John Wesley was an 18th Century Anglican priest who foundedMethodism in England, Ireland and North America. He was a leader in the issues of social justice, and took a keen interest in the health of the poor. This interest led to him publishing a book of inexpensive and traditional remedies.
It is from this book that we read of a cure for warts that remains popular to this day. To whit,
Rub them daily with a Radish;
Or, with Juice of Dandelion;
Or, of Marigold Flowers;
Or, water in which Sal Ammoniac is dissolved.
In 1761, when Wesley recorded this remedy, dandelion sap was already a traditional treatment for warts and likely had been for some time – but how long, I don’t know.
Warts are caused by a papillomavirus, and are contagious with skin contact or through sharing items such as towels. An awareness of its transmissibility may have been the foundation of some of the more unusual remedies for wart removal. For example,
“Rub a white bean on the warts, wrap it in paper, and throw it on the road; whoever picks it up will get the warts.” (2)
It is, in fact, quite possible, albeit unlikely, that one could transfer warts to another person this way. What won’t happen is that by doing so, one’s own warts would thereby be cured; all that would happen is that both individuals would have warts. Besides, we know now that warm, humid surfaces are good vectors of transmission, and probably better than white beans. Here’s another old remedy:
“If you find an old bone in the field, rub the wart with it, then lay it down exactly as you found it. The wart will be cured.” (2)
Again, we have the notion that a wart can be magically transferred to something else. In this case, an old bone. It isn’t stated whether the cure is effected instantaneously, or if it takes weeks or months. If the latter, well, there’s a good reason for that.
Warts are, or can be, self limiting. That is, they won’t necessarily stay around for ever. A recent study on modern wart treatments concluded that no method was more than 73% effective. Just using a placebo had a 27% success rate (3). That 27% placebo effect has probably been behind a great deal of these traditional wart remedies. Look at it this way: if 100 people rub their warts with an old bone, 27 of them will be ‘cured’, if those numbers for placebo hold true. But it won’t be the bone that did it. They would have gotten better anyway.
So what about our dandelion sap? It so happens that there are no clinical trial data. There are several centuries of reports of it being used as a wart treatment, but there is just as much proof of its effectiveness as there is for that old bone, or the trick with the white bean. Researchers haven’t taken enough interest in dandelion sap as a wart cure to really put it to the test. That isn’t to say that it won’t work, but there really isn’t any evidence that it will.
What does work is over the counter salicylic acid, followed, in efficacy, by freezing. When it comes down to it, dandelion sap might be just as effective for warts as rubbing an old bone.
(1)Primitive Physick, Or, An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases. By John Wesley, John Benjamin Wesley, William Strahan, Frank Baker Collection of Wesleyana and British Methodism. Published by printed by W. Strahan, and sold by the booksellers of London and Westminster, 1761
(2) Memoirs of the American Folk-lore Society. American Folklore Society. Published for the American Folk-Lore Society by Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1896
(3) Gibbs S, Harvey I. Topical treatments for cutaneous warts. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD001781. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001781.pub2.