Homemade Horehound Cough Drops

Learn the medicinal benefits of the herb horehound, how to grow it in your own garden, and how to make cough drops that will soothe any sore throat.

| Winter 2012/2013

A Soothing Winter Herb

My parents ran a small-town grocery store when I was growing up. They stocked just about everything needed for daily life in a rural farming community. Everything from tires and chicken feed to garden seed and canned goods were in their store. Ice cream, bread, kerosene, bandages, boots and handkerchiefs, all filled the shelves and cabinets of our store.

Using home remedies was more common than going to a doctor for many of our neighbors. That meant that lots of folks grew their own herbs, or picked them from the wild, and mixed up poultices, decoctions, tinctures, and the like.

Horehound was common in our area, usually growing in cow pastures and back lots. It’s native to Europe, and just about everyone in our little town was either a first or second generation immigrant from Germany or England and all knew the plant. No one knew just who had brought the plant generations ago, but it had escaped into the wild and naturalized itself, much like it has across much of the United States. To find it, we only needed walk down the alley or along a fencerow. I remember people making a strong tea to gargle for a sore throat but I don’t recall anyone actually making horehound candy cough drops. Most likely it was because horehound cough drops were so inexpensive and available, no one thought to make their own. We stocked them for sale in the grocery store the year around; a bag sold for just pennies.

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) is a perennial herb of the mint family (Laminaceae) that has centuries of history for being used in treating sore throat, coughing and upset stomach. The wooly, crinkled leaves and white flowering tops of the herb have been used historically for treating loss of appetite, indigestion, bloating, gas, diarrhea, whooping cough and painful menstrual periods in women, but it’s best known for soothing a cough. (Always check with a reliable health care professional before self-medicating yourself for any illness and always be sure of a plant’s identity before using it).

You can still find horehound candy and horehound cough drops in historic site gift shops and sometimes in old-time gift stores, but if you check the ingredients, they are artificially flavored and seldom contain any horehound. While you would get an approximation of the bitter-sweet flavor of the old candy, you wouldn’t get any of the throat-soothing benefits.

You can easily grow your own horehound, and make your own horehound cough drops. One option would be to buy dried horehound from an herb store if you didn’t care to grow your own plant, but it’s such an easy plant to grow, tough and hardy with virtually no insect pests to bother it so you might like to grow your own.

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