March 2

Herbal Cough Syrup: Sage & Horehound


Sage (Salvia officinalis) and horehound (Marrubium vulgare) make an old, traditional combination. It has been used in candies, cough drops, and cough syrups to relieve rough coughs, croup, wheezing, and in some cases, asthma symptoms. In this recipe, I have combined it with marshmallow infusion, glycerin, and honey for soothing cough syrup.

Sage, Marshmallow, and Horehound

Sage helps to ease fevers and calms coughing. It can, however, sometimes be too drying. This is great if you sweat too much, but not so good if your mucosa is working overtime to help repel an infection.

Demulcent marshmallow root in a cold infusion mitigates sage’s drying effect, helping to calm the cough without drying you out. Simply fill¬† a mason jar 1/4 of the way with marshmallow root and cover with a lid

Horehound is also used to calm coughs. It is one of the premier herbs for relief from coughing of all types. Horehound is indicated for everything from bronchitis to tuberculosis. Horehound tea used to be a common remedy in prior centuries. However, our modern palates have less of an affinity for bitter tastes.

It is absolutely essential to include some form of sugar or sweet flavoring to horehound. While I have been building up my bitter taste buds, unsweetened horehound tea is still quite the bitter taste. Try as I might, I cannot tolerate the taste of horehound tea without gobs of honey. The best option here is to make either some type of hard candy or a syrup.

Glycerin and Honey

For this syrup, sweeteners are going to be a major component. Both glycerin and honey are soothing to the throat. I used a 50/50 mix of glycerin and honey.¬† You can use all honey or all glycerin, or any combination thereof. Glycerin has a bit of a warming sensation which can be nice on the throat. Both glycerin and honey bring preservative properties to the syrup. However, the syrup is not “preserved” or shelf stable. It much be refrigerated or frozen because of the higher water content, which will be explained below.

How to Make Sage and Horehound Syrup

Unlike elderberry syrup which used hard plant material (the dried berries) and various roots and barks, the parts used from sage and horehound are the leaves, which are delicate plant material. Water extractions of hard plant material use decoction, where the water is reduced by half through evaporation. Water extractions of delicate plant material require infusions, where they steep in water, and no liquid is reduced.

Sage and Horehound Syrup| Steeping sage and horehound |
Sage and horehound steeping. This is a much larger batch than the recipe provided makes, so ignore the amount of sage and horehound infusion in this photo. However, I steep my infusions with a lid to prevent the volatile oils from evaporating away with the steam.

In addition to this, there is the thickened liquid from the marshmallow root. It’s thicker than water, but not nearly as viscous as the glycerin or honey. It’s very easy to make this a watery, thin syrup if you are not careful. I use half of the water I normally use to make the infusion. I use 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of sage and horehound each. I allow that to steep on the counter for 30 minutes. Then, I measure out 3/4 of a cup of sage and horehound infusion and 1/4 of a cup of marshmallow cold infusion for 1 total cup of “waters”. Then I add the 50/50 mix of sweeteners, in this case, glycerin and honey.


  • 1/4 cup Marshmallow cold infusion (make ahead of time)
  • 3/4 cup of sage and horehound infusion
  • 1/2 cup of glycerin
  • 1/2 cup of honey


  • Strain out both infusions and mix them in a bow to make the “waters”.
  • If it is cools to room temperature, rewarm the waters (do not boil) to make it easier to mix with the honey and glycerin.
  • Return waters to the bowl.
  • Add the honey and glycerin, stirring to incorporate. This may take some time if it happens to be cold where you’re working.
  • Bottle and store in the refrigerator. This should last at least a couple of weeks, if not longer. To be safe, however, store in freezer and rewarm gently in water (crockpots are great for this, never in a microwave) in case its needed.
  • Take by the teaspoonful as needed to calm coughing.
Sage and Horehound Syrup| Steeping sage and horehound |
The syrup, its final consistency, thinner than I prefer syrups, but has all the elements to soothe even the most persistent cough.


Herbal Cough Syrup, Horehound, sage, tuberculosis

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