« …Empirical remedies
The empirical remedies that were used by the Calabrian people, as evidenced by the sources consulted in this work, were used both prophylactically and therapeutically, and were based on drinks, objects, animals, plants and other sources; some of these elements were created ex novo, while others were inherited from the “official” medicine of 1th-3th century AD.
Empirical prophylactic remedies. One of the most commonly used prophylactic empirical remedies was bleeding (which was already described by Galen that
affirmed “Saluberrimum igitur, ut praediximus, est in febribus venam incidere” (during the fever, as mentioned, it is very useful to incise a vein) (De Methodo Medendi XI, 15). Bleeding was performed preventively by “barbieri” (barbers) and “magare” (witches) during the month of March. During the same period (when the cure was called “marziale”), Calabrian people drank different types of decoctions, such as those made with “durcamara” (Solanum dulcamara L.), “acropastu” (Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers.), “strazza buttuni” (Smilax aspera L.) and “fumaria” (Fumaria officinalis L.). To prevent contagion of the disease during the night in the summer months, people slept for few hours and near a fire. Moreover, they drank strong spirits or wine. In particular, they were advised to drink half a litre of wine on an empty stomach, eat garlic (Allium sativum L.), smoke and chew tobacco and swallow the spittle, while always maintaining the pipe in the mouth. On awaking, it was recommended to eat a macerate of raw garlic in vinegar. Finally, people living on the coast used to spread olive oil mixed with absinth on their bodies, according to Dioscorides who affirmed “Itemque ex oleo perunctum, culices abigere, ne corpus tangant“ (Rubbed on with oil it forbids the mosquitos to touch the body) (De Materia Medica, III, 23) and according to Pliny “culices ex oleo perunctis abigit” (who use this oil keep mosquitos away), (Naturalis Historia XXVII, 28)…
Calabrian people, this disease was considered a normal life trouble; however, its most dangerous and deadly forms were considered by Calabrian people as a condition of supernatural nature. Therefore, they resorted to magic remedies that were believed to “link” the disease. These included, in particular, wearing a “nuci trischéra o a tri guarri” (a three-valve walnut shell) (Juglans regia L.), a spider that was enclosed between two shells of a walnut or skin, skeleton and fangs of snake, the latter extracted when animal was still alive, as it was believed that the disease would then affect the walnut, the spider or the parts of the snake, and not the subjects who wore these amulets. Furthermore, a live “carpurita” (Pachyiulus communis) was sewn into the clothes of the affected subject (without the patient realizing it) or
a “paletta” (Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill.) was placed near the fireplace. It was believed that when the animal died, or when the stem of the plant dried, the fever or the hepato-spleenomegaly would disappear. In an analogy with the ancient belief in the therapeutic principle of “contact”, to defeat spleenomegaly Calabrians were encouraged to place “erba i la crucivia” (Verbena officinalis L.) on the abdomen of the affected subject before sleeping, as it would absorb the “bad blood”. Finally, every morning the affected subject had to urinate on “cucuzzielli acriesti maturi”, the fruits of Ecballium elaterium (L.) A. Rich., to transfer the disease from the subject to the fruit.
Calabrian people alternated or combined both empirical and magical remedies and, very often, used prayers and acts of devotion, as diseases were believed to be associated to divine punishment. Thus, in Cosenza (Northern Calabria) the “Madonna della Febbre” was invoked
with prayers, ex voto and pilgrimages; in Castrovillari (province of Cosenza), the prayer to the “Madonna d’Itria” was as follows: “Madonna mia ‘i L’Itria, chi stai
‘nganna a’sta jumara fammi passà ‘sta freva ‘i quartana c’u jurnu tuju non vugghiu mangià panu“ (« My Lady of Itria, close to the river, let the fever out and on your commemoration day I will not eat bread”)… »