Forgotten Folk Remedies: “Juicing Turnips”

As much I love manuscript receipt books, I want to mention another favorite source that I draw my research from.  On a whim one day, I volunteered to do some transcription for The Schools’ Collection which is a body of folklore collected by Irish schoolchildren in the 1930’s and compiled into handwritten volumes. I thought it would be interesting to see the similarities and differences between what I learned from country folk of the diaspora in the US, as opposed to what the country folk knew over there.

I think that’s why it was so easy for me to understand when I read about the Catholic Church’s invention of Irish druids and “things you think are Celtic but are not.” Unlike a lot of people who are looking for the sensational and fanciful from their dive into Celtic fakelore, I was looking for reminders of my family. I wanted to see the everyday and the mundane. I wanted to see myself.

For what it’s worth, I don’t use the word ‘Celt’ often, these days. I used the word “Celt” once in the presence of my favorite anthropology professor, at which point she looked over her glasses at me and asked, “Which Celts?  The Welsh, the Cornish, the Gallaeci that lived in Iberia, the Gauls that lived in France, the Bretons that lived in Brittany, the Boii tribe that lived in Bohemia and Bavaria, or perhaps you mean the oldest documented group of Celts that spoke Lepontic and lived in the Alps?” She then shook her head and said, “I think you mean the Gaels, dear.” 

I admit that I bought into it all at one point. I grew up in a leprauchaunized diaspora and I still dedicate March to good green plastic hat fun.  My daughter is a step dancer who danced with the Chieftains, Lunasa, and Gaelic Storm. I play a Killarney Whistle, and one of my most treasured possessions is my little red cap a friend brought me from Ireland.

Reading those  leigheasanna & pisreóga reminded me very much of my family folkways – especially those pertaining to rural living.  The entries have been influenced by some romantic nationalism but are old enough not to be tainted by all the Llewellynized  neopagan inventions about “The Celts” that cropped up in the late 20th century.

Aside from the personal appeal what I found particularly compelling about the entries in the Schools Collection is that they are evidence of the continuous use of particular remedies that were written about in earlier manuscripts.

I think that’s significant because it speaks to the longevity and persistence of domestic medicine.  There are no “lost remedies.”  That’s just something people have told you to sell classes and books. There are some that have been forgotten by most people and so I plan to highlight those occasionally.

That brings me to our receipt. I had heard people in my family talk about turnip syrup sore throats but to me it didn’t seem very practical to juice turnips until I stumbled upon the methodology.

There are many cures suggested for a “Cough”-: slice a turnip and place two slices of it in a bowl and put Sugar between them and the juice that is extracted from the turnip is very good for a “Cough,”

Mr. William Moloney Co. Tipperary

That was easy. There are so many entries that mention turnip juice for a sore throat that I think it to be one of the more common folk remedies along with black currant drink for a cold. There are other entries that simply advise cooking the turnip and eating it. That’s something that you see in Elizabeth Grey Kent’s published work.[1]

Many of the entries mention using brown sugar, none of them suggest honey. I would imagine that because honey is hygroscopic like sugar that it would work similarly. I like to leave the bees alone as much as possible and work with a lot of vegans, so I stick to using fair-trade raw sugar. Sugar is a known humectant and so honestly any syrup coats and soothes due to that property. There are certainly many more pleasant additives to choose from, so why turnips?

Turnips contain chemical constituents called glucosinolates. These constituents have many constituents that inhibit inflammation but perhaps the most pertinent to our remedy is that they act as mast cell inhibitors.  This means that they stop mast cells from breaking down and releasing histamines, which makes them particularly helpful to folks who suffer from seasonal allergies.[2]

It’s meant to be taken like any OTC syrup, so one tablespoon three times daily, or as needed.  They also used this method to “juice” turnips with salt and applied it topically to chilblains which is a very mild form of frostnip, and to remove corns.


References:

[1] Kent, Elizabeth Grey. A Choice Manual of Rare and Select Secrets in Physick and …; Published by W.I., Gent. 1st ed. London, England: Printed by G.D., and are to be sold by William Shears …, 1653.

[2] Akram, Muhammad, et al. ‘Health Benefits of Glucosinolate Isolated from Cruciferous and Other Vegetables’. In Preparation of Phytopharmaceuticals for the Management of Disorders, edited by Chukwuebuka Egbuna, Abhay Prakash Mishra, and Megh R. Goyal, 361–71. Academic Press, 2021.  https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-820284-5.00006-X.

Published by Stephany Riley Hoffelt

If you want to read more about me, it's on the website www.domestic-medicine.com

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