Cramp Knots Make Cramp Nots!

Stephanie Kelley
Dean Butterfield had been promising to take me on a nature hike to see the where the Frobisher’s Louseworts grow. These plants are endangered, and rare… in fact, they have only ever been found growing in one location, and that is near the river outside of Aroostook.

Dean’s collection of Cramp Knots. The one at the far left still has the bark attached, and the knot at the far right is not a true cramp knot…see the straight edge at the front where it was cut and not popped out of the tree?

Dean’s collection of Cramp Knots. The one at the far left still has the bark attached, and the knot at the far right is not a true cramp knot…see the straight edge at the front where it was cut and not popped out of the tree?

Last week we figured these elusive plants might be in bloom, so we could identify them, so we took a trip out to their habitat. Alas, it was too early yet for them to have put out their small but distinctive blossoms but we did see plenty of other interesting stuff (stories to follow!) and during this hike Dean showed Joe and me the “cramp not” he carries in his pocket.

A “cramp knot” is a growth found on the side of a tree that obtains its nourishment by two feeder tips or channels. A true cramp knot can easily be snapped off, whereas any other similar growth would need to be sawed off.

Dean told us that according to old folk tales, if one carries one of these peculiar knots it will diminish or extinguish any leg cramps you might be subject to.

In a similar way, there are many folk cures that seem to work quite well for people who sincerely believe in their power, such as wearing a copper bracelet for pain.

And maybe there’s more to it than that…. Many people who absolutely do not believe that putting a bar of soap under their sheet will stop their nocturnal leg cramps get relief when they try it!

Dean’s cramp not is just over an inch long, and after 20 years of being carried around in his pockets is polished to a deep and lustrous gloss. Joe and I had never heard of cramp knots, and Dean explained how they are an old timey folk cure, one that many older folks know of but that is completely lost to us young whippersnappers.

To make your own cramp knot, you first have to find one. Then you pare the bark off and carry it in the pants leg pocket of the leg that gives you the most grief.

Dean was kind enough to bring me a cramp knot for my very own, and he also provided the information for this article. Although I generally find the internet to be an endless source of information, I could not find one single article about cramp knots!

Dean’s original article and poem were published in both the Victoria County Record and the Bugle in 1996.

Cramp Not-Cramp Knot
He woke up one frosty morning,
And his legs could barely stretch,
Since cramps did rack his aching pins,
A “cramp knot” he must fetch.
For well he knew as old folks did,
That to drive away all cramps away,
Just put a “cramp knot” in your pants,
To be carried every day.
So he laced his boots, threw on a coat,
And headed for the wood,
To find a “cramp knot” from a Beech,
Tho’ a Maple was as good.
Some are found on Willows,
But they’re few and far between,
It wouldn’t really matter,
Long’s the the “cramp not” snapped off clean.
Two little tips by which it grew,
Taking life sap from the tree,
Must remain with the “cramp knot”,
After it was broken free.
All ‘twas left for one to do,
Was pare the bark away,
Lo and behold a “cramp not”,
Was ready for the fray.
Now some cannot imagine,
That such relif can come,
From a special piece of hardwood,
No longer than a thumb.
Many remedies from nature,
We need not understand,
By faith they do their working,
These cures from off the land.
What others think don’t matter,
It’s what they do for us,
And a “cramp knot “ out of sight,
Becomes a “cramp not” with no fuss.
So he put it in his pocket,
Gave his drawers a hitch,
No more by cramps was bothered,
Not the slightest twitch.
D.C. Butterfield

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