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Weird and Wonderful Medieval Cure Alls

Our final sessions at Norton Priory (for now), after a summer full of exploring new ideas for workshops, were based on the strange things that have been used to cure ailments over the years. On Saturday the 5th and 6th November, we explored ideas around medieval cure alls, using imagination, historical information and a bit of slime.

Some of the subject matters you could focus on:

Snail Syrup: Snail syrup was traditionally used as treatment for coughs and sore throats in Ancient Greece, but it was still being used right up until the Middle Ages. In fact it is actually still for sale now, apparently popular in Germany.

Would you like to see a recipe on how to create your own? Snail Recipe Snippets

Dr. J.Quincy said,in 1728,about snails:"They abound with a slimy juice; and are experienced very good in weaknesses and consumption, especially for children and tender constitutions. To make a syrup of snails, take Garden snails, early in the morning while the dew is upon them, one pound; take off their shells; slit them; and with half a pound of sugar, put them in a bag; hang them in a cellar and the syrup will melt and drop through; which keep for use. It possesses in the best manner all the virtues of snails."

Maggot Therapy: People have been using maggots for medicinal purposes since civilisation began - and if it really fascinates you, then head over to this article 'Larval therapy from antiquity to the present day: mechanisms of action, clinical applications and future potential'

Leeches: Did you know that British Medicinal Leeches are currently threatened with extinction? Medicinal Leech, Hirudo medicinalis, is the UK’s largest leech and like maggots, leeches have been used since antiquity (ancient times). Fascinating read over on Freshwater Habitats Trust about medicinal leeches and the work being done to save them.

Did you know? There are still Leech Farmers and Biopharm have been supplying leeches since 1812!

How we made our leeches:

Using black hot glue (yes hot glue is available in many colours!) - we used Black Hot Glue - you create your leeches by gunning out leech like shapes onto tin foil (comes off very easily) and trimming off any stray bits. These Hot Glue Leeches look suitably leech like with very little effort and can be reused.

Our 'maggots' were made with the same technique, just using normal hot glue and creating smaller, stubby maggot like shapes.

Hand- washing - the scariest cure all! It is actually fascinating to look into the history of hand washing and social distancing, the current Covid-19 pandemic is not the first time this has been used as an essential tool. Maybe as far back as the 14th 'Black Death' - further reading here 'Hand Hygiene'.


A few examples of potions created during sessions

Artists involved: Claire Pitt and Rachael Prime, joined by Gail Louise on the Sunday session.

Tools: A few things that may help if replicating this project or something similar

  • We were given a large amount of mini glass bottles from a catering company, so we used those in this project, but any glass jar would work and could be still rinsed and recycled after project finishes.

  • Parchment paper - To create 'Ye Olde' labels you can buy parchment paper, create your own with a tea staining technique - we enjoyed this website 'How to Make Tea Dyed Paper'. Once you create a 'master' piece of parchment paper, you could then photocopy this to make multiples.

Tips: You don't need to create a complicated slime recipe for this project, a small amount of guar gum powder, warm water and food colouring can create some amazing effects. We found this website useful for ideas 'No Glue Slime'.

You are creating a suspended animation fluid - or oxygenated bio gel like in the The Matrix movies (basically it's magical gloopy stuff that activates imagination, that has no real purpose), so it doesn't need to bounce or be held

Word of Warning: If you are using anything botanical, flowers/leaves etc, then these will go mouldy, so keep an eye on potions. The 'slime' will also return to a very watery substance after a week or so.

Continuing this theme:

We are fascinated with this subject matter and several of our artists at Hazlehurst Studios work with natural materials in their practice. We love delving into history and pulling out ideas that not only translates into inspiration for our own practice, but also creating accessible workshops for anyone to enjoy - get in touch if you have any ideas you would like to talk about - Contact

All this talk of leeches inspired Rachael to create some artwork of her own

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