Horehound candy is a dark brown hard candy with a distinctly bittersweet taste. It is commonly sold in 5 inch (12.7 cm) long sticks or lozenges, which are often sugar coated. This candy can often be found in old fashioned candy shops, living history museums, and other specialty shops. It can also be made at home by people with access to fresh or dried leaves from the white horehound plant.
Many people describe horehound as bitter, and not everyone enjoys the taste. It is a member of the mint family, and some tasters say that it has a flavor like a combination of mint, licorice, and root beer.
Making Horehound Candy
Hard candy, cough drops, and herbal tea can all be made from white or common horehound (Marrubium vulgare). To make it at home, a cook will first need to make horehound tea or extract by boiling the leaves and flowers of the plant in water. Sugar — and sometimes corn syrup — is then added and the mixture is boiled until it reaches 300°F (148.8°C), or the "hard crack" stage of candy making.
The cook should then pour the liquid onto a buttered sheet pan or shallow baking dish and allow it to cool for about four minutes, or until it is just solid enough to be rolled into a ball or stick, pressed into a candy mold, or scored so that it can be broken into lozenges. Often, the candy molds are coated with sugar or corn starch to allow the hard candy to be easily removed once it has completely cooled down. Cooled pieces can also be rolled in powdered or fine sugar and wrapped in wax paper.
White horehound is used as a traditional folk medicine ingredient and administered in tea and lozenge form. It is thought to relieve asthma symptoms, calm sore throats, and lessen coughing caused by a cold or influenza. Many people use it to relieve digestive issues as well, as it is also thought to stimulate the appetite and to relieve gas. When used as a natural remedy, horehound candy is generally believed to be well tolerated in small doses, although hard candy is a choking hazard for small children.
Pregnant woman, lactating women, and children under two should not use horehound. The natural volatile oils of the plant can prevent the absorption of iron and other minerals, and may cause complications during pregnancy.
Growing the Plant
Although white horehound is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, it thrives in most climate zones, especially those found in the United States and Canada. In fact, it's considered by many to be an invasive species and a weed. The plant grows well in poor, sandy soils, and it is very tolerant of drought. It prefers full sun and drier conditions. Like other mint plants, it can spread easily.
When used to make candy, it's best for gardeners to wait until the second year to harvest the leaves and small, white flowers. A few leaves — no more than one-third — can be removed during the first year of growth, but harvesting too many can damage the plant. Once the horehound is well established, however, the leaves and flowers can be picked when they are at their peak, dried, and stored in an airtight container for up to one year.