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Homemade Cough Drops

I love reverse-engineering.

(Heck… I wrote an entire e-book by reverse-engineering store-bought condiments – I must love it!)

But the day I realized I could reverse engineer our favorite Swiss-made herbal cough drops, I just about swooned.

And fortunately, they’re easy. They do take a bit of time and they do take a bit of forethought if you don’t already have the herbs on hand, but when you get to actually making them, they’re pretty darn simple. Thankfully, that’s just my style.

The recipe is customizable, too, so feel free to substitute other herbs you feel would work well for you in your particular situation. For example, if your child is fighting flu-like symptoms, you may want to up the elder flowers, or if you’re pregnant, you may want to skip the hyssop and horehound. Use whatever works for your situation – just remember that herbs can be powerful and potent, so ask an herbalist if you’ve got any questions.

FRUGAL TIP: None of these herbs are terribly expensive, but even little things can add up. If you want to make these cough drops as inexpensively as possible, choose just 1  herb to use or use half the amount of herbs to steep the decoction. Even just plain honey without herbs can be soothing to suck on when you have a sore throat, so feel free to minimize this recipe if needed!

We have an herb-free homemade cough syrup if you’d prefer!
Also, our friends Tamara and Kelly came up with this fantastic natural cough remedy that you rub on your feet. And yes, it works! (Talk about a great way to soothe sniffly babies…)

 

Homemade Cough Drops

2 1/2 cups dried herbs (see below for one recommended blend)
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups honey

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Optional Ingredients:
10 drops peppermint essential oil
5 drops lemon essential oil
5 drops menthol (where to buy menthol)
1-2 tablespoons butter (in case honey begins to scorch)
50 grams slippery elm bark powder (~1 cup) (where to buy slippery elm bark)

Cough, Cold, and Flu Herb Blend:
25 grams elder flowers (~2/3 cup) (where to buy elder flowers)
15 grams horehound (~1/2 cup) (where to buy horehound)
10 grams hyssop (~1/2 cup) (where to buy hyssop)
5 grams lemon balm (~1/4 cup) (where to buy lemon balm)
10 grams spearmint (~1/2 cup) – optional (where to buy spearmint)

 

Stir water and dried herbs together in a large saucepan, then bring to a steady simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

Remove the decoction from the heat (yes, that’s a word) and let sit until it’s cool enough to touch. Strain off 1 cup of liquid, squeezing the herbs if necessary.

Return liquid to the heat in a clean, wide saucepan. Add the honey and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir frequently and continue to cook until the liquid reaches 300° (hard-crack stage), a process that can take more than 1 hour, depending on the size of your pan. Watch the syrup very carefully toward the end, lowering the heat if necessary and stirring constantly to prevent burning. If you smell scorching before the syrup has reached 300°, stir in 1 tablespoon of butter to help stabilize it. Stir in the essential oils and the menthol (if using) just as the syrup reaches 300°.

Grease a baking sheet with the olive oil ahead of time and have it sitting at the ready. When the syrup is at hard-crack, pour the syrup into the baking sheet, and let it cool just until it can be handled by hand. Using greased hands, roll the syrup into lozenges and set aside on a lightly greased plate to harden completely.

If you live in a very moist climate, your cough drops may weep. (Don’t ask me how I know…. ::sigh:: ) In that case, dredge them generously in slippery elm bark powder before moving them to long-term storage or change the recipe to use half honey and half brown rice syrup, which is less prone to softening when exposed to humidity.

Store in an air-tight jar. Keeps for 3-6 months in dry conditions.

 

Know Your Herbs

Elder Flower

Native Americans have used various parts of the elderberry tree to treat fevers and joint pain for hundreds of years, but elderberry’s real claim to fame is as a cure for the flu. According to Mountain Rose Herbs, Israeli researchers have developed five separate formulas based on the elderberry that have been clinically proven to prevent and ward off all kinds of influenza AND elder berries are known to be effective against eight strains of influenza [emphasis mine], which suggests that elder might even surpass vaccines for efficacy in preventing the flu.

Horehound

Horehound is in the mint family, but has a distinctively bitter taste. Its role here is as an expectorant and mild pain reliever, which are only effective if the bitter taste is present, interestingly enough. Also, if you use exclusively horehound in this recipe, it can help with nocturnal acid reflux, as it stimulates the release of phlegm, gastric acid, and other mucuses.

Hyssop

Hyssop is also part of the mint family and is used in herbal medicine to excrete excesses of fluids or mucus and as a vasodilator, thus assisting with breathing problems, such as asthma. Thus, I’ve included it in this recipe as an excellent expectorant and to help relax the laryngeal muscles if coughing has been excessive. It is an especially potent herb and is not recommended while pregnant or by anyone prone to seizure.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is yet another mint, this one with a distinctly lemony scent. In these cough drops, lemon balm provides a pleasant flavor and relief for itchy throats. If the cold is accompanied by fever, lemon balm will assist in breaking the fever, as well. It’s also a mild anti-viral herb, so it can help ward off a cold if taken early.

Peppermint Essential Oil, Lemon Essential Oil, & Menthol

The essential oil of peppermint is known for easing digestion and helping with respiratory issues. I’ve added it, however, largely for the clean, fresh taste that helps offset the bitter edge, and for the vapor aroma that can help clear stuffy nasal passages. Lemon Oil is refreshing, invigorating, and tasty. Menthol is a natural topical pain reliever, so is helpful if the throat is painful due to excessive coughing or hoarseness, but it also is vastly useful as a decongestant.

Use all sparingly.

Honey

As I wrote in my original cough syrup recipe, honey is soothing, tasty, and coats the throat. Raw honey, especially, is packed with nutrients and enzymes and is a powerful antiviral and antibacterial substance, although in this recipe we take it to such a high temperature that most of those benefits are lost.

The beauty of the honey in this recipe is that it sweetens the drops (absolutely necessary with the bitter herbs!) and due to its sugar content, can be a natural substitute for refined sugar syrup in the candy-making process that makes these cough drops turn out like hard candies. Even the commercial brand of throat drops I reverse-engineered for these homemade cough drops uses sugar syrup, but honestly, the honey is so much more soothing on an achy throat.

Slippery Elm Bark Powder

Slippery elm bark powder turns into a sweet, mucilaginous slurry when combined with water and relieves inflammation and irritation in the throat superbly. While not an official ingredient in these drops, slippery elm is quite helpful if you need to keep your cough drops from sticking together (and don’t want to take the time to individually wrap 100 lozenges in parchment paper) and its healing properties certainly offer a welcome addition to the goodness of these drops.

It has occurred to me (and this is completely untested, so please leave a review if you try this!) that if slippery elm is unavailable, acerola cherry powder might also make a good dredging option. Acerola powder is the most potent and concentrated source of Vitamin C currently known and might offer a desirable flavor. Again – just an idea. Let me know if it works (or is a horrible disaster…)

One note about boiling the herbs – typically the technique of boiling is reserved for hard plant materials, such as roots and wood, while softer materials, such as leaves, are treated more gently by steeping them for long periods of time.

The reason I call for boiling the leaves in this recipe rather than steeping is specifically to extract the bitter, healing elements. Yes, the herbs’ water-soluble vitamins are lost because of this, but for our purposes, the herbs are much more potent when the bitter elements are present – especially in the case of horehound – so simmer away guilt-free. And don’t worry – considering we’re pairing the herbal extract with a super-sweet honey syrup, the bitterness won’t be overwhelming.

If you’d prefer, you can infuse the herbs overnight: Place the dried herbs in a bowl and set aside. Boil the water, then pour over the herbs. Cover the bowl with a plate or lid and let sit for 8-10 hours. Strain well and continue as directed.

Here’s to your health! May joy and good health be nourished in your home!

This post has been shared at Simple Lives Thursday.

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Comments

  1. FarmerGirlSixx says

    I love making cough drops at home, matter of fact, I just bought small honey candy drop molds so that I can just pour into them. As for the weeping due to humidity, the best time is when the humidity is less then 50%. I have been making candy for many years and that is the trick. Another trick is a dehumidifier aka, air conditioner in really humid weather. Thanks for the recipes, it is definitely an empowering when you can do for your self and with less preservatives and junk.

    • Kresha says

      Candy molds – what a great idea! I’ve also heard of using lollipop molds, but candy molds would be even easier. Easy is good. :)

      And thanks so much for the tips about humidity. I live in a temperate rainforest, so our relative humidity is usually around 80%, even in the winter. My soap tends to weep when it’s curing too, so I may have to use your dehumidifier tip for that as well.

      Thanks!

  2. zachsmama says

    Hi. I really want to try these, but have a few questions. Once they are done, how do you store them? In the fridge? In the cupboard? etc.. Also, how long do they last? Can I make them now and not use them for two months? I don’t have much time so like to make ahead, but if they have to be made and used right away, this may not work for me.

    Thanks…I appreciate your answers.

    zachsmama03 :)

    • Kresha says

      Zachsmama03,

      There’s no need to store them in the refrigerator – in a cupboard or closet is fine. A more important factor is keeping them dry or, like any other cough drop, they start sticking together or softening, so if there’s a cupboard or shelf in your house that doesn’t get regular moisture (like from the shower) that would be the best place to keep them. They should last at least 3-6 months in dry conditions, so absolutely feel free to make them ahead.

      Have fun!

    • Kresha says

      You should be able to find them at any craft, candy, or cake supply store, or I’ve seen them on Amazon.com. :)

      Have fun!

  3. Sam says

    I have been looking for MONTHS for a website like yours.. I found it googling homemade cough drops and I am SO pleased with all the things you have done that I have been looking to do! Thank you!!

  4. Tracy says

    If u don’t have candy moods u can also use a rimmedmbaking sheet, and fill it half way up the edges with icing sugar. Use your thumb or the bottom of a bottle of food colouring, to stamp dents into the icing sugar. Pour candy into the holes and alow to dry. When dry, toss the drops in the sugar which will prevent sticking.

  5. says

    I’ve made these several times now and love them! I inhaled some saw dust last October and spent months trying to recover – long story – just know that I don’t think I could have made it without these (I’m barely exaggerating).

  6. Bev says

    Thanks so much for sharing the cough remedy for rubbing on feet! It has helped my son sleep after 2 nights of not sleeping because of a bad cough! Wonderful!!

  7. Windy says

    I’m so excited to try these to hand out at Christmas this year to neighbors and co-workers. I was able to get everything through Mountain Rose Herbs (yeay!) but they’re out of Hyssop so I’ll have to look elsewhere – boo :(. I’m wondering though, after you boil the decoction, what is the importance of straining off 1 cup of liquid? – what do you do with that extra cup? Wouldn’t it be just as effective to boil less water to begin with? I’m confused.

    • Kresha Faber says

      Actually, the one cup of liquid isn’t extra – that’s all we put in to start with. Sometimes I even have trouble squeezing out that much since the herbs absorb quite a bit! Basically, you’re just taking one cup of water, infusing it with all the goodness of those herbs, then straining it off to make the recipe.

      I hope that helps!

    • Kresha Faber says

      By the way, if you’re going to make a whole bunch of these as gifts, I would definitely make a test batch first, both to test how they function in your climate and to verify that *you* like them. They’re rather strongly flavored. If they stay hard and you like them, they’re definitely a GREAT gift item, but you may need to troubleshoot if you live in a humid climate. Commercial cough drops use a sugar syrup rather than a honey syrup specifically because it is more shelf-stable in multiple climates. :-)

      • Windy says

        I live in a VERY dry climate and I purchased some candy wrappers to individually wrap them up in, but I’m thinking I might tell the recipients to keep them in the freezer like the person above mentioned just in case. Test batch definitely seems like the way to go. Oh right, 1 cup to begin with, I was thinking of the dried herb quantities – Doh! Thanks again and Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Kresha Faber says

      From an herbal standpoint, yes, they’re safe to give to children. Just treat them like any medication and don’t let them eat them like candy. ;-)

      And from a choking standpoint, yes, you may certainly give them to children who are old enough to handle any other cough drop or hard candy, but personally, I wouldn’t give them to anyone under three and only with extreme caution to my 4-5 year olds.

      I hope that helps!

  8. Lenora says

    Thank you for the helpful tips, especially the one for butter to stabilize the honey and prevent further scorching. I too like to store my cough drops in the freezer, they seem to last longer.

    I’ve made a lot of homemade herbal cough drops. An herbal mixture I like for both benefits and flavor is mullein, cedar berries, and mint. I’ve given them to people who have chronic problem with their breathing and they LOVE them. They are also the only thing that got me through 10 work shifts when I got sick.

    Mullein (a.k.a. nature’s toilet paper or Indian toilet paper) helps the sinuses drain and stay clear, and help you focus. It grows wild all over the state I live in, so I find it for free. I don’t think it gets as much credit as it deserves for it’s many MANY benefits because it is seen as a weed. Personally, I found mullein was able to keep my sinuses drained and clear for eight hours after I had a few of my cough drops (I could tell when it wears of because I quite suddenly get stuffed up again)

  9. GraciesMom says

    I thought adding some lemon juice to the recipe would be a good idea, but now I can’t get it to harden! I’ve brought the mixture to 300 degrees and was afraid it would scorch. Is there anything I can do to save this honey mess I have?

    • Kresha Faber says

      How do you know it won’t harden? Have you already poured it out and it’s not hardening in the pan or when you try to roll it?

      The times that has happened to me, I use it as cough syrup. ;-)

      Out of curiosity, how much lemon juice did you add?

      • GraciesMom says

        Yes, I tried pouring it out and it wouldn’t harden. But the thought of all that beautiful raw organic honey not working out right made me frustrated! So, I put the whole pan in the fridge for a while to harden, then put it back in the pot – with some extra honey – and tried to bring it to boil again . . . but took it very slowly and it worked! Woo-hoo!

        Thanks, Kresha. Love your site and all your fabulous ideas! Please keep up the good work – we all really need you!!!

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