20 OCTOBER 1939, Page 17

A Scorned Medicine

One of the hedges almost alongside the Icknield Way in South Oxfordshire was much prized a few years ago in the locality for its production of a certain black or very deep purple berry, which, so far as I could discover, was the bird cherry. This was gathered yearly in considerable quantity on behalf of a well-known horse-leech, who compounded from it the chief of his horse-medicines. When he expired endea- vours were made to pass on the business to relatives, but no one was found willing. Perhaps the coming of the tractor has so lessened the number of horses that the business was no longer lucrative. Perhaps veterinary science has put to scorn the old local remedies. In any case the little black berries form and fall unregarded. The old horse-leech would have rejoiced in this season. The hedge that was regarded as the best hunting-ground for the raw material of his drug is almost as thick with berry as with leaf ; and of all the various berries and fruits that flourish there the only one that is now gathered is the blackberry proper. Even the crab-apples, though they are of the bigger and less bitter sort, ripen and fall to no purpose beyond their own existence and beauty. When one sees the extent of the fruit in such a hedge one cannot but wonder whether there is not needless waste. Was the old horse-leech an unconscious quack or had he a real secret? Has anyone of scientific accomplishment ever attempted to test the work of such local remedies? They were once numerous. There is, I think, a certain revival in the interest in herbal medicines. The last of the old quacks that I knew had a stout faith in the efficacy of the milky juice of the poppy that we call the greater Celandine in the treatment of warts.