Mysterious madstones fixed snake, spider bites

Published 2:42 pm Friday, June 11, 2010

Superstition has played a major role in folklore throughout the centuries, particularly in the expulsion of poisons, home remedies and old wives tales.

Perhaps the top superstition for Dark Corner residents was the curative power of madstones, which had their beginnings in the Middle Ages. In those early days, they were called bezoars and their magical powers were thought to cure epilepsy, to prevent plagues, to break fevers, but especially to remove poisons of many kinds.

The word, bezoar, comes from the Persian word, padzahr, which means expelling poison. For centuries, common folk have collected the stones for these reputed curative powers.

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At some unknown time, bezoars began to be called madstones by settlers in the New World, particularly in the southern Appalachian region and west to Texas.

Precisely what, are madstones?

They are growths found in the bodies of deer, particularly in the rumen, which form in much the same way as pearls in oysters. They originate as foreign bodies, such as a clump of dirt, hair ball or small piece of metal or coin, and remain in the stomach area instead of passing through the intestines.

As they continue to remain in the rumen, mineral salts and food particles coat the objects until they form small brownish stones much like smooth, rounded river stones.

Once removed from the rumen, outside air causes the stones to harden, but they can be softened for use by placing them in a warm liquid.

When a person is bitten by a poisonous snake or spider, the madstone is placed in a saucer of warm milk to soften, while the bite area is pricked to form a pool of blood.

Excess milk is shaken from the madstone and it is placed on the bite area. If poison is present in the blood pool, the madstone will stick (be difficult to lift from the bite area, as opposed to sticking like Super Glue).

Once it can be easily lifted off the bite area, the madstone is placed back in the now cool milk and small greenish streaks of poison will emanate from the stones pores.

Madstones were valued possessions and were passed down in families from one generation to another.


The Dark CornerGreer Connection of the Howard Family will be the special emphasis at the continuing exhibit at Greer Heritage Museum on Saturday, June 12. Dark Corner families are invited to come and share memories and pictures of their heritage in both areas. Admission is free; donations are appreciated. For information, call 864-877-3377.