Do you remember horehound candy?

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By Ted Manzer

Friday, October 5, 2018

When I was young I remember eating this strange hard candy. A few of my elderly newspaper customers usually had it around. Whenever I had a cough, this one lady always gave me some. You’re supposed to suck on the candy, but I usually chewed them, so I doubt they helped my cough much.

That candy was called horehound, and it had a unique flavor. I characterize it as a cross between sassafras and Moxie soda, which is made from gentian root. I’m from Maine, so I always get my fill of Moxie whenever I go back there.

Some people describe horehound candy as some variation of licorice and root beer. I don’t know, but horehound is clearly different than most hard candies.

Most folks under 60 might not have even heard of horehound candy, much less eaten it. It used to be in every candy store, but now only novelty or health food places carry it. I haven’t checked, but I bet Cracker Barrel sells it. They usually stock stuff like that.

Horehound is a perennial herb in the mint family. It spreads by seed. Actually, there are several species of it. White horehound is the most common, and it gets its name from the foliage, which is covered with hair like material. This herb looks a little like catmint.

Plants grow up to two feet tall and tolerate poor soils. They thrive in sandy soils with full sun. Since horehound is in the mint family, one would expect it would be an aggressive plant. It is. However, long periods of wet winter weather can depress hardiness.

Horehound is no stranger to folks into herbal medicine. It has a long history of medicinal use. Years ago, many cough medicines contained horehound. It also has antimicrobial qualities and has been used as a component of mouthwashes and toothpastes, too.

Horehound is also used to lower blood sugar and blood pressure. It also contains several antioxidant and anti-inflammatory chemicals. For this reason, some people take preparations for respiratory inflammation and menstrual pain.

Remedies to countless other maladies are attributed to the use of this herb. Among them are: cancer treatment, muscle spasms, fluid retention, appetite loss, high cholesterol, bloating and liver and gallbladder problems. It’s even prescribed for control of both diarrhea and constipation. That seems like a stretch.

With all the information on the internet nowadays, herbal medicines can be scary. Anyone can post anything they want. Always check out several sources and often you will spot parroting of each other.

I think holistic medicine has merit, but I like to get several opinions. I also think it is important to talk to your medical professional before taking any holistic medicine. This is particularly important if you are already taking prescription medication.

That said, horehound candy, unless eaten in large amounts should not pose a problem. Large doses usually result from taking extracts of some kind. Many plants in the mint family have medicinal properties. They also can be eaten in small quantities or used to spice food with no ill effects.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.