277: Thrash Charming

“Thrash” or “thrush” was a common infection among hill children. Today it’s fought with antifungal mouth washes or lozenges, but in the Ozarks, long ago, it was mostly cured using a “thrash doctor”. This was a person, most often male, who had never met their father. Sometimes it was as simple as that. If your child had thrash you’d just take them to the local “posthumous child,” have them blow in your child’s mouth, and the infection would soon disappear. There are also accounts of “thrash doctors” using certain charms or Bible verses, but these cases are far less common than the simple act of blowing into the mouth. You can also find more “reasonable” remedies, such as the use of alum or oak leaves, both highly astringent, to dry up the infection.

Alum, sage, honey, and green oak leaves for thrash – “A granny-woman in the Cookson Hill country of eastern Oklahoma treated thrash simply by putting crushed green oak leaves in the child’s mouth every three hours, and the babes in her charge recovered about as quickly as those submitted to supernatural spells. If no green leaves were handy, she used sage tea, with some honey and a little alum in it, which seemed to work about as well as the oak leaves.” ~Randolph OMF 137

Posthumous child blowing in a child’s mouth for croup and thrash – “Any posthumous child can cure the croup simply by blowing in the patient’s mouth; one of my neighbors happened to be born several weeks after his father’s death, and although he ridicules the healing power himself, he is frequently called out of his bed at night by distracted parents who want him to save their children. The same treatment is used for sore mouth in babies, a white, cotton-like eruption which is called thrash or thresh.” ~Randolph OMF 136

“They say if they have never seen their father and blow in their mouth then that would cure the thrash and it did on our oldest son. Somebody told us this and we got him ready and took him to this old lady and she did that and within a week he was all right.” ~Carter and Krause HRIO 31

“When my mother was alive she could cure thrash. I’ve seen many a mother bring a baby to her house. They’d bring the baby to her house three mornings in a row and she’d blow her breath in their throat. The thrash would clear up. The reason that she was able to do that was because she was born after her daddy died.” ~Carter and Krause HRIO 32

“One of us kids got trench mouth real bad one time. The old people truly believed that if a person had never seen their father before in their life, they could say a verse from the Bible and blow in a kid’s mouth and it would clear up the trench mouth. Well, that’s what mom and dad did and whoever it was didn’t have trench mouth no more. The next day it was gone.” ~Carter and Krause HRIO 32


Carter, Kay and Bonnie Krause – Home Remedies of the Illinois Ozarks
Randolph, Vance – Ozark Magic and Folklore

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