Appalachian Medicine

Thrush Doctors

sleeping baby

thrush noun
A variant forms thraish, thrash.
1942 Hall Phonetics 23 thraish, thrash
B A fungal infection, esp one of the mouth (specif oral moniliasis) in children. According to traditional belief, this could be cured only by a thrush doctor.
1897 Pederson Mtneers Madison Co 828 To cure white thrush in a baby’s mouth, let someone who never saw its father blow in its mouth. 1961 Seeman Arms of Mt 34 Pity the puny infant with the “thrash.” 1970 Adams Appal Revisit 43 It was a common superstition to believe that certain people had the power to blow in a baby’s mouth and cure the “thrash” or mouth sores. A posthumous person had this power if he was born without seeing his father; that is, born after the death of his father. The seventh son borne by a woman in seven years had this power. Many mothers took their children to certain people and had them blow in the mouth to cure the thrash and other ailments. 1981 Brewer Wonderment 29 One day she had met a woman who had taken her baby far up the branch to have a man blow in its mouth to cure the “thrash.”

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

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“Various individuals were thought to have an inherent power to cure thrash by blowing into the infant’s mouth. These “thrash doctors” came to their healing role by being a seventh son or daughter, the son of a  seventh son, or someone who “never looked into the eyes of his father.”

—Anthony Cavender – “Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia”

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The belief in thrush doctors is still alive in at least a few people who call my area of Appalachia home.

One of my friends took her baby girl to a thrush doctor near Andrews. The baby was cured.

Hard to say if the blowing healed the baby or if the medicine prescribed by the pediatrician finally kicked in.

Tipper

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 20, 2019 at 4:56 pm

    Tipper,
    I had seed warts when I started to school. I’m right handed and I had 2 Seed Warts right on my longest finger. It was inside right where I used a pen or pencil, but I took the Flu and when I got over it (in about a week), they were gone. Every time I went to write something, it hurt “like all get-out.” I don’t know if it was the Praying or the Flu, but God healed me, and I ain’t been bothered since. …Ken

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    November 20, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    Tipper my Miss Julie cured the thrash along with a prayer to God to heal the babes mouth I watched her many time as people brought their babes to her. She took the babe into her arms and gentle pressed on its lips and the babe would smile and mother blew into its precious. Old timers always said the seventh chil of a family had this power. Mother was seventh child of her family. People from all around would bring their babies to her.

  • Reply
    Melissa P (Misplaced Southerner)
    November 20, 2019 at 11:56 am

    I’ve, naturally, heard of thrush in humans, but I could sure use a thrush doctor for my horse! It’s a common ailment of the hooves in horses. Again, it’s fungal and caused by certain fungi in mud. My horse keeps getting it and it’s smelly and makes the foot somewhat soft and mushy which can be very painful and cause other problems down the road if not treated.

  • Reply
    Cynthia Brast
    November 20, 2019 at 10:56 am

    I believe this cure has some scientific basis for working. While certainly blowing into a baby’s mouth could introduce other bacteria or viruses (kissing a baby can pass on HSV 1 which causes fever blisters), in this case the thrush healer may have effectively introduced healthy bacteria into the mouth of the baby, helping balance the fungus overgrowth. This balance between having healthy bacteria and fungal overgrowth is important to our immune systems. Anyone interested, should look up things like probiotics, gut bacteria and health, and even fecal transplants (now being used in humans after historical use in animals).

  • Reply
    InTheWoods
    November 20, 2019 at 9:44 am

    Similarly, I’ve heard (and may have done this myself, just sayin’… ) of blowing smoke – cigarette or cigar – into the ear to lessen pain or infection.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 20, 2019 at 9:41 am

    Tipper,
    John, Harold, and I was brought into this world by Doc Weider. Don sent me a picture of him thru the Internet a few years ago, so I’d have a picture of the man who brought us into this World. He must not have known where the line was, because we were all born in a house at Topton.

    If the blooming Hackers didn’t get them, I still have the picture, somewhere. I had to go to the Courthouse at Bryson City to get a copy for my license when I got old enough. Doc Weider musta thought he was in Swain County, so he turned me in out there. This was in ’48. …Ken

  • Reply
    aw griff
    November 20, 2019 at 8:57 am

    I don’t know of anyone who does this now but years ago it was common. My Wife said her brother was taken to a thrush doctor when he was a baby. That was 70 some years ago.
    My Mother-In-Law used to talk about thrush doctors and a man who claimed to be a warlock who could stop bleeding. One of her neighbors had a mule who got tangled in a bob warr fence (barbed wire) and was bleeding to death. The man stopped the bleeding and the mule lived.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    November 20, 2019 at 7:45 am

    Thrush can cause a lot of discomfort if not brought under control. My Mother had it in her mouth from overuse of antibiotics. We took her to specialists who gave her rounds of antifungal, but the problem persisted. What seemed to help more was an OTC med called Gentian Violet (purple medicine). I wish I had thought of trying to get a thrush healer, because I do believe in many powers of healing that remain unexplained. Both my sister and I were healed of warts as children when an old neighbor purchased our warts, and they totally disappeared on both of us at different times. Also a minister, who believed in healing, prayed for my mother when she was young, and she never smoked nor wanted another cigarette. My Dad told of a healing secret his Uncle John shared with him when he was very young, but Dad was told to never share the secret. He chose to never use the method as far as I know. I suspected it may have been using the breath for healing. Just one of the many things we wish we had talked more about to our parents.

    • Reply
      Jim keller
      November 20, 2019 at 10:00 am

      Tipper, I never heard of a Thrush Dr.
      Do remember a man, Jessie Canter who removed warts on several people when I was growing up. Everybody always explained it was because he was the son of a 7th son.
      Jim

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 20, 2019 at 7:04 am

    Or perhaps the parents believed strongly enough and their strong belief healed the baby. We think we are so smart but I think there is whole world around us that we do not see.

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