"Take a snail out of its shell, and bruising it small, pound it into a plaster and apply it to the finger; it will ripen and break it, and it should then be dressed like any other wound. For a patient who is burnt, it recommends a plaster of mallows, snail-shells, pennywort, and linseed pounded, and applied until the part is healed without even uncovering it; and again, it says that an eye ointment can be made of a black snail in the month of May, roasted in the embers, preserving the oil till required, and anointing your eye therewith with a feather".
In olden times it was supposed that the small grits of sand found in the horns of snails, introduced into hollow teeth, removed the pain instantaneously; and that the ashes of empty snail-shells mixed with myrrh were good for the gums (Pliny's 'Nat. Hist.' vol. v. p. 431).
* 'La Vie et les Mœurs des Animaux,' p. 386.
Pliny also recommends "snails beaten up raw and taken in three cyathi of warm water for a cough," and a snail diet for internal pains, the snails to be cooked as follows: - "They must first be left to simmer in water for some time without touching the contents of the shell; after which, without any other addition, they must be grilled upon hot coals, and eaten with wine and garum (a kind of fish sauce)".* Again, "that a kind of small elongated snail, dried upon tiles in the sun, and reduced to powder, then mixed with bean-meal in equal proportions, forms a cosmetic for whitening and softening the skin".
In Austria, the teeth of snails are worn as amulets, and are considered an invaluable safeguard against convulsions, if worn round the neck of a baby; and Miss Eden says, "that there was only one person in Salzburg, who could extract the teeth of snails".†
Mrs. Bury Palliser states, that pounded snails worn round the neck are considered a cure for fevers in Brittany; and that near Guingamp is a small chapel dedicated to St. Leonard, the patron saint of prisoners, which was built by Charles of Blois on his return from his captivity in England, and that, in the month of May, those who are attacked with fever repair to St. Leonard, to seek upon the walls of the chapel, or on the calvary attached to it, snails as cures for their malady. They must gather them themselves, pound them and put them into little bags, which are worn round the neck. As soon as the fever leaves them, they bury their bags at the foot of the walls of the chapel, and if they fail to perform this ceremony, the fever returns. Mrs. Palliser adds, "we found quantities of these bags made of course linen, lying half-buried under the walls of the chapel". *
* Pliny, 'Nat. Hist.' vol. v. chap. xv. bk. xxx. p. 437. †'My Holiday in Austria,' p. 30.
I have been told that a large trade in snails is carried on for Covent Garden market in the Lincolnshire Fens, and that they are sold at 6d. per quart, and upon further inquiry I find that snails are still much used for consumptive patients and weakly children; also as salves for corns put between ivy leaves; and as food for birds. In the manufacture of cream they are also much employed, bruised in milk and boiled, and a retired milkman pronounced it the most successful imitation known.
It appears that not only are the Helicidœ nourishing to the human species, but that they have a beneficial effect upon sheep, giving a richness to the flavour of the mutton. Dr. Jeffreys, in his 'British Conchotomy,' quotes the following passage from Borlase's 'Natural History of Cornwall:' - "The sweetest mutton is reckoned to be that of the smallest sheep, which usually feed on the commons where the sands are scarcely covered with the green-sod, and the grass exceedingly short; such are the towens or sand-hillocks in Piran-sand, Gwythian, Philne, and Senan Green, near the Land's End, and elsewhere in like situations. From these sands come forth snails of the turbinated Kinds, but of different species, and all sizes, from the adult to the smallest just from the egg; these spread themselves over the plains early in the morning, and whilst they are in quest of their own food among the dews, yield a most fattening nourishment to sheep".
* 'Brittany and its Byeways'.
Birds also are great eaters of snails. Lister mentions the partiality of thrushes for Helix nemoralis; and owing to the scarcity of this species in South Derbyshire, I have twice brought a large basketful of live specimens from Staffordshire, and turned them out, hoping they would thrive and increase; but I have not only found the dead and broken shells, but constantly disturbed the feathered depredators themselves at their repast. Helix arbustorum I have also tried, but with the same success; they fared no better than the other kind.
There is a true saying "that there is nothing on earth so small that it may not produce great things".* Thus, the sacred geese at Rome by their cackling awoke Marcus Manlius, and thereby saved the Capitol from the Gauls, who were attempting by night to surprise the garrison; and even such insignificant creatures as snails were the cause of the following disaster to a Numidian king: - A castle on a lofty and steep rock, into which Jugurtha had carried all his treasures, had long been besieged in vain by Marius, when a Ligurian in the Roman army, climbing up the rocks in quest of snails, was led to continue his search for them, till he had nearly reached the summit, and thus found that the ascent was practicable; and on reporting this fact to Marius, having been ordered to lead a chosen band up the same part of the rocks, he and his comrades so alarmed the garrison by their unexpected appearance that they gave up the castle to the besiegers.
* 'Proverbial Philosophy'.
The Romans were very partial to snails as an article of food, and fed them till they grew to a large size. Several sorts are mentioned by Pliny, and they were all kept separate; amongst others, white ones that were found in the neighbourhood of Rieti. He describes the Illyrian snails as the largest (probably Helix lucorum, or Helix cincta), the African as the most prolific; others from Soletum, in the Neapolitan territory, as the noblest and best. He also speaks of some as attaining to so enormous a size that their shells would contain eighty pieces of money of the common currency,* that is to say, eighty quadrantes, the quadrans being a small copper coin three-quarters of an inch in diameter, about the size of a new sixpence, and one-sixteenth of an inch thick. This statement of Pliny's is really not so improbable as may appear at first sight, for on trying how many sixpences a usual-sized specimen of our largest snail, Helix pomatia, would hold, I find that about forty could easily be put into it; and very fine specimens are to be found in the neighbourhood of the Mont Grenier, in Savoy, which would certainly hold more than forty. In the museum of the Jardin des Plantes, in Paris, there are two specimens of this Helix from Moldavia, nearly twice the size of the usual ones, measuring about two and a quarter inches in breadth, and which would easily hold eighty sixpences.