The folk medicine and traditional remedies of rural Brittany changed little over the centuries; a fascinating blend of ancient superstitious practices, naturalistic beliefs, witchcraft, religion and empiric medicine. In an earlier post I highlighted some of the popular plant-based treatments once used in the Breton countryside; this post will therefore focus on other traditional natural remedies once found here.
In the rural Brittany of yesteryear, where doctors were very rare, the populace were happy to utilise the healing power of plants and other natural remedies. Sometimes, the intervention of the local healer or witch was sought but often people were content to apply the ancient wisdom that had been transmitted within the family from generation to generation
Herbs and plants once played a key role in the traditional medicine of Brittany, being employed in a wide variety of remedies to treat all manner of diseases in humans and animals. Most proprietary recipes were tightly guarded, being handed down within the family from generation to generation. However, knowledge captured from the popular memory in the early 20th century and uncovered in the old pages of witch’s spell books and folklore, allow us to construct a Breton herbal pharmacopoeia.
In the Brittany of yesteryear, there was a dearth of doctors in the rural areas and when one could be found, his services were not always affordable to the local populace. Traditional healing treatments were therefore widely used; one of the local healers most commonly consulted was the Bonesetter.
An echo of the region’s Celtic past, sacred springs were commonplace throughout Brittany with miraculous qualities attributed to many and were an important part of daily life even after the Catholic counter-reformation.