Ask the Past: cough syrups

I had a virus a few weeks ago, and I'm over the sickness, but the cough is still hanging around. I don't really like the kinds of cough syrups you get from the chemist, but I'd like to have something to settle the cough. Can you recommend anything?

Most decent books of household hints will include at least one cough or cold remedy, so there are lots of options out there, but before you go diving into the home remedies, you might want to bear this advice from Harmsworth's Household Encyclopedia in mind:

Cough is merely a symptom of a large number of different complaints, and in the case of any particular complaint a drug which is useful at one stage may be harmful at another. It is unwise, therefore, to take medicine for a cough without knowing what the cough is due to, and to persist with a cough mixture because it has benefited somebody else's cough.

With that disclaimer out of the way, though, Harmsworth launches straight into this cough mixture recipe:

Chloride of ammonium, 2 drams; compound tincture of camphor, 4 drams; liquid extract of licorice, 2 drams; spirit of chloroform, 2 drams; infusion of senega, to 6oz. The dose is a tablespoonful thrice daily, in a little water, after food.

Senega, incidentally, is a kind of plant, also known as snakeroot, and in the language of flowers, it means 'horror'. So there's that.

If for any reason you don't fancy taking chloroform three times a day for your cough, though, you could try this recipe, titled "A Good Nursery Cough Mixture", from Lady Hackett's Household Guide:

Take one hen egg; put it in a glass; cover with vinegar. Let it stand for 24 hours, after which time the shell will have melted away, leaving a paper-like substance. Remove this substance; add the same quantity of honey; beat all well together; then put in an air-tight jar, and give a teaspoonful at a time.

This seemed a little odd at first, and more than a little unpleasant, but oddly enough, it wasn't the only egg based cough medicine I found. Here's another, from Hyleigh's Medical and Stock Book:

Take three new-laid eggs. Place them whole in a basin. Then squeeze lemons on till covered with juice. Strain out pips from lemon juice first. Take out the eggs after three days and break them up. Take out any hard shell but retain the dissolved shell. Mix together 3 oz. honey, 2 oz. sugar candy, crushed very fine, 1/2 pint best old rum. Beat the eggs and lemon juice well. Then add the other ingredients and beat well together. Put in a bottle, and keep well corked. Dose: A wineglassful first thing every morning.

I'm sure that will help.

A green stemmed plant with long, thin green leaves, and a lot of tiny spiky white and purple budding flowers at the tip. It doesn't look all that horrifying on its own, but it might when mixed with chloroform.
Horror. Photo by Lex Melony.

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