February 26, 2011

Bold Hives

Usually, the cause of death recorded on certificates is clear and understandable to most lay people.  Causes such as pneumonia, failure of heart, arterio-sclerotic heart disease, myocardial failure, cardio-renal and vascular disease or chronic nephritis are - I believe - generally recognized for what they are by many people who do not necessarily have specific training.  Many of us become familiar with and understand the meaning of those terms just by watching today's pharmaceutical houses or trial lawyer commercials on TV.

I recently found one death certificate that identified the cause of death in an infant as "bolde hives."  Certainly, many of us know what the hives are and, how painful they can be.  But, "bolde hives" seems to be something else entirely.

In looking for a definition I found Anthony P. Cavender's book, Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia (2003, Univ. of North Carolina).  Cavender describes Bolde Hives thusly:
"The terms 'bold hives,' 'little red hives,' 'bull hives,' 'boll hives,' and 'stretch hives' all referred to an infant-specific folk illness distinctly different from the type of hives (urticaria) recognized by official medicine. From the folk medical perspective, newborns entered the world with hives - a mysterious undefinable entity - inside their bodies. Like measles and chicken pox, hives had to be forced out before it 'turned inward,' thus transforming into bold hives. If the hives turned inward, normal body functions were adversely affected. Many people thought that bold hives 'wrapped around or 'attacked' the heart and lungs, and that if not properly treated, death was inevitable."
Cavender, based on an interview with someone from Western North Carolina, describes how this ailment was prevented or cured:  The older women in the community would have a small sack of ground and dried "ivy."  They would steep a bit and sweeten with a little sugar and spoon feed it to an infant.  In about a day the baby would break out with small pimples all over.  Those would eventually dry up and peel off and the baby would be "just as white and pretty as it should be."

This book is an interesting read and much more is written about "bolde hives."  It is available for review here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd heard of bold hives but didn't know there was a folk "remedy" for it. I wonder how many little babies were poisoned by a tea made of the wrong kind of ivy and laid to bald hives?

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