Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A bitter experience!

No, sorry Sarah, this does not mean I have got round to making my Seville orange bitter, it’s the cough syrup I made with friends Kerry and Maria yesterday! I really do hold with the notion that the only way you learn is by having a go, and with friends it's much more fun.
 We wanted to make a syrup with Wild Cherry bark and other herbs for coughs; I had some White Horehound and Elecampane.  Our recipe was not precisely measured; we had 2 handfuls of bark, 1 handful of dried White Horehound and a 15g bag of Elecampane in a large pan of water. I had meant to put some thyme in from my garden as an antiviral but I forgot to take it with me.  Elecampane is one of the herbs I am studying, I bought this packet of dried root from the Wise Woman herbalist and on the packet it says “Used as a substitute for the modern Airwaves to clear nasal passages and aid as a decongestant”.
 We simmered the root and bark for 10 minutes and then we added the White Horehound. This was strained after 20 minutes and the decoction was reduced before adding sugar, 1lb to a pint. The brown syrup has a very sweet taste at first, followed by a strong bitterness. I blamed the White Horehound as I know this is very bitter, but then remembered that Elecampane is a bitter, not as strong I believe, but I have never tried it so I don’t really know how it tastes. Then I realised I hadn’t tried the Cherry bark either, maybe this is a bitter too. I have looked up Wild Cherry bark and found it described as astringent, aromatic, and bitter, resembling the taste of bitter almonds, I found a bit I had not used today and tried it but could not really taste anything. I still don’t know what Elecampane tastes like but aim to find out this year, I think I was correct in blaming the White Horehound; I don’t think much can be required, especially when dried.
 Although I believe our syrup would do any cough the world of good and I appreciate the value of bitters, I don’t think we could actually find someone who would take such a bitter medicine.  We had to dip into a tin of Roses chocolates to get rid of the taste – well that’s our excuse anyway! Although the medicine was not a success, a lot was leant in the process of making it, including how important it is to know all about your herbs including taste.

A prized jar of cough syrup!


  1. If you have a hacking cough which is turning your insides outside, believe me, you will take the syrup! I made a classic horehound/marshmallow/hyssop cough syrup 2 years ago with far too much hyssop. One bottle went to a guy from Solihull Writers Workshop who was coughing fit to be tied one evening. I seem to remember his comment was, "My God, that stuff was rough, but it did the trick!"

    I suspect anyone who knows me will soon come to the conclusion that it's better not to exhibit any kind of illness in front of me for fear of getting dosed with something terrible!

  2. Kerry and I were discussing this earlier, Kerry's husband has started using the syrup and now he needs it he thinks it doesn't taste that bad. My husband is not well but every time I hear him cough he swears he was just clearing his throat!