Malta Diary Hubble bubble, toil and trouble – medicinal folklore in the Maltese Islands – were they genuine remedies or fantasies?
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Cast your minds back to the days when a person could go through a whole life without once visiting a doctor as these were few and far between and only affordable by the rich, and without taking one manufactured medicine (equally few and far between and mostly fantasy concotions of a dubious nature).
The alternative was to produce your own natural cures provided by Mother Nature while many found that good measures of alcohol worked wonders. With the current Covid-19 turmoil, the other day a visiting doctor because of my acute psoriasis infection problems, confided she was coming across many cases of persons confined to their homes resorting more and more to alcohol!
These are some highly popular cures and remedies that make up Maltese medicinal lore and were used over the centuries and must have had some widespread positive results otherwise they would have been discarded – as they have been mostly today to be replaced by medicine chests filled with pills, pastels, gels and creams.
THE COMMON ONION
This was widely used to help with respiratory and sinus problems for blocked noses and common colds. An onion would be sliced and boiled and the resultant liquid left to cool and then placed by the bedside overnight to release the relieving aroma. A hot roasted onion was used to help extract sharp urchin spikes and raw onion slices would be smeared over the skin for bee, wasp and nettle stings.
SQUIRTING CUCUMBER (also known in Maltese as a Donkey Mushroom!)
A concotion was used by persons suffering from jaundice. It was believed that smelling the concoction was enough to disperse jaundice.
Received a horse or donkey kick or maybe dropped something heavy on your feet? It was believed that the squeezed leaves from rue produced hydrogen and when applied to the affected area this would prevent blood congealing under the skin. Another remedy was rue leaves fried in oil and applied to body bruises. Eye disease was treated by chewing raw rue leaves and inhaling the smell into the eyes.
This has remained popular unto this day. The borage leaves are boiled, crushed and filtered and the juice drunk for bad coughs and sore throats.
Mutiple uses mainly for their vitamin C value but also rubbed over warts and ringworms to prevent growth. Squeezed lemon also used with fresh fruit concotions as well as many number of dishes.
Not associated with any Dracula connections but widely used in sauces and salsa and typical Mediterranean dishes. Eaten raw (well chewed!) they are said to be extremely good for digestion.
A history dating back to Phoenician times as a highly precious commodity for cooking and preserving but also used as a medication for skin infections of all sorts. Dried olive twig were burnt to exorcise evil spirits and fresh olive twigs with leaves hung over doorways from Palm Sunday onward to keep away the Devil.
In addition, there were many other varied remedies one of which was placing a large and cold metal key against the back of the neck as a shock to staunch nose bleeds and hicups. People carried a dried fig in their pocket to prevent their being infected with piles and rhuematism was treated by carrying a dried fish in the pocket!
Maltese mothers often smeared their breasts with an extract of aloe after breastfeeding their young (as an antiseptic) and were said to preserve the umbilical chord of a newborn child, allowing it to dessicate and then grinding it into powder and if the baby develops a cold they are made to smell the powder.
If one had measles one wore red clothing and used red blankets as cover, said to absorb the redness and sting of measles.
Superstition also held the upper hand and mothers of newborn babes had to cook and eat a hen’s neck and head a day after birth as failing to do that meant the baby would not be able to hold its neck and head erect for the first three months! In nearby Sicily this is varied in that it is the father who has to eat these.
Another bizarre belief held the placenta had to be minced and crushed using rain water and then buried in soil to prevent the baby contracting skin diseases.
Hence the medicinal beliefs of our forefathers for many, many centuries. Perhaps different from the eating of an apple a day to keep the doctor away … but presumably equally effective in their day and age.
“He has hollowed out a trench on the church parvis”.
Referring to a religious person who is continually in and out of church.