Potato used as a cure for rheumatism.

Place details: EUROPE. UK. England Oxfordshire Oxford Cowley. Cultural Group: European English Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Foodstuff / Potato Starch Plant / ?. Processes: Dried / ?. Dimensions: Max L = 122 mm Maker: Unknown Field Collector: Mr Burgess? When Collected: By 1897 Other Owners: Henry Balfour PRM Source: Henry Balfour Acquired: Loaned March 1897 ?Bequeathed 1939 PRM Image: CD50.8 (Dec. 2007)

KEYWORD: Medicine / Amulet / CLASS: Medicine / Plant / Religion / ?.

Object description: Description taken from Conservation Card by Heather Richardson 13/06/2002 - Dried potato in a small circular glass fronted tin. Carried as a cure or rheumatism. (Heather Richardson 13/06/2002) [LKG 26/02/2009]

Accession Book Entry - Mar H. Balfour - Potato carried for 4 years in the pocket by Mr Burgess of Cowley, as a cure for rheumatism

[Geographical] Card Catalogue Entry - exactly as Accession Book

Detailed Amulet Card Catalogue - Amulets A Signatures B Sym(pathetic) Magic C Div(ination) and Witchcraft - B Sympathetic Magic - B.8 Prophylactics, cures, stimuli - Seeds, roots &c. - Description: Potato carried for four years by Mr. Burgess of Cowley, Oxon, in his pocket as a cure for rheumatism: The potato had to be stolen. Locality: Cowley, Oxon. How Acquired: deposited by Henry Balfour Esq. 1897. [insert] [Written on reverse of card] G.C.2. left lower side. [end insert]

This object is in a small glass topped box. Written on the reverse of the box - 'Potato carried for 4 years by Mr Burgess of Cowley, Oxon, in his pocket as a cure for rheumatism. The potato had to be stolen. Deposd. by H. Balfour 1897.' Written on the label inside the box - 'Potatoe [sic] carried for 4 years by Mr Burgess of Cowley, Oxon, in his pocket as a cure for rheumatism. The potatoe [sic] has to be stolen. Lent by H. Balfour, 1897.' [MdeA 30/5/2002]

There appears to be some confusion as to whether there are one or two potatoes. However, this object does have 1897 written on the reverse of the box and on the label inside the box. The accession number 1897.83.3 has therefore been assigned to this object even though it is not possible to physically number the object. [MdeA 30/5/2002]

Display history: Selected for display in the PRM exhibition 'Objects Talk', 5th October 2002 - Summer 2003 [MdeA 30/5/2002]

Exhibition Labels [Displayed in the special exhibition Objects Talk at the PRM from 5 October 2002 to 17 August 2003. In this exhibition, objects were displayed with curatorial notes and with comments elicited by Museum staff from members of the local community, who selected the objects from the Museum's displays and reserve collections. This object was accompanied by the following texts] - Comment: ‘Potato cures for rheumatism, Essex [see also 1917.53.606 and 1917.53.607] and Oxford, England. People used to carry things like that around in their pockets a lot. Things like this aren’t as commonplace anymore because of improvements in medicine. They aren’t as necessary. Ron Clifton.’ Curatorial note: ‘Potato cure for rheumatism, Oxford, England. The following is written on the reverse of the box: ‘Potato carried for 4 years by Mr Burgess of Cowley, Oxon, in his pocket as a cure for rheumatism. The potato had to be stolen.’ Museum accession number: 1897.83.3.’ [OD 24/10/2002].

Publications history, trails & websites: Mentioned in Ellen Ettlinger, Folklore vol 54, no. 1, (March 1943) pp 227-249, 'Just as crampnuts, "the woody out-growths, common on beech- or ash-trees were carried in the pocket as a cure for cramp," potatoes were frequently worn against rheumatism. Some examples, used by Oxford citizens about 1900, can be found in the Pitt Rivers Museum together with the name of their owners, which I do not like to reveal, because the potatoes had to be stolen, if they were to prove curative. I am indebted to Mr James Walton for the information that "atrupine, a reputed cure for rheumatism is found in potato "Eyes" which renders some justification for the belief."[ MS "Charms against Evil and Illness" p 4]' [p.238]

Research notes: See publications below:

By atrupine Ettlinger presumably meant atropine OED online: a. A poisonous alkaloid found in the Deadly Nightshade and the seeds of the Thorn-apple. (as potatoes are related to deadly nightshade, I believe.) The poison in potatoes actually seems to be solanin or solanine:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solanine: Solanine is a glycoalkaloid poison found in species of the nightshade family. It can occur naturally in any part of the plant, including the leaves, fruit, and tubers. It is very toxic even in small quantities. Solanine has both fungicidal and pesticidal properties, and it is one of the plant's natural defenses. ... Solanine and chaconine are present in potato shoots. In potato tubers 30–80% of the solanine develops in and under the skin and thus may be removed by peeling and removing the eyes. This is advisable if the tubers show green, but is not a guarantee of safety. Potato greening strongly suggests solanine build-up although each process can occur without the other. A bitter taste in a potato may be a more reliable indicator of toxicity. ... Solanine has fungicidal and pesticidal properties, and solanine hydrochloride (a modified version of solanine) has been used as a commercial pesticide, but never on a large scale.

Solanine has sedative and anticonvulsant properties, and has been used as a treatment for asthma, as well as for cough and cold medicines. However, its effectiveness for either use is questionable.

http://library.thinkquest.org/C007974/1_1pot.htm: This plant was the potato, which contains the poisonous glycoalkaloid solanine in all its parts but mostly in the blossoms and in the fruit. Its content is extremely high when tubers are unripe or green as a result of incorrect storrage but they cannot cause poisoning because solanin decomposes when boiled.

Only the fruit, blossoms, seeds, sprouts, and sun-greened tubers may be dangerous.

They can bring about stomachache, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, psychic depression, breathing disruptions, irregular pulse and even coma in the case of high dose intake and lack of therapy.

Bearing in mind the application of the potato in our everyday life, we should not expect it to have found application in medicine [AP 27/09/2006]