As well as the sealions barking on the wharf, there’s the sound of some very human coughing here in Santa Cruz at the moment. It seems half the population has chest colds or viruses which leave a lingering and highly irritating cough in their wake. So I was pleased to come across a lot of White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) growing in the splendidly named Pogonip state park, on the edge of the town.
It’s one of my favourite herbs to treat coughs, especially of the rather sticky, stuck-mucusy kind and I also use it in bronchitis and sometimes asthma. I like to think of it as getting down into the lungs and brushing out the mucus, then gently propelling it upwards and out. It doesn’t suppress a cough, as something like Wild Cherry or Coltsfoot would, which is good in this instance, as I want things to move so that the body can recover.
The herb is full of terpines which make it intensely bitter, so I was pleased just now when I strained off the tincture which has been macerating in my kitchen for the last three weeks or so to find that it tastes really horrible. A great sign with horehound. For this reason, I almost never give it as a tea. In my practice I usually combine the tincture with other expectorants like Thyme or Liquorice, immune boosters such as Echinacea and very often my favourite Elderberry for its anti-viral qualities. These have the added benefit of improving the taste somewhat as well as adding their own medicinal actions.
A number of my friends here have been struck by the cough, so today I’m brewing up a batch of Liquorice and Thyme syrup with added elderberries, to which I am also going to add a little of the Horehound tincture. This will give me a nice-tasting syrup with very little alcoholic content, making it suitable for children and people who don’t like alcohol.
Here’s how I’m doing it:
2 Tablespoons dried Liquorice (Glycyrriza glabra)
1 Tablespoon fresh Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
1 Tablespoon dried Elderberries (Sambucus nigra fructus)
1 pint water
1. In a pan, bring all this up to a slow simmer and let it bubble gently for about 20 minutes or until the kitchen smells good.
2. Strain out the herbs using muslin or kitchen paper in the sieve, as you want to get all the organic material out.
3. Return to the (cleaned out) pan and add 40ml of White Horehound tincture (or you could have added a couple of tablespoons of the fresh herb into the pan at the beginning).
4. Bring it back to the lowest simmer you can and slowly let it reduce to about half.
5. Add sugar or honey (I prefer the latter) in equal volume to the liquid you have left and allow it to cool.
- Bottle into nice clean bottles or jars and keep it in the fridge. It should be stable in a cool place, but I find it lasts longer in the fridge.
You can take it by the spoonful (1 x 5ml spoonful up to 4 times a day) or add warm water (with or without lemon and/or ginger) to make a hot drink.
This syrup is not suitable for you if you are pregnant or have untreated high blood pressure. If you are taking prescription medication or have a medical complaint, talk to a herbalist or your doctor before self medicating.