Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Elder used to remove warts

Notes kindly contributed by G. Philip Rimington, of Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, February and March 1998:

‘You may be interested to read of my experience.  It happened on Hozier’s Farm in Devizes, Wiltshire, during the summer of 1936, when I was doing my practical agricultural work as a university student.

Whilst there, one of the shorthorn cows gave birth to a young heifer calf with a number of protrusive  warts on its belly.  This caused quite a bit of interest amongst the farm hands, since such an event seemed quite a rarity.  While this phenomenon was being discussed in the local pub, one of the old locals was heard to say that he could rid the calf of its warts.  We seized upon his offer, as we were anxious to know what he would do, because the vet who had been called in did not know what he could be done. “Well now” said the old boy, “You tell me how  many warts that there calf ‘as got, and I’ll rid he of them.”  We told him, but were still anxious to know what he was going to do. When asked, he replied, “I’m not for telling ye, but you believe in me, an’ ye’ll soon see.”

After a time the warts were seem to be shrivelling up and within three months they had all gone.  Well it took several weekends after that and a lot of pints of beer before we discovered the old boy’s secret cure.  At the time, I was keen to know how he had effected the cure, because my younger sister had a wart on her hand, which our mother had been trying with all imaginable remedies to remove, without success.

So, armed with this knowledge, I told my sister that I could cure her wart, but that she had to believe in me and believe that I could remove it for her.  Within a couple of months the wart had disappeared – but, and was a BIG BUT – I began to grow one on my hand.  However, it was only a very small one, that went within a few weeks.

The story does not end there, for some years later during the war, I had an ATS [Auxiliary Territorial Service] typist on my staff in the Middle East who I saw one summer day picking away at a wart on her knee.  Feeling very clever I suppose, I proudly told that I knew how to remove the unsightly object, but she had to believe I could do it.

Anyway, after several weeks, sure enough the wart began to shrivel up and eventually disappeared altogether.  You’ve guessed it, a month or so later a wart began to grow on my knee.  Only this time it stayed much longer before it decided to go.  After this second effort, I decided that enough was enough and there would be no more curing of warts by me!

I often wondered if the old boy ever had warts growing on his belly for a short time afterwards!  You may be wondering what the old boy’s remedy was.  Quite simply, he cut a notch into the pith of an elder [Sambucus nigra] twig for each wart the cow had and buried the short stick in the cow midden.  As it rotted, so did the warts shrivel, until the stick completely rotted, when the warts disappeared.  An old granny’s fairy tale you would say, and so would I, had I not seen it for myself …

The ‘old boy’ who told us [of this cure] was at least 50 years older than me at the time, and his cure would have undoubtedly have been passed down by his ancestors.

Although I was still in the Middle East Force by the time the second cure took place, I was stationed just outside Rome, so some pithy plant was available.  Anyway, I do not think the cure relied so much on the plant, but more on the time it took to rot in the manure, and, of course, the belief of the person being cured!!’

Image:  elder growing in Croydon Minster churchyard, November 2019.

Edited 4 October 2020.