’s dinner – potatoes and buttermilk, HOYFM.WAG.1159.
An Irish harvester’s dinner – potatoes and buttermilk, HOYFM.WAG.1159.