Turns out an old wives tale about magic soil from an Irish church was real

Found this while looking for positive stories, haha. Since the early 1800s, the people in a town in Northern Ireland called Boho thought the soil from a nearby church had healing powers. They would put some dirt under their pillow when they were sick, and the folklore was that it would heal you.

A scientist tested the soil a few years back and it turns out to have strong antibacterial properties. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-46651702

It got me wondering if there are other examples of survival folklore actually being true?


  • Comments (9)

    • 9

      I saw this story on reddit recently https://www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/go8a2p/til_a_local_folk_remedy_in_boho_ireland_was_to/

      I had a general idea that antibiotics and other helpful drugs are sometimes randomly found in nature, like in tree bark or sea corals.

      But I had no idea there were university research programs where you can send in dirt from your yard and they use it to look for new drugs! So cool. Reminds me of SETI@Home.

      From the reddit comments, check out Rockefeller’s Drugs From Dirt program https://www.drugsfromdirt.org/DrugsFromDirt/submission/ and the University of Oklahoma’s What’s In Your Backyard program https://whatsinyourbackyard.org/

      • 9

        Was reading some of the comments in that reddit post and found this interesting:

        “Vancomycin was isolated from soil collected in Borneo. Streptomycin was found in a soil sample from a New Jersey parking lot.”

    • 6

      Another one from Ireland (maybe there is some truth to “luck of the irish”!)… There was a natural spring that was said to be good for crazy people. Turns out there was a naturally high amount of lithium in the spring. Lithium is used to treat some mental health issues.

      Source: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/recovering-well-1.556572

    • 2

      Well, whatever the antibacterial properties of the soil, I’m pretty sure it won’t do any good if you put it under under your pillow.

    • 4

      I’ll add one that I only heard about recently. Scurvy was a disease that sailors got back when crews would spend months and months at sea. It killed more people than the Civil War which is insane. And it basically boiled down to not getting enough vitamin C.

      They tried a bunch of different remedies on the ships but people were still dying. Some people noticed that fruit worked against it. Lemons and orange have a ton of vitamin C and the people who ate those ended up not getting it. Hard to keep those on a ship for months, but it worked.

      Here’s a good overview: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-37320399

      I don’t think they figured it all out immediately but eventually it stopped killing sailors. I didn’t know the part about rats making their own vitamin C. That’s crazy.

      • 5

        Yeah, the name “limey” for Brits came from the fact that British ships carried limes that were rationed to the sailors for scurvy prevention. As far as rats making their own vitamin C, almost all vertebrates make their own vitamin C, with primates as one of the few exceptions.

      • 5

        Wow, I’d heard the “limey” expression before in movies but had no idea it was tied to scurvy. Thanks for that!

    • 6

      I saw a story a few years ago about some scholars in England who made a healing salve from a recipe in a 1000 year old Anglo Saxon medical text, and it turned out to be highly effective against MRSA.