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A Mother's Magic Touch

Text by: Elizabeth Ellenbecker

© Elizabeth Ellenbecker Photography
It is a dark and cold winter evening. A tired woman hovers in front of her stove, as she resolves to remember the very same concoction her mother once used on her. Light the flame… She can hear her child's weak cough echoing from the back room. Place liquid in pot and heat to a boil… Her daughter has been bed ridden for the past few days. Peel, slice, chop, add to liquid… The doctor has come and gone but the fever continues to wax and wane. A pinch of this, a bit of that, not too much now, it will be just right… She's frustrated and worried but not hopeless, there is magic in the pot after all. Simmer for 20 minutes… She pulls out a tray from the back of the pantry and ladles the mixture into a bowl. Walking down the hall with the finished concoction, she enters her daughter's room and sets the tray on the bedside table. Helping her daughter sit up, the mother checks her fever once more. Back of hand on forehead, palm on right check, kiss left cheek. The mother takes a seat on the edge of the bed and reaches for the bowl, and she gently places a spoon in her daughter's mouth. The liquid runs down her throat. Just a few more bites. The little girl looks up at her mother, a smile forms, and the mother sees a glimpse of color returning to her daughter's cheeks. By morning, the fever has broken. Homemade soup and a mother's touch have worked their magic once more.

My mother raised four children, and as most children who are in close proximity to one another tend to do, we got sick… a lot. My mother knew that invariably all illnesses were multiplied times four. If one child got ill, the other three waited patiently for their turn; four children with colds, four children with the stomach bug, and once even, four children with chicken pox. Each of us ill, one right after the other.

© Elizabeth Ellenbecker Photography

Despite the fact my mother did not complete her collegiate education until later in life, she had the knowledge and ability of many a trained physician. It was not practical to wrangle up children, sick or otherwise, each time a child had a sniffle. Doctor visits and antibiotics were in essence, the final resort. She was not opposed to modern day medicine by any means, but she knew when things like that were necessary and when they were of little use. She knew the good old-fashioned remedies passed down from generation to generation were the only cure for the common cold. Batches of chicken noodle soup for a cold or flu; ginger and peppermint for tummy aches; spoonfuls of honey with lemon for an unrelenting cough; and saltwater gargles for sore throats. When we were older and the symptoms were more complicated we added chamomile tea for stress, St. John's Wart when we were depressed, and lavender oil for the awful sinus headaches I endured due to horrific allergies. My mother used all of these simple ingredients and somehow transformed them into a magic potion that cured our suffering.

In actuality it was more than just those simple ingredients working magic. It was not just the potions she mixed together but the love and patience that went into each recipe. While being sick meant missing out on school or playing with friends, there was something unbelievably comforting about being home sick with Mom - Mom who let us lie in her room watching cartoons and eating our meals in bed; Mom who took our temperature using the thermometer first and then checking the accuracy in her own way, back of hand on forehead, palm on right check, kiss on left; Mom who spent sleepless nights with us, ensuring we received our midnight dose of medicine; Mom who unselfishly cared for the one who was sick and then turned around and helped her healthy children with school projects all while keeping the house tidy and a hot meal prepared.

These methods seem so pure, but there is something so much more complex about them that makes them so special. No matter how much you try, they cannot be replicated by anyone but your own mother. This theory rang true the first time my newly married husband, a man who rarely gets sick, was bed ridden for four days. As a family medicine resident, he was the first to know the best treatment for his cold; his mother's chicken noodle soup.

© Elizabeth Ellenbecker Photography

We were living in Hawaii, thousands of miles from my mother-in-law, and it was up to me to replicate her recipe. I gave her a call, wrote down her directions, and headed to the grocery store with list in hand. After returning home, I carefully prepared her soup step by step. I gathered a tray, arranged saltine crackers and cheese on a small plate just as my husband prefers, refilled his drink, and ladled out the soup into a bowl. I carried the meal down the hall to our room where he lay in bed, weakly watching TV. I sat next to him on the bed, and placed the tray on the bedside table. I took his temperature, back of hand on forehead, palm on right cheek, kiss left, and checked its accuracy with a thermometer. I let him eat his soup in peace. He enjoyed the soup very much, but it was missing something. The recipe was his mother's, but the soup was not. This didn't offend me, as I experienced this same revelation when he tried to make my mother's recipe a few months before.

What is it that is so special about a mother's touch that makes any illness more bearable? Are we women transformed into this mystical goddess as soon as we, ourselves, become mothers? Apparently the cure for a cold is not just chicken noodle soup or honey and lemon. It seems that the magic is not in the ingredients themselves but in the person conducting the spell.

When I became a mother two years ago, an amazing thing happened when I recreated these remedies that had been passed down from my own mother. The magic that was missing from the recipes that I had made time and time again came to life. Even with my husband, that missing ingredient was finally found. A doctor may be able to fill out a prescription and diagnose his symptoms, but when my son is ill, the only cure for him is my chicken noodle soup and motherly touch.

Mother's Natural Remedies

© Elizabeth Ellenbecker Photography

"Mom's" Chicken Noodle Soup

2 T. Extra virgin Olive Oil
1 medium Onion, chopped
2 Garlic cloves, minced
2 medium Carrots, chopped into ½ inch slices
3 Celery stalks, chopped
4 Thyme sprigs, fresh
3 Rosemary sprigs, fresh
2 T. Sage, fresh and chopped
1 Bay Leaf
2 qts. Chicken stock
8 oz. dried wide Egg noodles
1 1/2 c. Chicken, cooked and shredded
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper, freshly ground
A touch of Love
A bit of Patience


Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic until translucent. Add carrots, celery, thyme, and bay leaf. Cook until vegetables are tender. Pour in chicken stock, and bring liquid to a boil. Add noodles, and simmer for 5 minutes until tender. Fold in chicken, and continue to simmer for another couple of minutes to heat through; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with love and patience before serving.

© Elizabeth Ellenbecker

Honey Lemon Cough Syrup

1 - 2 Tablespoons hot water with a heaping Tablespoon of honey and a few drops of lemon juice. Drink slowly to allow to coat back of throat.

© Elizabeth Ellenbecker

Saltwater Gargle

½ teaspoon Salt dissolved in an 8 oz. cup warm water. Take a few sips, gargle, and spit into sink. Repeat.

© Elizabeth Ellenbecker

Eucalyptus / Lavender Steam

Run hot water in the sink of an unventilated bathroom. When water reaches steaming temp, plug sink until full and add a few drops of essential oil to water, Eucalyptus for congestion; Lavender for headache/stress. Bend over sink with a towel over head to create a tent, cautious of hot temperature. Breathe in scented steam for 5-10 minutes, taking a breath of fresh air as needed.