In both Black Roadways and “Jamaica Ethnobotany”, Martha Warren Beckwith noted that Worm-weed (AKA “See-me-contract”/ “Semi contrac”) was used to drive duppies away. This could be done by either rubbing the leaves on your body or scattering them about your house.
Beckwith also referred to the plant’s medicinal usage in the treatment for intestinal worms citing an eighteenth century physician, Patrick Browne:
“Browne uses ‘worm-weed’… to produce an effect like opium… After such a dose he gives an ordinary purge, after which the worms are discharged… Such experiences… may account for the belief in the removal of animals from a patient’s body into a bottle which forms so common a practice in obeah today”.
This idea of worm-weed as a vermifuge appears in modern Jamaican folk medicine. Its emetic and anti-inflammatory properties are also used in remedies for arthritis, constipation and worms.
Would the plant’s purgative qualities have influenced ideas that it could also dispel evil spirits?
How to remove lizards if they become stuck in your arm.
Image – drawing of worm-weed © H. R. Sparkes
Martha Warren Beckwith, “Jamaica Ethnobotany” in Martha Warren Beckwith, with music recorded in the field by Helen H. Roberts, Jamaica Folklore (New York: The American Folk-Lore Society, 1928), p. 26, 30.
Martha Warren Beckwith, Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaica Folk Life (reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969, of orig. edn, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1929), p. 94.
Patrick Browne, The Civil and Natural History of Jamaica (London, 1789), p. 156 cited in Beckwith, “Jamaica Ethnobotany”, p. 30.
Arvilla Payne-Jackson, and Mervyn C. Alleyne, Jamaican Folk Medicine: A Source of Healing (Jamaica: University of West Indies Press, 2004), pp. 168, 150, 154.