Herbal Honey Cough Drops

Herbal cough drops are lozenges that can be sucked to relieve a cough or sore throat. Lozenges can also be made for the digestive system, for a cold or flu, as a digestive bitter, for a children’s tonic and the list goes on. Most cough drops have sugar in them, which helps them harden. The problem with sugar is it also lowers our immune response and increases inflammation. Honey, on the other hand, is soothing and antimicrobial. So, I set out to make an herbal cough drop recipe that used honey instead of sugar. I came up with a recipe that is potent, effective and tastes great!

herbal cough drop

Supplies for making Cough Drops:

  • Candy thermometer or bowl of ice water
  • Large pan with a thick bottom (so it doesn’t scorch or boil over)
  • Large Spoon
  • 9X13 glass casserole dish or cookie sheet (If you are using a cookie sheet or casserole dish you’ll need to start cutting the cough drop squares immediately.) or candy molds
  • Parchment paper
  • Sturdy spatula (if you are cutting the drops yourself)
  • Glass jar with tight fitting lid for storage
  • Label

Cough Drop Recipe:

  • ½ ounce Ginger root
  • ¼ ounce Licorice root
  • ¼ ounce Wild cherry bark
  • 2 cups Water
  • 1 ounce Propolis or Poplar bud tincture
  • 1 1/2 cups Honey (can use an herb-infused honey such as hyssop or monarda)
  • 10 drops Peppermint essential oil
  • 5 drops Lemon essential oil
  • 5 drops Rosemary essential oil

Optional Ingredients:

Rice syrup: is less likely to soften than honey. You can substitute if for half the honey in your recipe if you are having problems with the recipe being sticky.

2-3 tablespoons olive oil (or coconut oil). Helps ingredients not stick to the pan or your skin.

Herbal tinctures: if an herb isn’t water soluble, using a tincture is a great way to add it to your cough drop. Just make sure to not add too much. See my list below of Herbs for the Respiratory System.

Essential oils: Use approximately 1 drop per ounce. This means using approximately 8 drops per cup of your lozenge mixture. You can go slightly higher for a more aromatic effect.

cough drop 2


  1. Make a strong herbal decoction by putting the herbs in cool water and bringing to a boil. Simmer for 20 – 45 minutes covered (you can soak the herbs overnight prior to simmering for stronger decoction). Reduce down to half the volume (1 cup) by cooking longer. Strain.
  2. Add the honey and the tincture to the herbal decoction and cook on medium heat. Stir often and don’t leave the mixture unattended. Cook until it reaches 300° F (hard-crack stage). If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can drop a small amount into a bowl of ice water. Take it out and drop it on a plate. If it breaks, that is hard-crack stage and it is ready to pour.
  3. If you are adding essential oils or menthol, stir them in just as the syrup reaches 300°.
  4. Mold your drops:
    • Pour into candy molds or your own “marshmallow molds”. To make marshmallow molds, simply add 3 cups of marshmallow powder to a casserole pan. Hit the pan gently on the counter several times to settle the marshmallow powder. Make small indentations in the powder with a pestle, measuring spoon, or your finger. Arrow root or corn starch can also be used to make the molds.
    •  OR put some olive oil or coconut oil on your clean hands and then roll your mixture into small “drops”. Set these on parchment paper until cool.
    • With either method you use, I recommend coating the outside of the drops with marshmallow or arrow root powder so they don’t stick together.
  5. To clean your supplies, fill your pan half full of water and then bring it to a boil. The residue dissolves in the water easily.
  6. This recipe makes about 2 cups.

Herbs for the Respiratory System:

The below herbs are useful for the respiratory system. Most of them can be made into a decoction. I have indicated if an herb should be added to a cough drop as a tincture.

  • Balsam root (Balsamorhiza sagittata)
  • Bee Balm (Monnarda sp.)
  • Echinacea, roots, leaves, flowers and/or seeds (Echinacea spp.)
  • Elecampane (Inula helenium)
  • Elderberries (Sambucus nigra, S. Canadensis, S.  nigra)
  • Eucalyptus ( Eucalyptus globulus)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Grindelia (Grindelia spp.) tincture
  • Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum)
  • Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) use sparingly as it is very bitter
  • Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
  • Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra, G. uralensis or G. lepidota)
  • Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum)
  • Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) I recommend this plant as a substitute for slippery elm, which is on the United Plant Savers “At Risk” list.
  • Mormon Tea (Ephedra viridis)
  • Mullein leaf (Verbascum thapsus)
  • Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha, C. molmol, C. abbysinica) tincture

Essential Oils for Cough Drops: 

The below oils are useful for cough drops. They are all on the FDA Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) Essential Oil list. Remember, only use the recommended dosage for essential oils as they are very strong.

  • Black pepper (Piper nigrum)
  • Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum, C. cassia, C. loureirii)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
  • Lavender (Lavandula officinalis, Spike: L. latifolia)
  • Lemon (Citrus limon)
  • Lime (Citrus aurantifolia)
  • Mandarin (Citrus reticulate)
  • Menthol (Mentha spp.) (Not an essential oil, menthol is a crystalline compound with a cooling minty taste and odor, found in peppermint and other natural oils. It is used as a flavoring and in decongestants and analgesics. Menthol can be synthetically derived, so make sure you get a natural source. )
  • Orange  (Citrus sinensis)
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita L.),
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Thyme linalool (Thymus vulgaris L.)

© Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist 2015

ElaineAbout the Author:
Elaine Sheff has been studying medicinal plants since 1987. A Clinical Herbalist, she is a graduate of both the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies and the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. Elaine is a certified instructor of Fertility Awareness and Natural Family Planning, a safe, effective birth control method used to avoid or achieve pregnancy. She has a clinical practice providing herbal consultations for individuals with health concerns. Elaine teaches herb classes throughout the United States and is the original co-founder of Meadowsweet Herbs. She is the co-director of Green Path Herb School in Missoula, Montana. A best selling author, her latest book is called Naked: Botanical Recipes for Healthy Skin. You can often find Elaine in her garden or cooking gluten free.

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11 Comments on “Herbal Honey Cough Drops

  1. I skipped the propolis tincture, brought it up to 310 degrees, and it came out chewy? Hard, but chewy. I’m not sure how taking some liquid out of the recipe would make it so it didn’t reach candy stage, but I made sure to take it off not before it reached 300.

    • Alex, It sounds like you may have just taken it off a little too early. Also, I keep mine in a glass jar in the refrigerator. They do turn out a little chewy, but I guess that is the “price” we pay for not using sugar. Hope that helps! Elaine

  2. Love your site. Wtih lozengers, can you only use tinctures and if so what amounts do you recommend.

    • Hi Sandra,
      Glad you like the site! No, you don’t have to use tinctures, you can use teas, decoctions, herbal powders… As far as the amount, it all depends on the recipe. Have fun experimenting! Elaine

    • Hi Ali,
      Yes, they will loose potency over time. I’d compost the poultice after a year or two and make a new batch.

  3. I wonder if the high temperature (300 degrees) will not destroy the good property of the honey and essential oils… E.O. Are particulary sensible to high heat….

    • Nyie, yes, you are correct. I still prefer to use the honey vs. sugar though. You are also right about the essential oils — some of the do evaporate. You should add them in right at the end and you can add a little extra they evaporate too much.

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