LEEK juice was often used for whooping cough, or indeed any “old” cough. As Thomas Hill said, “leeke amendeth an old cough and the ulcers of the lungs”. It was used either on its own or mixed with something else, as in the Welsh custom of joining it with women’s milk for coughs, a recommendation that appears both in the Book of Iago ab Dewi (see Berdoe) and in the Physicians of Myddfai. ONION juice was considered essential to cure a cough or bronchitis centuries before its use in various patent medicines. Coughs, including whooping cough, have long been treated with TURNIPS, too. The usual country practice was and still is to cut a turnip into thin slices, put them in a dish, and put sugar on them. Leave them for a day or two, and give a teaspoonful of the juice for the cough. That is the Wiltshire remedy, but it is virtually the same across southern England. NETTLES, whose efficacy in chest complaints was widely believed in, was used for anything from coughs to tuberculosis. Martin, at the beginning of the 18th century, took note of its use in Lewis for coughs. In this case, they used the roots boiled in water and fermented with yeast. Earlier, Gerard had recommended it for “the troublesome cough that children have, called the Chin-cough”, whooping cough in modern parlance. A Cambridgeshire cough cure made use of CARAWAY — 2 ounces of the seed boiled in a quart of water down to a pint, half strain off, sweeten with sugar, add a glass and a half of rum. Take a wineglassful every night going to bed. COMFREY has been used for coughs for centuries, from Anglo-Saxon times onwards, either the leaves and root on their own, or with some other ingredient, such as elecampane, or horehound, both renowned cough medicines themselves. ELDER flower tea is good for a cough or for colds and sore throats. Elderflower vinegar used to be saved, too, to use for sore throats. Coughs can be treated, according to an 18th century prescription from Anglesey, by drinking the result of boiling up a quantity of Liverpool ale with rosemary, honey and salt butter. The nuts, bark and leaves of SWEET CHESTNUT can be used for all kinds of coughs, including whooping cough, a usage that has been known for a long time. See Gerard, for example, who said that “an electuary of the meale of Chestnuts is very good against the cough and spitting of bloud”. MALABAR NUT is an Indian plant, but long cultivated in the tropics, and much used as an expectorant or cough reliever. CAROB molasses is another very popular cough medicine. Native Americans used the inner bark of PIN CHERRY for a cough medicine, and the Seneca Indians used SENEGA SNAKEROOT for a cough. BRAMBLE vinegar used to be made in Lincolnshire for coughs. SLOES were used as a cough cure in North Wales; so they were in the Highlands, too, for sloe jelly was reckoned the best cure for relaxed throat. MARJORAM tea is much used for whooping cough, and can be used as a mouthwash for inflamed mouth or throat. The Anglo-Saxon version of Apuleius also recommended it for coughs, by the simple expedient of eating the plant. PENNYROYAL tea, too, is good for chills and coughs, extended to include bronchitis and asthma. In Morocco, the dried leaves are made into a powder and taken with porridge or milk for coughs and colds. Wesley recommended it for whooping cough, too.
A root decoction of VIRGINIAN SNAKEROOT was taken for coughs, and the Mashona witchdoctor in Zimbabwe made use of the bark of Pterocarpus angolensis, powdered with the inner layer of BLUE LOTUS root. ELECAMPANE‘S roots have been used to make cough candies for a very long time. The powder was soaked and given to the patient in his porridge. GORSE also has been used — an infusion of the green tops has featured in many a Scottish Highlands cough cure, and in Ireland a medicine was made by packing the flowers tightly in a crock, and putting brown sugar on top. The crock would be covered, and put in a saucepan to stew slowly. Another Highland remedy consisted of boiling OX-EYE DAISY juice with honey. SAGE tea is famous as a cough cure, and has been since ancient times. It is still in use, not only for coughs, but also for colds, headaches and fevers. Cough cures are detailed as early as the 14th century, when we find “Medicina pro tussi. Take sauge and comyne and rewe and peper and seth hym to-gedre in a panne with hony, and ete ther-of a spoone ful a-morwe and at eve a-nuther”. WHITE HOREHOUND, too, is just as famous for curing coughs and colds, usually in the form of a leaf infusion, or as a candy. Lozenges made from it are still used. As long ago as Anglo-Saxon times it was prescribed for colds in the head and coughs. Gerard, too, recommended the infusion, that “prevaileth against the old cough”, and the syrup made from the leaves “is a most singular remedy against the cough and wheezing of the lungs …”. Syrup of SQUILLS (decocted from the bulb) used to be a common cough cure. See George Crabbe, The Borough:
A potent thing, ’twas said to cure the ills
Of ailing lungs, the oxymel of Squills.
Squills he procured, but found the bitter strong
And most unpleasant, none would take it long.
Some Mexican Indians use BLACK MUSTARD seed for a children’s cough remedy; the oil from the seed would be heated and rubbed on the chest, which would then be covered with a flannel cloth. GINGER is a fairly obvious choice for colds and coughs, and in the form of jam it was a favourite medicine.
An Alabama cough medicine is “shaggy hickory” (SHAGBARK HICKORY) the bark boiled in water, strained off and sweetened. A teaspoonful every few hours is the dose. But the best-known of all the cough cures is that provided by COLTSFOOT, either in the form of a tea, or a piece of coltsfoot rock, to chew, or as coltsfoot wine. And it can be smoked, like tobacco. Bechion, the plant in Dioscorides taken to be coltsfoot, was smoked against a dry cough, and it is still smoked in all herbal tobaccos, as it is also in Chinese medicine, for asthma, even lung cancer. Gypsies smoke the dried leaves as beneficial for asthma and bronchitis, and the tea is also taken for coughs. Cornish miners used to smoke it as a precaution against lung diseases. A sweet paste, called pate de guimauve, used to be prepared by French druggists, from MARSH MALLOW, for coughs and sore throats.