The Karoo is widely hailed as excellent sheep country. Its mutton is world famous and many people know sleeping on sheep skin prevents bed sores. Few, however, realise that sheep are surrounded by a great deal of folklore. Way back, the great Roman orator Pliny observed: “while oxen help us cultivate our fields, it is to sheep that we are indebted for the defence of our bodies.” Karoo air has long been considered an excellent cure for chest complaints, however, in ancient times those suffering from consumption and respiratory diseases were told to “walk among sheep breathing deeply all the time.” Some recommended standing at the door of a shed in which sheep had been penned overnight and breathe deeply as they ran out in the morning. Old timers believed a child could be cured of whooping cough if it was taken out to a sheep meadow to breathe the air before the dew had vanished. Some said a sick child should be taken out before dawn, laid in the warm place, left by a sheep which had been driven from the centre of the flock, until sunrise, for its health to rapidly improve, says The History of the Sheep and Wool. And, there were those who believed that a flock of sheep should be driven through a house, for three nights in a row, to eradicate all germs after a serious infection. Early South African pioneers recommended sheep’s blood as a cure for ringworm and melted sheep’s fat for croup. If a child was slow in walking, they said, it should be left standing for a while in water in which a sheep’s head and trotters had been washed.
© Rose’s Roundup, vol. 2, no. 64, January 2009
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