Recently my entire body was overtaken by a cold. Rarely ever am I sick, but when a cold comes along it grabs me hook, line and sinker. When I was little I must have been given enough herbal home remedies to sink a good sized ship, and they might have given me a natural immunity because I hardly ever have a cold. Maybe it has been so long since I had those home remedies my immunity is all used up, because I surely do have a monster of a cold right this minute.
I suffered through a day of headaches, raspy throat and sniffles, thinking it would go away if I drank a lot of juice and hot tea with honey and lemon. The cold had other ideas. By the second day I couldn’t breathe and sounded much like a croaking frog when I spoke.
By the third day, today, my patience is running pretty thin with the whole thing, and I am just aggravated enough to dig through my Aunt Bett’s papers to see if there's a thing I can do about it. Something as minor as a cold doesn't stand a chance of lingering if Aunt Bett is around.
I knew I had a gold mine of cold remedies, so I started digging through those old yellowed papers early in the morning, the third day of my cold. The first recipe I came across was one for Hyssop cough syrup. Well, that brought a chuckle, because I remembered fanning myself in church one day with a sprig of hyssop. The bees followed the hyssop’s scent through the open windows of the church and very nearly upset the entire congregation.
But this recipe is one I can easily make, and might help my froggy throat. I just happen to have some dried flowering hyssop tops.
It called for a cup of honey, a fourth cup of water, two tablespoons of dried flowering hyssop, and one teaspoon of anise seeds. I don’t have anise, but I do have dried fennel. I think it was only added for the flavor anyway, because hyssop tastes quite ugly, so fennel will have to do.
Aunt Bett says to pour the honey into a pot and stir in the water, a little at a time, until the honey thins and becomes the consistency of pancake syrup. Very slowly bring this mixture to medium heat. If scum forms, scoop it off. Dampen the dried hyssop with a spoonful of water, and crush the fennel (anise seeds) with a spoon, then stir them into the honey. Cover and simmer the mix very slowly on low heat for about thirty minutes. The pot is uncovered then to let it cool, but while it is still warm enough to flow easily, strain it into a jar or bottle with a screw on lid.
This mixture contains a high mucilage content, it coats the irritated throat, and soothes and protects it. It should also ease any coughing that goes along with a cold. However it must never be given to a child younger than two years because honey is sometimes contaminated with bacteria that can cause food poisoning in a small child.
So now I had a plan: Make hyssop cough syrup. I wondered what else I could find in Aunt Bett’s writings that might ease the agony of this fall cold, so I kept searching.
The next page in her old yellowed tablet contained the recipe for horehound cough drops. It also contained some notes of my own because I had used this very same recipe when I wrote an article on horehound about a year ago. A Dave’s Garden friend read the article and immediately sent me some horehound cough drops, the horehound straight from her garden and the cough drops straight from her kitchen. I had placed them in a tin, and still have a few of the cough drops left. I love horehound, and could very easily eat it like candy.
I kept searching through the tablet. Just reading Aunt Bett’s words seemed to ease the cold agonies. Soon I came across her raspberry leaf gargle. I remember gathering raspberry leaves with her, and I had to make sure I knew the difference between berry leaves, because only raspberry would do. We dried them between screens on her back porch. It’s a little late in the year to be looking for raspberry leaves now, but I can tell you how to make the gargle and next summer we might gather some leaves to have handy when the next cold hits.
She recommended using a tablespoon of crushed dried raspberry leaves, steeped in two cups of water for about ten minutes. Strain them into a container and add one to three teaspoons of honey. The honey is soothing but it also tempers the tartness of the raspberry leaves. Allow it to cool before using, and any leftover can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.
The last of Aunt Bett’s cold curing remedies, aside from the warm red flannel rag and Vick’s salve that covered my chest for bronchial congestion, was her steam inhalants. I never knew which scent she would use, but no matter, because it usually gave good results.
A clogged nose and a tight chest can often be eased by the traditional practice of inhaling steam. It can be plain water, but it’s much more interesting to add an aromatic ingredient. In most cases the oil in the added ingredient helps loosen mucous. Menthol and camphor are more traditional, but the essential oils of eucalyptus, pine, rosemary and thyme are more likely to be effective.
This remedy I remember well. Aunt Bett boiled several cups of water, and added to them three or four drops of whatever essential oil she had. She didn’t always have eucalyptus, which was my favorite, but she often had rosemary and thyme as well as pine bark. She draped that towel right over my head, and I held my head over the steaming bowl of water that held the drops of oil. Sometimes I’d sit like that inhaling the steamy scented oil until I nearly fell asleep right into the bowl. It was that comforting.
So now I am well armed with cold remedies, straight from Aunt Bett.
Actually, I feel much better now, after having read all those powerful words she wrote. I reckon soothing words and warm memories go a long way toward healing, they might even be more effective against a cold than her home remedies.
Thanks to Dave for the thumbnail image of rosemary, to Philomel for the photo of hyssop, and to kennedyh for his images of both the raspberry leaf and horehound. All photos are from Plant Files.