278: Wart Cures

The first post I wrote in this series was about warts, and since then I’ve discovered that wart charming and curing represents one of the largest classes of healing magic in the Ozarks. Why? Probably because it was at one time a common problem among hillfolk, one that wasn’t life threatening but a nuisance nonetheless. Some common cures include wiping the wart with a stolen dishrag, letting a katydid eat it off, leaving it at a crossroads, having someone buy it off you, etc. Below are a great number of cures, charms, and remedies collected by Ozark folklorists. You could write an entire book just on wart charms, and one day maybe I will.

Katydid used to bite off a wart – “I know several healers in McDonald county, Missouri, who pretend to do the job by letting a big grasshopper or katydid bite the wart. They just hold the critter’s head up to the wart, and he’ll bite it all right. It is painful for the moment, but they tell me that the wart soon dries up and falls away.” ~Randolph OMF 130

“Let a katy-did bite it off, then strike a match and hold it close enough to boil the blood on the wart.” ~Parler FBA III 3709

“This little boy told his mother he let a katydid eat off his wart. And said it didn’t even hurt.” ~Parler FBA III 3710

String tied then buried – “There used to be a wart witch at Seneca, Missouri, who tied a string around the wart, muttered a few words under her breath, and pulled the string off with a great flourish. Then she presented the string to the patient and told him to bury it in the ground where nobody could find it. If the string lay undisturbed for nine days and nights, she said, the wart would soon shrivel and gradually disappear.” ~Randolph OMF 126

“Another old-timer tells me that it is only necessary to tie a woolen string around the wart, then spit on the wart and rub it with the finger tip. This done, remove the string and burn it secretly.” ~Randolph OMF 127

“…count warts, tie as many knots in a yarn string, bury under eve of house.” ~Parler FBA III 3728

Buttons used in wart buying ceremony – “Some specialists go through a kind of wart-buying ceremony, but no money actually changes hands. You show the man your wart, and he says: ‘Want to sell it?’ You answer ‘Yes, sir.’ Whereupon the wart taker produces a big safety pin with many buttons strung on it. He selects one of these and hands it to you saying: ‘Carry that there button in your pocket till the wart’s gone. Hit’s mine now, ‘cause I done bought an’ paid for it.’” ~Randolph OMF 127

Corn – “Some hillfolk prefer to lose their warts at a crossroad, or better still at a place where the road forks three ways. Take a grain of corn for each wart and place each grain in the road under a small thin stone. The warts will be taken over by the person or animal that moves the stones and uncovers the grains of corn.” ~Randolph OMF 127

“…prick the wart until it bleeds, then take a piece of corn and rub on it, then throw the piece of corn over your left shoulder in the chicken pen and if you can’t see which chicken ate the corn the wart will go away.” ~Parler FBA III 3696

“Take a needle and prick the wart until it bleeds, then rub three grains of corn in the blood. Throw the corn to the chickens. If a rooster eats them the wart will go away, but if a hen eats them you’ll just have to try something else.” ~Parler FBA III 3698

“Feed yellow corn to a Red rooster and if he eats it your wart will dissappear…” ~Parler FBA III 3705

Buying warts with a penny or nickel – “Warts may be disposed of by hiring some boy to ‘take them off your hands’ two or three more warts don’t matter to a chap who has a dozen or so already. Just give the boy a penny or a nickel for each wart, and they will pass from you to him as soon as he spends the money.” ~Randolph OMF 127

“Others bought warts for a penny or a nickel. Man down near Mincey, Missouri, says that a feller bought all his warts for a nickel and they disappeared shortly thereafter.” ~Pompey GG 10

“Warts can be purchased by exchanging them for any small token, such as a penny etc. When the token is lost the wart will disappear.” ~Parler FBA III 3751

“Buy my wart for a penny.” ~Parler FBA III 3754

“If you buy a wart from a person for a penny and they keep the penny for a year the wart will go away.” ~Parler FBA III 3755

Paper – “Another way to ‘pass’ a wart is to spit on it, rub a bit of paper in the spittle, fold the paper, and drop it in the road; the wart is supposed to pass to the first person who picks up the paper and unfolds it. Children are always trying this, and one can find these little folded papers in the road near most any rural schoolhouse.” ~Randolph OMF 127

Pebbles – “Or you may put as many pebbles as you have warts in a paper bag, walk down the road alone and throw the whole thing backward over your right shoulder. Whoever picks up the bag and counts the stones will fall heir to the warts.” ~Randolph OMF 127

“You take pebbles from underneath the eve of the house, and touch them to the wart and then put them in a nice little bundle and place the bundle in a forks of a road and walk off without looking back.” ~Parler FBA III 3624

Stump water – “The exact number of warts is important in some of these ceremonies. When a hillman tries to remove warts by applying stump water he repeats this formula: Stump water, stump water, Kill these — warts! The dash represents the number of warts that the patient has, and it is essential to state this number correctly. If a man says six when he has only five warts, the warts will not be cured, and another one will appear in a few days.” ~Randolph OMF 128

Swaller these warts.
One way to get rid of warts is to find a hollow stump full of spunkey-water and a black snake near by –dip the warts in and repeat the saying.” ~Parler FBA III 3666

“Place stump water on a wart.” ~Parler FBA III 3667

“…stick your hand in some stump water in the light of a full moon.” ~Parler FBA III 3668

“Go out in the woods and find a hollow stump with water in it. Put the wart in the water and say, ‘Barley Corn, Barley Corn, Sugar and shorts, Stump Water, [Stump] Water, Swallow these warts.’” ~Parler FBA III 3675

Cloth – “An old man near Bentonville, Arkansas, had quite a local reputation as a wart specialist, though he made no secret of his method, and said that anybody could perform similar cures if they only ‘knowed how.’ He told me that he just fastened a bit of cloth to the wart, blindfolded the ‘warty feller,’ and turned him around seven times then he buried the cloth in the ground, and very seldom did the wart last more than three or four days thereafter.” ~Randolph OMF 128

Dirty or stolen dishrag – “One school of wart catchers place their trust in dirty dishrags, and some healers say that they require stolen dishrags. After touching each wart with the rag, one either buries it secretly in the earth or hides it under a flat rock, being careful to replace the rock in exactly the position in which it was found. Sometimes the patient is told that the wart will disappear in three days, or seven days, or nine days, or twelve days. More conservative practitioners say rather that as the dishrag decomposes, the wart will grow smaller and finally disappear. A variation of this procedure is to steal a dishrag and burn it secretly, then rub the ashes on your warts, and rest assured that they will soon be gone. But it is essential to avoid telling any- body that you have done this, else the warts are likely to come back.” ~Randolph OMF 128

“Wart cure: Take a dirty dish rag and rub on the wart. Then wash the dish rag clean and hang in a dark moderately warm room. When the dish rag dries, the wart will go away.” ~Parler FBA III 3535

Beans – “A schoolteacher in Barry county, Missouri, believes that the best way to get rid of warts is to rub them with a green bean leaf until each wart looks green and then go to bed without washing your hands. Another common theory is that it is only necessary to touch a wart with nine beans and then throw the beans one at a time over the right shoulder.” ~Randolph OMF 129

“Cure a wart by rubbing a kidney bean on it, and it will go away.” ~Parler FBA III 3536

“…a green bean leaf rubbed on a wart several times a day will cure a wart.” ~Parler FBA III 3537

“To remove a wart, cut a bean in half. Throw half away, rub the wart with the other half, put it under a rock and don’t look back at the rock.” ~Parler FBA III 3567

“Take beans and rub over warts, throw the beans into a well, and the warts will go away.” ~Parler FBA III 3568

“Bruise string bean leaves, rub on wart, secretly hide leaves under an old brick, when leaves rot the warts disappear.” ~Parler FBA III 3569

Corn fed to chicken to cure warts – “An old man in Pineville, Missouri, told me as a great secret that he could cure any wart by squeezing a drop of blood out of it on a grain of corn and feeding the corn to a red rooster. According to another version of this story, it is best to rub the wart with two grains of corn, feed one to the rooster, and carry the other in your pocket. When you lose the grain from your pocket, the wart will be gone. The losing must be accidental, but that is not difficult; most cabins are full of rodents, and a grain of corn in the pocket of one’s overalls will soon ‘turn up missin’.’” ~Randolph OMF 129

Hailstones – “If the weather conditions are favorable, one has only to hold a hailstone against his warts; as soon as the hailstone melts, the warts will crumble and fall away. If no hailstone is at hand, just wet your finger and mark a circle about the wart, and then make sure that your hand doesn’t get wet again for twenty-four hours.” ~Randolph OMF 129

Notched stick – “The stick-notching treatment used for many other ailments is also adapted to the removal of warts. A little boy near Hot Springs, Arkansas, showed me a green switch with four notches in it, tied to the end of an old wooden gutter; each notch represents a wart, he said, and as the water rushes over the notches, it gradually dissolves away the warts.” ~Randolph OMF 130

“Take a foot-long peach tree stick, count the warts on your hand, and cut a notch on the stick for each wart. Then bury the stick beside the road, walk away from it without looking back, and in the same number of days as there were notches on the stick the warts will be gone.” ~Parler FBA III 3737

Elderberry stick – “Other hillfolk say that it is best to use an elderberry stick, and to cut the notch carefully so that it just fits over the wart to be cured. Then bury the stick on the north side of the cabin and never mention it to a living soul.” ~Randolph OMF 130

Stolen knife – “A prominent Arkansas lawyer tells me that in his boyhood the essential thing was to cut big notches in a stranger’s apple tree with a stolen knife, one notch for each wart to be removed. This was quite an undertaking, for knives were highly prized and hence difficult to steal. Even more serious was the fact that the people in the neighborhood were all acquainted, so that a boy had to travel a considerable distance before he could find a stranger’s apple tree.” ~Randolph OMF 130

Black cat killed and used to cure warts – “A group of old-timers in Phelps county, Missouri, contend that the best way to dispose of warts is to carry a black cat, freshly killed, into a graveyard at night. Some say that the dead cat must be placed on the grave of a person buried the same day, and if this person has led a wicked life, so much the better.” ~Randolph OMF 130-131

“Kill a black cat and put it in a gunny sack. Then take the sack and bury it someplace where you will never go back.” ~Parler FBA III 3658

Corpse hand – “There is a widespread belief that warts can be ‘charmed off’ by touching them with the hand of a corpse. I have seen this tried several times. The warts disappeared after a while, just as they generally do under any other treatment, or with no treatment at all. On the other side of the balance, I have met an undertaker who handles many bodies every year, and both his hands are covered with warts!” ~Randolph OMF 131

Toad killed and used to cure warts – “Or one may kill a toad, rub its intestines on the wart, then bury the entrails under a stone. All this must be kept secret, otherwise it won’t work. The boy who acquainted me with this method still had several large warts; when I asked why the toad’s guts hadn’t cured them, he explained that he had told his mother what he was doing, in order to escape punishment for killing the toad. The mother was opposed to killing toads in the dooryard; she said it was an unlucky and senseless practice and might make the cows give bloody milk.” ~Randolph OMF 131

“Wrap the intestines of a toad around a wart to cure it.” ~Parler FBA III 3555

Kettle – “Otto Ernest Rayburn reports a variation of this method of curing a ringworm. ‘Go to a tea kettle of boiling water,’ he writes, ‘rub your thumb in a circle the size of the ringworm on the inside of the lid, and then around the ringworm. Do the same with the forefinger, then with the thumb again. Do this with all the fingers on that hand, alternating each time with the thumb. When through, go away and do not look back at the tea kettle.’” ~Randolph OMF 132

Dirty dishrag buried for warts – “Had lots of cures fer warts. Rub them with a dishrag, and then bury the dishrag in the corner of the barn, an’ the warts would disappear.” ~Pompey GG 10

“If you have warts, steal a dishrag, tie knots in it, and bury it so the drip of the house falls on it. As the dishrag rots, so will the wart.” ~Parler FBA III 3634

“To get rid of a wart on your hand take an old dirty dishrag, put it under the back steps, and don’t tell anybody that you did it. Then your wart will disappear.” ~Parler FBA III 3635

“Steal a dishrag –then bury it in a secret place after rubbing the wart. As you bury it, say Go, wart, go follow your master.” ~Parler FBA III 3636

Nine stones to cure warts – “…go to the crossroads, take nine stones, and throw each one in a different direction.” ~Pompey GG 10

“Wetting” at the crossroads causes warts – “Wet in the crossroads and you will have warts on your hands.” ~Parler FBA III 3511

Bones – “Get the shoulder bone from some animals and make an X three times across the wart with the bone. Then throw the bone over your left shoulder and don’t look back.” ~Parler FBA III 3604

“…a man told me once that you could remove a wart by walking into the woods and finding the bone of a dead animal. You rub the bone over the wart a few times and throw it down. Then, you walk away from the bone and be sure and never look back. The wart is supposed to come off soon.” ~Parler FBA III 3605

Frog blood – “Kill a frog and take some of the blood and put the blood on the wart and it will go away, when you are not thinking about it.” ~Parler FBA III 3553

“…tie a piece…of a rag soaked in the blood of a frog around the wart. It will go away in three days.” ~Parler FBA III 3554

Moon ritual – “Go outside on a moonlight night and sit down on anything. Look at the moon and concentrate on it. Then after a few minutes, still looking at the moon, reach down and pick up whatever your hand touches. Rub it on your wart. The wart will go away.” ~Parler FBA III 3628

Grave dirt for a wart – “To get rid of a wart you must slip out of the house on the night of a full moon, dig a silver spoonsfull of earth from the grave of one who has been dead over 100 years, rub the dirt on the wart, and slip back into your house unnoticed.” ~Parler FBA III 3631

Graveyard water for warts – “Go to the cemetery and get some creek water, place on wart and the wart will disappear in a matter of time.” ~Parler FBA III 3672

Bible verse – “There is a secret passage in the Bible that will remove warts.” ~Parler FBA III 3762

Wart charm – “…to remove warts look at the new moon for three nights running. Repeat this on a second and third new moon, making nine nights in all. As you look, rub the warts, saying three times, ‘May what I see increase and what I feel decrease.” ~Parler FBA III 3764

Wart charmers – “There’s this old lady that lived close to us she’s dead not. She died last year. Anyway I heard if you told her how many warts you had and how old you were the warts would disappear. They did for me.” ~Parler FBA III 3768

“If a [legitimate] son or daughter has never seen his or her father he or she has the ability to remove warts.” ~Parler FBA III 3769

“To get rid of warts count them and tell someone who can think them away.” ~Parler FBA III 3773

“Two very interesting sisters, Sarah and Thuney Smith, live just north of Mocassin Creek in Baxter County. They live in a log cabin up by Bergman Cave. People used to think they were endowed with a bit of the supernatural because they knew all about ‘yarns’ and how to take warts off by spitting on the wart and saying a magic charm. They always wear huge sunbonnets and shapeless mother hubbards.” ~Parler FBA III 3775

“Mrs. Phipps of Fayetteville charms warts off. She rubs a small stone in her backyard on the wart, says some phrase and says it will be gone in three weeks.” ~Parler FBA III 3778

Blacksmith water for warts – “There was always a tub of water nearby the Blacksmith’s forge, where he flung the red hot irons to cool. It was said that washing warty hands slowly in the water of this tub would remove the warts.” ~Parler FBA III 3846


Parler, Mary Celestia – Folk Beliefs of Arkansas
Pompey, Sherman Lee – Granny Gore’s Ozark Folk Medicine
Randolph, Vance – Ozark Magic and Folklore

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