Do you remember horehound candies, those brown candies that you could buy at the candy store, when candy came unwrapped and you bought 3 candies for a nickel? They were flavoured with horehound and sugar. They were originally made to soothe sore throats. You could buy them as both pillow-shaped brown candies or brown and white striped candy sticks, right beside the humbugs and sarsaparilla candy sticks.
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) is an easy to grow herb that is targeted for sore throats, coughs, and chest congestion. Suck a horehound cough drop and you’ll get rid of the tickle and the cough will ease. It is a targeted herb for bronchitis and also helps with irregular heart, and has been used in the treatment of malaria, and to reduce fever. It is calming.
Horehound is a hardy perennial herb that is good in zones 4 to 8 (or zone 3 with snow cover). Growing 18 inches high with a spread of about 12 inches, once its established you will have lots of herb for your needs from 4 plants. The leaves are green and wrinkled with a downy underside, and it has small clusters of white flowers that are not showy, growing up the stems in the leaf bracts. It can be propagated from seed in Spring or from soft cuttings taken in summer. Established clumps benefit from division in the Spring. It can also be grown in a container, in a sunny position.
Harvest the stems during flowering, bundle, and dry away from sun and heat. Once totally dry, strip the leaves and flowers from the stems and store in a glass jar with a lid, in a cool, dark place. Use the leaves and flowers for medicine.
Horehound is expectorant, anti-spasmodic, digestive, bitter, vulnerary, diaphoretic, and pectoral. (Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman)
To use horehound you can make a strong tea, sweeten with honey and drink several times a day. But when you are on the go or if you are treating children you sometimes want the medicine in a dry, and easy to carry form. Horehound cough drops and lozenges fit the bill.
Cough drops are made like candy. The herb is extracted in water and then a candy is made by boiling a sugar mixture to the hard crack stage. Lozenges are made using an edible gum like Tragacanth or Acacia and sugar along with the dried and powdered herb. Other herbs can be added to cough drops and lozenges as well to increase the effectiveness, or essential oils can be added. The traditional Canadian remedy “Fisherman’s Friend” is a lozenge with licorice essential oil or anise essential oil added, for coughs and sore throat.
Horehound Cough Drops (Makes 1 lb.)
To make horehound cough drops you will need a large stainless steel pan, a candy thermometer, and a stainless steel tray that has been heavily buttered, and insulated rubber gloves. Before you begin you may want to read my tutorial on Candy making so that you understand the process.
To start make a strong decoction by steeping 1 cup of dried horehound leaves in 3 cups of boiling water. Cover and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain completely and squeeze leaves to get all the liquid out. If you have extra liquid there is no need to worry as it will boil off during candy making.
2 cups of brown sugar
1/2 cup of honey
2 -3 cups of the strained decoction
Add all ingredients to 3 quart pot. Stir in sugar to completely dissolve. Put a lid on the pot and begin to heat it over medium heat. When it boils rapidly, remove the lid and with a brush and water, dissolve any sugar crystals that may be adhering to the side of the pan. Do not stir the mixture or it will seize. Boil rapidly and insert candy thermometer. Boil to the hard crack stage or 300 F. Remove from heat. Add flavouring if desired (eucalyptus, lemon, or vanilla) but stir as little as possible.
Pour hot mixture out onto greased baking sheet. Allow to cool for 2 minutes. Using two greased spatulas begin to fold the candy mixture over on itself and repeat until the mixture is cool enough to handle with gloves on. This will make the candy lighter and give it a better texture.
Then pull the candy as you would pull taffy. Its best to do this with two people, pulling a small amount of the recipe at a time. Once the candy begins to stiffen, cut into 1/2 inch pieces with buttered scissors. and drop onto buttered pan. Allow to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar and wrap individually in parchment paper or wax paper. Store in glass jar in air tight container. Will last for up to 2 years.
Suck a cough drop slowly, as needed.
Lozenges use dried, powdered herbs for their potency or essential oils, rather than extracting the herbal medicine in water. Altoid peppermint candies are lozenges, with a few more ingredients like gelatine, and icing sugar. In their simplest form powdered slippery elm bark can be used instead of tragacanth gum to make lozenges . To make horehound lozenges take the dried horehound and powder it completely in a food processor or blender.
To make lozenges you will need:
30 grams/1 ounce of Tragacanth gum
1/2 cup powdered, dried horehound herb
1/2 cup Brown sugar, or powdered stevia to taste
Icing sugar, or tapioca starch to prevent sticking
Soak 1 oz. of tragacanth gum in 2 cups of water overnight. Bring mixture to a boil.
Beat until mixture is of uniform consistency. Force it through a strainer to make mucilage. Add 1/2 cup powdered herb and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Mix well into mucilage to make a thick paste. Add more powdered herb as necessary to get the right consistency. You are looking for the consistency of pie dough. Roll out with powdered sugar or corn flower to 1/2 inch thick. Cut with round cutters, like a bottle lid or bubble tea straw. Or roll into a rope and cut with powdered scissor. Allow to dry completely over a few day, away from humidity. Sprinkle with more starch or icing sugar and store in air tight tin or wide mouth jar, tightly capped. Makes 1/2 lb. of cough drops. Horehound is bitter tasting so you will need more sugar or stevia to decrease the bitterness than when using an herb like anise or licorice that has its own sweet taste.
When making these herbal lozenges or candies from a single herb you are making an herbal simple. Simples let you focus on the action of a single herb, while combining herbs with similiar actions will boost the potency of the simple. Herbs that work well with horehound include: Sage, thyme, oregano, echinacea, lemon balm, and peppermint. Consider adding one or more of these herbs if you have them on hand.
This is part 3 of a series on Herbal medicine for you homestead.
Part 1, 10 Hardy Medicinal Herbs for your Homestead
Part 2, 10 Must Have Medicinal Herbs from the Grocery Store
What herbal remedies do you remember from your child hood? Leave a comment.
Must Have Resources for Herbal Medicine Crafting:
I strongly recommend that you don’t rely on free internet resources or e-books for your herbal medicine crafting. When you need an herbal medicine in an emergency you want the resource at our finger tips, in your brain, and in a hard copy resource that you can quickly thumb through to find the information that you need.
Have at least two herbal medicine guides and herbal gardening resources on hand, in your home, to access when you need it.
Photo credit: Creative Commons License “Horehound” by Dionysia‘s Flickr stream.
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