Know Your Cough Drop 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 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 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.


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.