There is a widespread belief, in Britain and abroad, that dew gathered on May Day morning is particularly good for the complexion, and countless people have acted on this knowledge over the last 500 years. Samuel Pepys's wife Elizabeth clearly believed that any time in May would do, as he records her going out on 28 May 1667, and 10 May 1669. In some areas there were extra stipulations: dew gathered under oak trees or off hawthorn bushes being specially good. May dew was also believed to be particularly effective for certain complaints, first mentioned in 1602 for sore eyes and in Launceston, ‘poor people say that a swelling in the neck may be cured by the patient, if a woman, going before sunrise on the first of May, to the grave of the young man last buried in the churchyard, collecting there from the dew by passing the hand three times from the head to the foot of the grave, and applying the dew to the part affected. If the patient be a man, the grave chosen must be that of the last young woman buried in the churchyard’ (N&Q 1s:2 (1850), 474–5). Other ailments such as consumption and weak joints and muscles could also be treated with May dew, or even with May rain.
See also MAY, BRINGING IN.
Wright and Lones, 1938: ii. 205–7;Opie and Tatem, 1989: 245–6.