Mama used more than aspirin to treat her kids

When I was laid up recently, all the infections, medicines and bad mojo led to something called thrush in my mouth, which amounted to fungal sores that made even bland hospital food taste too spicy to eat.

I didn’t remember ever hearing about thrush before, but, according to something my mother once told me, when I was a boy, my sister developed “thrash” in her mouth. This is the same mother I told you about last week who doctored everything with aspirins or foul-smelling ointments, so if she wanted to call thrush “thrash,” I suppose that was her medical privilege.

Even Mama knew when it was time to call in a specialist. In the case of my sister’s thrash, she consulted with an old woman who lived in the woods who went by the name Granny Waters and was known as a witch.

The kindly old woman told my father to go into the woods around her house and bring her a certain kind of oak leaves that had been lying in stump water. She applied them to the infection, and, not long afterward, the rash disappeared.

Granny Waters made house calls. Mama told me that she came to our house once to treat my hives. She told Mama to dip a sewing needle into milk and then into Epsom salts; whatever stuck to the needle was placed into my mouth, and it cured me. (I wouldn’t try these at home, folks; the FDA doesn’t like us messing into their livelihood.)

Those aren’t even the oddest cures my mother used. I recall mustard plasters on our chests for colds, potato poultices on our feet, Epsom salt poultices for something or other.

I had forgotten about this one, to combat a rusty nail puncture: Wad up a wool rag, lay it in a shovel and pour sugar on it. Then set fire to the cloth and hold the shovel up to the wound.

I do recall this one, maybe because I needed it so much. I was always getting warts, especially on my writing hand, and she had this remedy: Walk down a dirt road (luckily, we lived on one) until reaching a crossroad, then toss a rock or kernel of corn over your shoulder and don’t look back. (Feel free to try this one without FDA approval, but watch out for traffic.)

Homemade syrup, mixed with baking soda and eaten, helped a cold or purified our blood. A teaspoon of melted butter quieted croup. Raw oatmeal, rubbed on the skin, relieved the itching of poison oak.

My mother was a proponent of specialty teas. Sage tea purged our systems (parents believed in purges for kids back then). Cottonseed tea eased sore throats. Catnip tea soothed a baby so it would sleep. Best of all, sassafras tea thinned our blood and drove away spring fever. (A few years ago I read that sassafras can cause heart palpitations, so I’ve taken it off my menu.)

After last week’s column about Mama’s aspirin regimen, I heard from readers as far away as New Mexico who had similar mothers. And you know, everyone I heard from was still alive!

Reach Glynn Moore at

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