Let's Reminisce: Warts and all
By Jerry Lincecum
Nov 23, 2017
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I wasn't troubled with warts during my childhood, but some of my schoolmates were.  I can conjure up vivid images of a child’s hand with warts.  I also remember childhood discussions about handling toads as a cause for warts. Recently I read a memoir written by Mildred Kalish, who grew up on a farm in Iowa during the 1930s, and in a chapter on home remedies she described several wart-removal remedies that even she admitted sounded like voodoo.

One way that Kalish successfully removed warts from a boy’s hand required her to peel a medium size potato, rub it on the warts and then take it out into the middle of a dirt road.  After placing the potato on a flat stone, she stomped it flat and then turned her back on it and walked away.  Neither she nor the boy with warts looked at the potato for two weeks, and in that time his warts disappeared.

The theory behind this is that as the potato on the stone disintegrates, your warts dry up and vanish.  This remedy is similar to one recorded in Louisiana folklore that involves rubbing the wart with a potato, which is then buried; when the buried potato dries up, the wart will be cured.

The other method Kalish described was even more fanciful.  At a time when her husband had three warts on his middle finger, the young couple visited an elderly relative.  Upon noticing the warts, Granny immediately took a pin from her pincushion and handed it to him, saying, “You don’t want those warts, do you?  You take this pin and give those warts to me.”  She then continued their discussion on a different subject.  As the couple drove home from the visit, about three hours later, they noticed that his warts were beginning to disappear, and within a few days, there was no sign of them.

After reading Kalish’s wart-removal stories, I had a vague recollection that Mark Twain’s characters Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn discussed ways of getting rid of warts, so I looked it up.  Tom proposed “spunk-water” (the water collecting in the hollow of a tree stump) as a remedy for warts on the hand. You put your hand into the water at midnight and recite:

Barley-corn, barley-corn, injun-meal shorts,
Spunk-water, spunk-water, swaller these warts

Then you “walk away quick, eleven steps, with your eyes shut, and turn around three times and walk home without speaking to anybody.” If you speak the charm is broken.

Another remedy Twain’s characters used involved splitting a bean, drawing blood from the wart and putting it on one of the halves, and burying that half at a crossroads at midnight. The theory here is that the blood on the buried bean will draw away the wart. Huck Finn also believed that throwing a dead cat into a graveyard would remove warts.  As I recall Huck often found uses for dead cats, perhaps because they were such a common part of the furniture of his world.

According to Wikipedia, one folk remedy that persists is called “duct tape occlusion therapy.” It involves placing a piece of duct tape over the wart.  Despite several clinical trials, evidence for the effectiveness of duct tape therapy is inconclusive.  But the simplicity of the method and its limited side effects have led some researchers to be reluctant to dismiss it.

By the way, despite the long-standing tradition that handling toads will cause warts, scientists tell us that warts are caused by a virus, and toads do not harbor it.

Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches older adults to write their autobiographies and family histories.  Email him at