the family medicine chest will be an ongoing series on the fourth thursday of each month.
This month, I’m going to write about making herbal cough drops. Next month, I’ll follow up with lozenges and pills.
Making cough drops are as simple as making hard ball candy. In fact, you can think of them as herbal candy because in effect, that is what they are. Anyone who’s ever had horehound candy knows how sweet and delicious it is. If you made a tea of horehound to help relieve a bronchial cough or sore throat, you’d find out very quickly why it was made into candy…it is extremely bitter. So, way back when, to make their medicine more palatable, people came up with making a tea and then adding a lot of sugar to sweeten it up. That resulted in making syrups which gave someone the idea to let it sit up and harden into cough drops which, for the most part today, are a far cry from the original recipe. Ricola is the only commercial mainstream brand that I can think of that uses mostly herbs and sugar.
While I prefer to use honey for most of my herbal preparations, sugar must be used for this particular recipe. Any type of sugar can be used, I prefer to use natural cane raw sugar. It will tint the cough drop a bit brownish, which only affects the aesthetics. Food coloring could probably be added to tint the color. If going that route, I’d highly recommend a natural one is used. Some herbs such as wild cherry bark and elderberry will naturally tint the cough drops. Adding a small amount of elderberry to any recipe will color it a pretty purplish-red and will also lend its healing powers at the same time. (See below for more herbal ideas).
Before you begin, heavily grease a 9 x 13 glass baking pan with butter. You may also line it with waxed paper instead of buttering it but make sure the edges go up the pan so no syrup will go underneath. This will (hopefully) guarantee that the cough drops will pop out after they’ve hardened.
Start off by making an herbal syrup. Use sugar instead of honey.
Stir it and let it boil until it reaches 290 degrees F. You can test it by dropping a a drop from a spoon into a bowl or cup of cold water…when it hits the proper stage, it will form a ball.
Pour the mixture into the pan and let it cool a bit. Cut it into squares before it hardens completely or you’ll have to break it into jagged bits.
To keep your cough drops from sticking to each other, you can dust them with slippery elm root powder (which is also very soothing to sore throats) or powdered sugar. Store them in a glass jar with a lid. Use as needed.
This can be made using any herb that you want to make a cough drop out of. You can mix them as well. Some great herbs to use for sore throats and coughs are:
-wild cherry bark
-echinacea, roots, leaves, flowers and/or seeds (any combination of)
-pine needles or inner bark
-horehound (use sparingly as it is very bitter)
-dandelion flowers or roots
-yellow dock root
-plantain leaves or roots
-peach twig or leaves
That’s just a few of the thousands of herbs available that make an excellent cough drop. Use what grows local to you, what you have on hand and what fits the particular types of coughs and sore throats your family seems to get. When experimenting with herbs and combining them, make a small infusion of the herb and taste the tea. That will give you a general idea what the finished product will taste like. If it’s completely bitter and awful, chances are the finished product will be too. Adjust the proportions of the herbs in the combination you are using and try again.
Try making some today! While making an easy herbal remedy you’re family will love to take, you’ll be giving them a healthier option for treating common illnesses.