Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


1.  My father had to drive his car in the rain but the windscreen wipers had stopped working.  A neighbour came out with half a potato and rubbed it over the outside of the windscreen to help disperse the water droplets.  Apparently the starch helps achieve this [e-mail, July 2016].

2.  Potatoes cut and rub on warts – used and worked, 1950s, Yorkshire [Lambeth Horticultural Society, London, November 2015].

3.   Cure for leg cramps:   Tonic water, only Schweppes brand apparently has quinine in it.  Or (don’t laugh) a large raw potato in your bed near your legs, told to me by my stretch class instructor [Thornton Heath, Surrey, August 2015].

4.  My dad used to carry a potato in his pocket for years about the 1970s for rheumatism.  That was in Twickenham [Raynes Park, London, August 2015].

5.  Ireland. To get rid of a wart, cut a potato in half, rub one half on the wart, plant the two halves together; when the plant sprouts the wort will have gone [Natural History Museum, London, October 2013].

6. Potato – slice a potato and put it on a splinter and it draws the splinter out – as told by Italian grandmother to all family members [Horniman Museum, London, September 2013].

7.  [Chinese man, aged 41, has lived in England for eight years] Potato-queen – a gay Chinese man who prefers white men. The opposite of rice-queen – a European man who likes Chinese men. I’m a potato-queen [Hull, November 2012].

8. Cure for rheumatism, learnt from my father, in London (where he probably learnt it; his parents were German, so it may possibly have come from there) about 60 years ago, and which I still use today.
Put a small potato in  your pocket and over time it will go soft, develop blisters on its skin and, if you don’t burst these, they will be absorbed, and the potato will shrink and go rock hard.  The process is supposed to absorb any uric acid in the body, and hence help to prevent rheumatism [Rennes, Brittany, France, July 2009].

9. In our family we have long used raw potato on our potential bruises to great effect. The potato must be cut and used raw and rubbed on the place immediately. Some years ago I slammed a door on my upper lip when leaving the flat (I had visions of a ghastly bruised upper lip especially as I had a talk to give next day). I returned immediately to the flat for a potato, cut it and then rubbed it on the lip – no bruise appeared [Kensington, London, March 2007].

02310.  My grandfather always planted his potatoes on Good Friday, and insisted it had to be done then to get a good crop (he always did) [Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, August 2004].

11. We always plant new potatoes on Good Friday to ensure a good crop, a local tradition in Sussex which we have always adhered to [Little Paxton, Cambridgeshire, February 1998].

12. My father knew about carrying a potato to prevent rheumatism. This was in London – Hounslow – but he came from Wolverhampton, and might have got it from his mother who came from Northamptonshire [Lee, London, December 1995].

13. Early potatoes must be set before St Patrick’s Day [Clonmell, Co. Tipperary, February 1993].

14. A potato in the bed helps do away with cramp [Rushmere St Andrew, Suffolk, February 1989].

Images:  main, Maris Pipers, Tooting, London Borough of Wandsworth, February 2014; inset, Littledean, Gloucestershire, September 2015.