Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Plants as vermicides

The use of  plants to kill intestinal worms has been noted elsewhere on this webiste: Christmas trees used to deworm goats, groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) and ramsons (Allium ursinum) used to deworm horses and ponies, and hellebores (Helleborus spp.) and pumpkins (Cucurbita spp.) used to deworm humans.  This article provides notes on other plants used for this purpose.

Bistort (Persicaria bistorta).  Warcop, Cumbria: ‘the moon must be full when the bistort is picked to cure worms’ [E. Short, I Knew my Place, London, 1983:124; Short was born in Warcop in 1912].

Bog myrtle (Myrica gale).  ‘An infusion of the leafy tops was given to children as a remedy for worms’ [M. McNeill, Colonsay, Edinburgh, 1912: 167]

Box (Buxus sempervirens).  ‘In the early 1930s my father, who was a ploughman, discovered that one of his horses had worms. His employer told him to treat it with the following remedy.  Bake  some box leaves in a tray in the oven until dry and crisp, rub to dust, then mix with the horse’s feed last thing at night.  My father pointed out that box was poisonous; the boss said that was the idea, the worms would feed off the box and die.  Reluctantly my father carried the orders out. It is debatable whether the worms died or not, but one things is for sure, the horse did.  When my father went to the stables in the morning, there it was stretched out dead’ [Pimperne, Dorset, January 1992].

Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum).  Gypsies used ‘a decoction of sliced roots taken in wine’ to expel worms [T.W. Thompson, ‘English gypsy folk-medicine’, Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, ser.3, 4: 161].

Broad-leaved ragwort (Senecio sarracensis).  ‘An alien that is sometimes naturalised in wet places is worm-wort (Senecio fluviatilis sarracensis) from central and southern Europe, formerly cultivated as a supposed vermifuge’ [E. Salisbury, Woods & Aliens, London, 1961: 236].

Carrot (Daucus carota),  ‘Worms in children: fresh carrot – the red part – a teaspoonful at night’ [Irish Folklore Commission’s Schools’ Scheme (1937-9), 740: 107, Kildallan, Co. Westmeath].

Elecampane (Inula helenium) ‘Alicompain cure worms’ [Irish Folklore Commision’s Schools’ Scheme (1937-9), 936: 46, Moy Otra, Co. Monaghan].

Gorse (Ulex europaeus), also known as whin. Recorded in Ireland as being used to rid both children and horses of worms:

‘A handful of whin blossom boiled in milk was trained and given to a child suspected on having worms’ [Glynn, Co. Antrim, February 1992].

‘Whins … are cut up and pounded.  Then they are given to horses to take worms out of them’ [Irish Folklore Commission’s Schools’ Scheme (1937-9), 212: 61, Co. Leitrim].

Male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas).  During the Second World War roots of male fern were collected ‘under the direction of botanist R.W. Butcher, of the Ministry of Supply’s Herb Committee, to provide a home-grown cure for tapeworm’ [A. Lockton & S. Whild, The Flora and Vegetation of Shropshire, Shrewsbury, 2015: 139].

Male fern was also used as a cure for fluke in cattle and sheep [Irish Folklore Commission’s Schools’ Scheme (1937-9), 232: 129, Co. Roscommon, and J. Barrington, Red Sky at Night, London, 1984: 50].  See also ‘QUERY: Medicinal uses of ferns’, posted on this website on 17 October 2013.

Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris).  ‘Penny button is a herb that grows on a wall, it is a cure for worms. Boil it in new milk and drink it’ [Irish Folklore Commission’s Schools’ Scheme (1937-9), 639: 82, Tallow, Co. Waterford].

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare). ‘The tansy is good for worms in horses’ [Irish Folklore Commission’s Schools’ Scheme (1937-9), 22: 402, Caherlustraun, Co. Galway].

Wormwood (Artemisia absinithium) ‘Wormwood cures worms’  [Irish Folklore Commission’s Schools’ Scheme (1937-9), 936: 46, Moy Otra, Co. Monaghan].

Images: main, box, cultivated, Walpole Park, London Borough of Ealing, November 2022; upper inset, male fern, Southwell, Nottinghamshire, October 2022; lower inset, tansy, cultivated, Nottingham, October 2023.

Updated 31 October 2023.