What if I told you that you could make homemade, throat-soothing, cough-quieting, delicious, nourishing, cough syrup in less than ten minutes?
Plant medicine free of food coloring, artificial sweeteners, and chemically pharmaceuticals you can hardly pronounce.
And what if I told you it tasted better, worked better, and was better for you than the store bought stuff?
You'd freak out, right? Right.
Because we've been sold this idea that medicine comes from the pharmacy, not the farm. I'm here to tell you that sometimes that's true, but often it's bunk.
In fact, medicine is so often free. Does plantain grow in your yard? How about dandelions? Nettle? Burdock? So many "weeds" we've been told are bad are actually good medicine for what ails us.
And often they're free.
My jar of cough syrup cost me nothing (since I keep bees and grow elecampane), but even if you bought both a pint would run you maybe $10 and easily last your family the winter.
Also this: the way a plant-based cough syrup works is so, so different than that red stuff in the bottle. It's working with your body to move through an illness. It's strenghtening you – not masking your symptoms. It's not just shutting off your cough so you can get some sleep.
How I fell in love with elecampane
I think each body has it's weak link. For Sage it used to be his lungs.
When Sage was little he would get a deep cough with every cold. He had one every two months or so and though he would mostly rebound quickly, the cough would linger for three to four weeks. He would cough constantly, keeping everyone awake night after sleepless night.
We tried homeopathic remedies, over the counter meds, and various cough and cold teas. Nothing worked.
Then I discovered elecampane.
I connected with a local herbalist for some dried elecampane from her medicine chest and simmered a little up as a decoction (a strong simmered tea) one night when Sage's cough was strong as ever. I offered him a dose.
After coughing for days and waking time and again he literally took one sip – one little sip! – gave one more half-hearted cough and lay down to sleep for the rest of the night.
It's that good.
What part we use
Elecampane is a tall perennial plant. The flower stalks each host multiple blooms and the scratchy leaves are the biggest in our garden (as the "elecampane fairy" above will attest). Native to Asia, elecampane is easily grown throughout much of the world.
I picked up a four pack of tiny garden starts at our coop two years ago and the root shown above was one of four this big that I harvested and shared with friends, still leaving several large plants undisturbed.
The roots are normally dug in the fall, scrubbed, and then either dried or used fresh. (I do both.)
I dried half of the roots I kept for making the decoction I described above and the other half for honey syrup. Here's how to make your own! (From fresh or dried roots. If you don't have a local source you can buy dried root here.)
How to make elecampane cough syrup
Fresh Root Method:
If you are fortunate enough to have found fresh elecampane in your garden, woods, or through a friend, here is how to make your syrup.
1. Scrub roots well to remove soil, then rinse and dry.
2. Slice thinly into coin-shapes.
3. Add 3/4 C of sliced elecampane root to a pint jar. (Dry any extra for winter decoctions.)
4. Fill the jar to the shoulders with raw honey (preferably local). (Do not heat your honey! If it is crystallized, simply place the jar in a pan of warm water and allow it to slowly liquefy, changing water as needed.)
5. Stir the honey-elecampane mix and set in a dark cabinet.
6. Shake the jar gently several times a day (or whenever you think of it) for seven days. You will notice the mixture becoming more watery and less viscous.
7. After a week pour the syrup through a mesh strainer. Squeeze all the medicine you can out of the roots, then discard.
8. Store your syrup in the refrigerator for up to 12 months.
To use, take 2/3 tsp for children and 2 tsp for adults hourly as needed. Avoid during pregnancy. Note: honey is not recommended for children under two.
Dried Root Method:
Most of you will be making your syrup from dried roots. Despite making the straight honey version I love to keep this decoction-based formula on hand as well.
1. Combine 1 oz dried elecampane root and 2 C water.
2. Bring to a boil and continue to simmer until liquid has been reduced by half.
3. Strain, pressing the root to extract as much medicine as possible.
4. Allow to cool until just warm to the touch.
5. Measure your decoction. Divide this amount by two. This is how much honey to add. (For example, if you measure 1 C decoction, then add 1/2 C of honey). Stir to combine.
6. Store in the refrigerator for up to six months.
Note: Elecampane decoction has this amazing habit of turning turquoise when exposed to oxygen. After your jar of decoction sits in the fridge for a while you may notice this color change. It is harmless but fascinating none the less.
To use, take 2/3 tsp for children and 2 tsp for adults hourly as needed. Avoid during pregnancy. Note: honey is not recommended for children under two. If you wish to give this formula to a younger child the honey can be omitted.
Care to learn more? Another local herbalist and I put together a digital booklet of herbal recipes with called "A Winter Apothecary".
Here we share recipes for for echinacea tincture, a bath tea, a mild fire cider, day and night cough syrups, and bedtime tea. In all the booklet contains six recipes.
We donate all of the money raised by the booklet sale to various charities and people in need.
If you'd like a copy you can purchase one here.