The Herbal Tradition of Rhiw

By

Susan Frisby

Within this area, there has been virtually an unbroken tradition of using natural and herbal remedies; Many people remember their mothers and grandmothers giving them medicines made from plants to cure common ailments. More serious conditions were also treated with herbs, especially in the days when a visit to the doctor was financially out of reach for most people. For instance, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such a visit could cost as much as a man's wages for six weeks.

Some of the most commonly used plants included the strong-tasting wormwood or wermod lwyd, for stomach upsets and any digestive complaint, including loss of appetite. Navelwort, or bogail y Forwyn, which grows all over on the stone walls, was eaten as a remedy for piles. The lack of pollution in this area meant that a doctor from England asked a local Rhiw farmer to supply him with navelwort. Previously, he had sent to South Africa for it! Woodsage or cbwerwiys yr eithin or saets gwyllt is another common plant in this area and was often a main ingredient in healing ointments such as this one for treating a torn cow's udder - Warm the crushed woodsage with butter and apply to the wounded area as soon as possible. Repeat applications throughout the day. The cure would be rapid.

Babies' colic was treated by putting a red hot coal from the fire into water and giving it to the baby to drink. Or a hot fire iron might be put into the fire and then into water for the baby. When smithies were common, the water that the blacksmith cooled his irons in was used for a worm treatment. It was observed that horses liked to drink this water - supporting the theory that when given the chance animals will self-medicate.

                                                              

There was a local family, the Griffiths of Penycaerau, near Rhiw, who, for several generations, treated people suffering from a form of skin cancer, called the wild wart, the rodent ulcer or ddafad wyllt. Tens of thousands of people from all over Britain and other parts of the world were cured by this family who used a natural remedy, the exact details of which is a secret passed on from generation to generation. The Griffiths family were well respected for their generosity in using this healing gift especially in light of the fact that no profits were made out of their patients. The healing properties of water were well appreciated in times gone by and local wells were known to have particular qualities. St Aelrhiw's Well by St Aelrhiw's Church, for instance, was used for skin problems. The water in this area has a high iron content and was used in a remedy for 'blood lessening' (probably anemia) over two hundred years ago. A village wise woman from Uwchmynydd travelled all the way to the well in Rhiw (on foot or did she get a lift?!) so she must have believed it to be worth a lot of effort. Her remedy included periwinkles from the beach not all remedies were herbal!

A well at Uwchmynydd, Fynnon Saint, contained particular unusual minerals and watercress growing near it was used by this woman to make a sleeping medicine. She also used the same water, together with white heather honey and gorse flowers in a medicine for depression.

 A treatment for 'bitterness in the stomach' required an infusion made with head of tide sea water, from a particular spot on the coast at Uwchmynydd. Why was that so important, we might wonder now? Some may say it gave the healer an air of mystery and therefore more power. Others may say that, in these days of factory produced medical treatments, we may have forgotten much of our ancestors' knowledge of the benefits of individually prepared treatments.

Susan Frisby, Bryn Foulk, Rhiw, July 2003.

Thanks to the following people for giving me information on remedies - Jean Marian Hughes-Jones, Mrs Rachel Ann Jones, Paul Lewis, Jeanette Roberts, Will Willaims and Mr & Mrs Williams of Treheli For more information, please email me: susan-frisby@excite.com.

 

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