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Friday, August 26, 2011

Cobweb Cures and Folklore

Here we have an impressive collection of old folk remedies using cobwebs (spider webs) to cure everything from Ague to Warts. As with all old remedies and cures, some actually work really well, others are ineffective and harmless, while some are downright dangerous. So, please use common sense before trying any of these.


In General: Cobwebs are so commonly prescribed for bleeding that I think they must work fairly well as a sort of "natural" bandaid. Most of the cures are quite simple and read like this: To stop bleeding, apply cobwebs. Others are more specific:

  • Bind a cut finger in cobwebs, and it will get well and stop bleeding. (Reportedly, a cobweb acts as a disinfectant).
  • A fresh cobweb will staunch the flow of blood.
  • If a person had a cut or abrasion, someone would rush under the house and procure some cobwebs which would be applied to the wound to stop the flow of blood.
  • Cobwebs stop nose bleeds.
  • You can also apply soot and cobwebs, suet and cobwebs, blackened cobwebs, cobwebs and/or cotton lint for bleeding.
  • This one comes with a testimonial: Make a mixture of cobwebs and ashes and apply it to the wound. This is Becky H’s grandmother’s remedy for cuts. Mrs. Ed. H. (Becky’s grandmother) learned this from her mother who lived on the Conway Pike between North Little Rock and Conway. Becky says it really works -- that her grandmother put it on her son’s upper lip which had been split in two by an flying ax head. He had only a thin scar left and the mixture sealed the wound, stopped the bleeding, and it healed very quickly.
  • To stop bleeding, apply a cobweb from the corner of the kitchen.
  • If an artery is cut, sear it with a hot iron. If it is a vein apply a mixture of charred feathers and cobwebs and bind it on the cut.
  • If you are really desperate there's this: To stop bleeding - put cobwebs on the wound. Put the wound in kerosine. Bleeding can also be stopped by reading Ezekiel 16:6
  • To stop a wound from bleeding, take the dry “snuff” from a Devil’s Snuff-box, and mix it with cobwebs. Apply to bleeding part.
  • Cobwebs were an effective cure for badly bleeding cuts or wounds. They were wrapped to the wound with a soft cloth.
  • Mash up mushrooms and apply to the cut, or apply snuff. Also apply cobwebs or soot.
  • Pills made of cobwebs were believed to stop hemorrhages.
  • Cobwebs are used in three ways to stop the bleeding of a cut: first, after they have been applied, wrap tightly about them a piece of brown paper as a bandage; second, first cover the wound with sugar, then soot, then cobwebs, and then a cloth bandage; and third, apply a mixture of cobwebs and soot. Some only use the soot, which has a reputation for healing qualities; but other reject it, separately or in combination with cobwebs, for it is said to leave a black scar. Cobwebs almost always means dusty spider webs, usually gathered from a dark cellar, and rarely clean ones.
  • In times gone by, cobwebs and brown sugar were pressed on wounds to stop bleeding. Don't have cobwebs on hand? Sugar alone is said to be a good substitute. It causes the blood to coagulate more quickly.
  • If you accidentally get cut, the quickest way to stop the blood is to use cobwebs to the wound and cord (tourniquet) the arm or leg between the wound and your heart When you cord the arm, that closes up the blood veins so that it can’t flow to the wound, and that gives the cobweb time to seal up the hole in the wound, and that will stop the bleeding.

Last but not least, we have the following recollection:

As a small boy I remember a colt that had been castrated, when one of the splints used to control the hemorrhage became detached. This was before veterinary surgeons, so a very old man, said to be part Indian and of whom it was said had a working knowledge of Indian medicine, was called. He began walking slowly with bowed head forward and backward behind the bleeding colt, repeating in an almost inaudible voice magic words, which had a marvelous effect on the bystanders, but the colt continued to bleed, until either the wizard Indian doctor or a bystander had the practical sense to clap a hastily collected pad of cobweb to the bleeding wound.

The rest of the cures are as follows:

  • Ague: This remedy was given by John Wesley, in his Primitive Physic, which also advised six middling-size cobwebs for ague!
  • Babies: If you put a cobweb over a newborn baby’s navel, it will be protected from illness during infancy.
  • Blood poisoning: To cure blood poisoning drink the boiled brew of a mixture of the white of chicken droppings, cobwebs, and water. (Yowsers!)
  • Boils: My grandfather had a maiden aunt Giaccomina whom the family went to for cures. She used cobwebs and discarded snake skins for curing boils.
  • Burns: Find some thick clusters of cobwebs, lick the burn, then wrap your hand in a thick coat of cobwebs. Or, simply apply fresh cobwebs.
  • Chills: Make cobweb pills and take them for chills.
  • Colds: Railroad grease and cobwebs applied to the chest will get rid of a cold.
  • Earache: To cure earache, gather cobwebs and boil. Pour the cobweb tea into the ear.
  • Erysipelas: Cobweb is placed upon erysipelas and tied about with a red kerchief. If you are looking for something a little more complicated, you can always try the application of this "healing" smoke: Cobweb is taken crosswise from the stable (and added to) three twigs of an old broom, crab scales, starry cerastium, dry wild-briars, and used in smoking out of erysipelas.
  • Eyes: Here is a prescription that uses the cobweb of the fly hunting spider which was to be applied to the forehead in such a way as to reach to both temples in some sort of compress as a cure for defluxions of the eyes. We are assured that it will work wonderfully well, provided it be a boy who has not reached the age of puberty who secures it and puts it on with his own hands. But he must have taken care not to be seen by the patient for three days during which neither of then should have touched the ground with his feet unshod.
  • Cancer: An old-timer declares that cancer can be healed with an application of cobwebs (1920-1929).
  • Cuts: To heal a cut, put cobwebs and mud on it.
  • Fever: If you have a fever, wrap a piece of fresh linen around your wrist. The linen should contain salt, a cobweb, and a piece of onion and must be left on the wrist for 12 hours.
  • Fractures: For fractures of the cranium, cobwebs are applied, with oil and vinegar. Application never comes away until a cure has been affected.
  • Freckles: Wash your face with cobweb dew to take away freckles.
  • Goiter: To cure a goiter, place a cobweb over the surface of the growth.
  • Itching: Cobwebs rubbed on an itching caused by a crack behind your ear will cure it.
  • Headaches: Cobwebs across the bridge of the nose were supposedly good cures for headaches. Railroad grease and cobwebs applied on the forehead are also said to end a headache.
  • Kidney problems: To make kidneys act place cob webs in the groin of the patient. Cobwebs wet in hot water and applied externally will cure diseases of the kidneys and bladder.
  • Kissing: In Hampshire, if a cobweb is seen, it’s a sign that the housemaid wants kissing.
  • Luck: If you find your initials in a spider's web you will be lucky all of your life
  • Nosebleed: Cobwebs will stop a nosebleed. One reported method is to snuff up Cobwebs and Sugar, other methods require that the cobwebs be made into a ball and applied to the nostril.
  • Malaria (tertian fever): John Wesley states that he never knew “six middling pills of cobwebs” to fail in curing a tertian ague, and they are to be repeated in a week to prevent a relapse. (If you don't believe it, see the story below!)
  • Mental clarity: Sneezing blows the cobwebs out of your brain.
  • Poisoning: My grandfather had a maiden aunt whom the family went to for cures. She used cobwebs, discarded snake skins, oil, and various leaves and herbs for curing cuts or boils or for guarding against poison.
  • Puncture wounds: When my paternal grandfather was small, he punctured his foot on a rusty nail. His mother immediately packed the wound with cobwebs and it healed cleanly and without infection.
  • Scalds: In Norfolk, England, cobwebs are used for scalds and burns.
  • Scarlet Fever: Cure scarlet fever by the administration of cobweb pills.
  • Scrapes and abrasions: Place cobwebs on scraped knees, and they will heal quickly.
  • Spider bites: If eyes and lips are damaged by liquor discharged from spider, a cure can be made with a preparation of plantain leaves and cobwebs applied to eyes and taken inwardly two or three times a day.
  • Stye: If anybody had a stye in the eye, at night they would go into the barn or shed and pick the cobwebs off. When you were sleeping, they would put it on your eye, and it would cure the stye.
  • Travel: Seeing a spider run down a web in the afternoon means you'll take a trip.
  • Warts: To cure warts, wrap a small cobweb around each, and burn the cobweb. (Ouch!!) Here's another cure: When a cobweb is well filled with dust, roll it up in a ball and pile it over wart. It will burn slow, and will burn the wart out. (I'm not clear if that means to burn the cobweb, or if the cobweb itself will burn the wart out.) Alternatively, you can collect stump water at midnight. Then collect a number of cobwebs, ants, spiders and bird feathers and place them in a bag; bury the contents in the ground, and when it rots, the warts will go away
  • Wounds: Put cobwebs on wound to help it heal. A cobweb from a barn is an excellent remedy for wounds. Bind brown wrapping paper or flour and cobwebs over the wound. Brown sugar is also effective.
Finally, here's an interesting bit of folklore:

Cobwebs and spiders have long been in use for medicinal purposes, usually for external application, as mentioned by Pliny.

Another curious remedy, said to be very successful, is the web of the black spider, which inhabits barns, stables, and cellars. This substance has been tried on a tolerably large scale, and the testimony to its influence in curing agues is very strong.

Dr. Craigie has given this account of it. In the year 1760, a number of prisoners from the vanquished squadron of Thurot having been landed in the Isle of Man, Dr. Gillespie, who was practising there, found that many of the agues which came to prevail, both among the prisoners and the inhabitants of the island, obstinately resisted bark and such other remedies as he had recourse to. He was informed, by an old French physician belonging to the squadron, of the alleged efficacy of cobweb, in certain forms of the disease. He therefore made trial of cobweb, and found it to answer admirably. He was successful with it in more than sixty cases of different types in the Isle of Man, and he had further experience of its utility subsequently in Ayrshire.

"After this, the same remedy was tested in the West Indies by Dr. Jackson, to whom Dr. Gillespie had recommended it. Dr. Jackson's observations were made in the hospital of the army depot, in the West Indies, in 1801. Several cases of ague, on which bark, arsenic, or mercury, single or alternately, had made either a very temporary impression or none at all, were selected for experiment. In four of these cases, two pills, containing each five grains of cobweb, were given at intervals of two hours, commencing six hours before the expected time of recurrence of the paroxysm. The fit did not return.

On subsequent trials it was found not only to arrest the course of agues, but to remove various symptoms, such as pain, delirium, vomiting, griping, in ague, and in continued fever, when these symptoms were unconnected with inflammation.

"We have employed the spider's web in this manner in a number of cases, and in many of them found it very promptly to suspend the paroxysms - as effectually, certainly, as the quinia; in a few cases, however, it failed." - From CondiĆ©’s Watson's Practice of Physic, Philadelphia, 1858

Robert Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholy ingenuously confesses how little faith he had in amulets made of spiders inclosed in nutshells, as recommended by his mother, until be found that Dioscorides prescribed them. The amulet is as follows: A spider is a repellent against plague when worn around the neck in a walnut shell.

Source: UCLA Folk Medicine Database

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