Not everything in life is perfectly sweet. Sometimes things are a little bit bitter. Or a lotta bit bitter. As is the case with the horehound herb. This attractive herb is a carefree perennial with great medicinal value, if one can overcome the bracingly bitter flavor. By creating horehound candy, one can make the “medicine go down” much easier.
Latin Name: Marrubium vulgare
Herbal Energetics: cool/dry
Therapeutic Actions: analgesic, antispasmodic, antitussive, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, cholagogue, diuretic, expectorant, hepatic, hypoglycemic, stimulant, vulnerary
Horehound Herb Medicinal Uses
Horehound is a classic herb often associated with a variety of therapeutic actions. It has a particular affinity for both the digestive and respiratory system. This herb helps to stimulant the secretion of digestive juices, increase appetite, lower blood glucose, aid in the digestion of fats, and has even demonstrated an ability to protect the stomach lining and help heal eroded tissues or ulcers. Cold infusions of the herb have also been used to help expel intestinal parasites. As a stimulating expectorant, horehound acts to relax the bronchial muscles and promote mucus membrane secretion. As such, horehound is particularly useful in the instances of tight, persistent congestion without drainage and thick but unproductive cough. Think of horehound when you feel like you head is twice the size it should be and your sinuses won’t drain.
A little research into horehound herb tradition and folklore, sheds light on past uses. Interestingly, the herb was often used as an antidote to poisoning – I suppose owing to its liver protective qualities, while storied herbalists, such as Culpepper, establish horehound as digestive and aid and respiratory stimulant.
I am a trained herbalist with a degree in Complementary and Alternative Medicine, I am not, however, a doctor. Posts in this blog are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Before using any herbs, check for appropriate dosage, drug interactions, and contraindications. Information contained herein is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prescribe. Please consult your primary care physician regarding your specific health concerns.
How to Identify & Harvest Horehound Herb
Horehound is a free wheeling perennial from the mint family. It can often be found growing along fence lines and in areas of well drained but moderately rich soils. It is fairly drought tolerant and spread readily. It can be identified by its square stem, green, prominently veined and opposite leaves. The stems and leaves are pubescent, which means that they are covered in small white hair that nod to the respiratory uses of the horehound herb when considering the doctrine of signatures (mullein is another great example of this herbal notion.. During late spring to early summer white flower pom-poms are born on the tall stems.
I harvest horehound while it is in flower and hang large bunches to dry in an area with great air flow.
How to Make Bittersweet Horehound Candy
But back to the problem with the horehound… It is just so, eye-crossing-ly, bitter. While I do appreciate a good bitter remedy, horehound as a tea or infusion is almost too much for me to tolerate, even sweetened. I suppose that tincture or infused honey may deliver many of the medicinal benefits of the herb, but I have been particularly interested in trying the fabled horehound candy. “They” say you either love it or you hate it. I am of neither unflappable camp. While I wouldn’t exactly say that I “love” this candy, I found the results of my candy making adventure as a remarkably pleasant surprise. There is no disguising the bitter character of horehound – and not that one should, after all, those bitter principles are at the heart of its therapeutic value. Instead the sugar balances the bitter quotient, not unlike how sugar balances the bitterness in chocolate. The flavor is not surprisingly bittersweet, with a very slight medicinal, camphor-y undertone that I can best liken to rosemary or eucalyptus. Just the ideal flavor set when the “crud” is creeping in. These horehound candies are perfect for stowing away in a tin or jar to take as a lozenge for times of indigestion, congestion or sore throat.
I encourage you to give these horehound candies a try! Stick to the instructions, as there is little margin for error in candy making. Make sure you have adequate time and a distraction free environment, as molten sugar is a dangerous thing to turn away from, for even a second! Make sure you have a high quality candy/fry thermometer for best results. I prefer to use silicone molds to form my candies (like these cute coffee bean shaped molds). This recipe could easily fill four mini molds, and perhaps more. To clean my candy making paraphernalia, I use boiled water to dilute away any leftover residue in pot or utensils. Also, probably like you, I am not a fan of corn syrup, but the addition is small and in the recesses of my brain a memory is telling me that it is necessary to prevent a “crystalline” texture. If you are interested in experimenting with a corn syrup free recipe you might consider this recipe, substituting the prepared horehound tea for the elderberry infusion. It is also important to note that most commercially available corn syrups no longer contain high fructose corn syrup, and that organic, non-GMO corn syrups are available. you can read more about corn syrup here. I choose to use organic cane sugar over honey here as it is heated to such extraordinary temperatures, thus mitigating raw honey benefits…
Interested in learning more about common wild medicinal plants? Check out my new book The Backyard Herbal Apothecary!
Horehound Candy Recipe
- 1 ¼ cups water
- 1 cup dried horehound packed firmly
- 2 ¼ cups organic cane sugar
- ¼ cup light corn syrup
- Bring water to a boil, add dried horehound a remove from heat. Steep for 20 minutes.
- In the meantime, prepare silicone molds by greasing slightly with coconut oil. Alternatively, line a shallow sided baking sheet with greased parchment paper or a silicone mat
- Into a medium saucepan, with reasonably high sides, strain the horehound infusion through a fine mesh sieve (discarding or composting spent herbs). Add sugar and light corn syrup.
- Over medium high heat and stirring constantly, boil the mixture until hard crack stage is achieved (300 degrees on a candy thermometer or when a ribbon of “syrup” immediately hardens in ice water and breaks with a snap). Note: The mixture will become very frothy at some point during boiling, keep stirring and be careful not to burn.
- When hard crack stage is achieved, pour mixture into prepared molds or dish. If using molds, scrape the top with a spatula to remove excess, then allow to cool completely before removal. If using a lined baking sheet, pour, cool slightly, score, cut, and shape with hands quickly, as soon as the candy can be handled.
- If desired, roll finished candies in powdered sugar and or slippery elm root powder to prevent “stickage”. Store is a cool, dry place in an airtight container.
Not interested making candy? These old fashioned horehound candies look pretty good.
Horehound, White. (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2016, from http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/h/horwhi33.html
Herbal Energetics. (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2016, from http://www.herbalremediesadvice.org/herbal-energetics.html
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Petersen, D. (2015). HERB101.