Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Remedies for Chilblains

Chilblains are a winter affliction still remembered by many older people. Small, painful itchy swellings appeared and persisted on the toes, fingers and ears. The most widespread treatment seems to have been immersing the affected part in urine, but a number of herbal remedies have also been recorded:

Apple (Malus pumila) – Thoroughly rotten apples were threaded onto chilblained toes to cool the burning and the itching [Lisburn, Co. Antrim, March 1986].
Beetroot (Beta vulgaris ssp.vulgaris, cv.) – Beetroot wine was very popular against asthma, chilblains, earache and, some say, snake bites [Barnstaple, Devon, May 1991].
Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) – The berries of the bittersweet … were used well rubbed in; they were preserved in bottles for winter use [J.H. Bloom, Folk Lore, Old Customs & Superstitions in Shakespeare Land, London, 1930: 25].
Bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) – rub affected part with bulb at night [Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, November 1996].
Carrot (Daucus carota) – I was born in 1930, and, as a young girl I used to suffer from chilblains on my little toes – living in Scotland and having only coal fires for heating did not help them. My mother’s remedy was to grate carrots into lard, and put this on as a poultice. The remedy worked, but it did ruin one’s slippers! [Gosport, Hampshire, January 1997].
Chickweed (Stellaria media) – Chickweed can be made into an ointment for chilblains, rashes, rheumatism and stiff joints. Wash half a pound chickweed and simmer in half a pound lard, strain through muslin and put in jars [Boat-of-Garten, Inverness-shire, November 1991].
Holly (Ilex aquifolium) – I have often had powdered holly berries mixed with lard rubbed on my chilblains [R. Whitlock, The Folklore of Wiltshire, London, 1976: 167]. My father [I was born in Reepham, Norfolk, in 1925] used to beat the chilblains on my feet with holly until they bled; he said it improved the circulation, and he only stopped when bleeding began [Luton, Bedfordshire, January 1997; also recorded from Great Plumstead, Norfolk, October 1989, and in Bloom, op.cit.].
Madonna lily (Lilium candidum) – Leaf wrapped around cracked chilblains ‘for about a week’ [Worcester, January 1998].
Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris) – Also locally known as penny pies – used for rubbing on chilblains (information from a local man aged 65+) [Kingsbridge, Devon, April 1999].
Onion (Allium cepa) – For chilblains: rub feet with half a peeled onion [Llanuwchylln, Gwynedd, April 1991].
Potato (Solanum tuberosum) – Last year was the first time I had chilblains severely, but my father heard of a cure for them. The water in which the potatoes for dinner were boiled was poured into a basin. I soaked my feet in it for half an hour for three consecutive days, and at the end of that time they were cured [Irish Folklore Commission, Schools’ Scheme, 1937-8, 700: 304, Donaghmore, Co. Meath]. Sliced tuber potato to be rubbed on the chilbain every night for three times and in a short time the chilblain will be cured [ibid. 790: 34, Mudhuddart, Co. Dublin].
Straw – My grandmother used to tell me that for chilblains you put straw into a bowl and poured on boling water, leave for half an hour to cool, and then soak the feet for half an hour. This would have been about 1957-60, when she was around 70 years old. She lived all her life in the town of Molesey, Surrey [Winchester, Hampshire, March 1997].
Turnip (Brassica rapa) – A cure for chilblains is to rub a piece of turnip on them every night [Irish Folklore Commission, Schools’ Scheme, 1937-8, 880: 66, Loch Garman, Co. Wexford].

Image: bittersweet, also known as woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), Trent Country Park, London Borough of Enfield; August 2015.