Wounds, abscesses and swellings are frequent ailments for which a host of remedies is known. Several cleansing agents and dressings have been used for treatment; topical ointments, powders and poultices of plant or animal origin have been applied. During the Mahdiyya, coffee powder was used as styptic for wounds caused by modern weapons and bullets. After bleeding was arrested, the wound was rubbed with a mixture of beeswax, sesame oil, and wrapped in clean cloth; this was changed every twelve hours. The entry-point of the bullet was filled with honey to keep it air-tight, and when the bullet was lying close to a blood vessel and difficult to extract, another bullet was tied beside it to induce its disintegration (according to the principle of ‘likes cure likes’).
A karo is a tropical ulcer of the leg that is known to be difficult to treat. Honey and the mashed bulb of lalobe, the fruit of hijlij are tried. Similarly, chronic ulcers of camels (dabar) are treated by applying powdered sarih plant to it.
A burst abdomen, sustained in personal or feudal clashes, is covered with qara’ (pumpkin) before suturing. The outer hard shell of the plant is first peeled off and the fruit cut into two halves. One half is inverted over the exposed viscera to keep them in and the torn wall sutured. The pumpkin itself is left in the body indefinitely. Witnesses report excellent results.
Effective general-purpose poultices with soothing, anti-inflammatory or ripening action on hibins or khurajs (abscess) are known. When an abscess is diagnosed, a poultice made either of hilba (fenugreek) or tahniya (sesame sweat cake), is applied. Poultices of shebb (alum), garlic, and salt are applied externally for the treatment of khidairat (tonsillitis). After applying the poultice for some time, the abscess becomes turgid and its overlying skin thinner. It eventually bursts and midda, wi ‘a, or qaiha (pus) leaks out. Um shwaika and al-rara are two other poultices for general use. These two herbs are still not identified taxonomically. Poultices made of ‘irq al-bittikh, al-kurmut or waika are considered analgesic and anti-inflammatory. A poultice made of al-mardud plant is anti-inflammatory; the plant is also used as an aphrodisiac in the Zarieba area. The powder of tartus is used to treat nabit (madura foot).
Shajarat al-nar (Euphorbia spp.) is used to dry up syphilitic sores, leprotic ulcers and purulent wounds. Bites of rabid dogs are rubbed with clay obtained from the shrine of Shaikh Wad Al-Turabi, or alternatively, the bitten site is cauterized. The meat of Abu al-dalaq is thought to cure rabies. Mahlab powder is introduced in cotton wool in the ear to treat purulent infections, while trapped insects are killed by drops of oil to which common salt is added.
Diffuse body swellings are known as dabas (This word is Tibdawi in origin and mostly used for swellings of the face and gums), and wet fresh castor oil leaves are applied and left there till they dry up. If the gums are swollen, the mouth is rinsed with Qa’ab salt. Alternatively, and particularly in gingivitis, a twig of neem tree (Azadiractata indica) is used as a tooth brush, the gums being rubbed with qurunful (cloves) powder, or with ‘ud qarha (Cucurbita pepo).
The layman differentiates clearly between skin swellings and eruptions such as tolal (keloid) and talool (molluscum contagiosum). Khanazir (massive neck lymph glands), which are usually associated with pulmonary tuberculosis, are incised and dusted with zarnikh (arsenic).
Other swellings are also identified: khidairat are huge tonsils, um-‘idailat is quinsy or diphtheria, while abu diqnan dayira is mumps for which neem or hijlij (Balanites aeayptiaca), poultices are used. Ashqaddi is swelling of the lymph glands in the armpit and femoral clefts, and nashra is paronychia. Shaikh Musa Al-‘Azab was a holy man noted for treating nabit (madura foot) if invoked for help by saying: ya rajl al-subut kharraj al-nubut. Otherwise, the bitten site is cauterized.