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There are many traditional ways of staunching blood; some are practical and physical, such as the covering of a wound with cobwebs (see spiders), while others rely more on the effect of verbal charms. The otherwise sceptical Reginald Scot (1584: book 13, chapter 10) states that a bone from a carp's head was good for staunching blood, although he does not state how this was done. He also names the herb heliotrope as effective (book 13, chapter 6) and gives some charms (book 12, chapter 18), one of which is very similar to that reported by Charlotte Burne 400 years later (1883: 183). Verbal charms are recorded in most of the regional folklore collections, and were clearly widespread, and there are identifiable groups, such as those which concern Christ being baptized in the River Jordan, and stopping the flow of the water, or those which relate how Christ on the cross was wounded with a soldier's lance.

Many of the recorded examples are for nosebleeds or for unspecified wounds, but the grim reality of medicine relying on words is brought home in a report from the 1880s. A farm labourer who cut his wrist on his scythe was attended by local ‘charmers’ who claimed to be able to stop the blood, and the delay in getting him to hospital cost him his life (Daily Telegraph (7 July 1887); quoted in N&Q 7s:4 (1887), 67). Numerous plant remedies, current in East Anglia in the 20th century, are given by Hatfield.


Black, 1883: 76, 79–80, 96–7, 111;Opie and Tatem, 1989: 31–2;Hatfield, 1994: 32–3;Owen Davies, Folklore 107 (1996), 20–2;Forbes, 1971: 293–316.

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