L.S.: I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this , but if you have some kind of burn you have to cut a potato and place one half on the injury and….with that the burning sensation goes away and you do not feel the pain anymore. My mother taught me this, and I myself taught it to my friends.
V.S.: Do you know what could be the origin of this practice?
L.S.: No I don’t. I don’t even know where my mother learnt this from. But I am pretty sure it’s something quite ancient. Also, my mother, after applying the potato on the burn used to draw on it with her hands the sign of the cross and recite a sort of prayer. And I remember saying to her “Mum teach me it, so that when I get burned or when my children will get burned, I will know how to do this myself”. And she used to tell me ”No, I cannot tell you it. There is only one day in which I can tell you this….this prayer is taught only one day a year”.
Once she finally told me it, but I do not remember it anymore [laughs].
My informant was born in the Tosco-Emilian Apennines (Italy) in 1931. While she spent the majority of her childhood there, she moved to Bologna, Italy, when she was about 13, and she has been living there ever since. She told me of practicing this folk-medical remedy still nowadays and she told me of having taught it to her children as well.
The informant recounted me this while having a tea in her living room.
Countless are those practices that could be vernacularly defined in Italy as rimedio della nonna, grandmother’s remedy, which match the border genre of folk-medicine and, to a certain degree, folk-magic.
As my informant points out, these are, in the majority of cases, procedures and costumes which are passed on from generation to generation, and which are difficulty attributable to a single and unique creator. In this way, they perfectly reflect folklore’s definition, them becoming part of what could be described as common knowledge, and distancing themselves from scientific knowledge, which is often characterized by the singularity concerting an individual genius -either of a research group or of a single scientist.
The reason why this particular folk-medical practice can also be seen as overlapping with contagious magic is due to the fact that, as the informant recounts, the usage of a potato in order to cure a burn was often associated with a prayer and ‘religious touch’(cross sign), involving some sort of spiritual power acting on the wound. This tells a lot about the identity Italians used to share, particularly in the past, which saw a quite strong attachment to religion, and, especially, Catholicism. Furthermore, the emphasis my informant put on the secrecy of the prayer’s words, makes another aspect emerge, which is the one of generational division and shamanic authority adults were invested with in those sorts of small rituals.
This practice is still, nowadays, performed, but, as many of the other grandmother’s remedies, is slowly losing adherence and utilization, leaving more space to ‘proved’ science.