Yesterday evening, as I was preparing for my Chamber of Commerce presentation today, I realized that I was out of licorice root. My husband volunteered to drive out to the local natural food store to grab some for me. When he returned, I looked at the bag he presented me and declared, “That’s not licorice.”

My husband insisted that the dried strands in the bag were, indeed dried licorice root. He said he double checked with the sales person because it looked nothing like the licorice I typically keep on hand.

I opened the bag and smelled the dried strands inside. There was very little smell, so I did what any good herbalist would do – I stuck my hand into this unknown substance, pulled out a bit, and tasted. Indeed it tasted very faintly of licorice. I smelled it again, “Okay, maybe the sales person was right. Maybe this is licorice, but it’s shredded, rather than cut like I always use. I’ll need three times this much to get the right amount for my recipe. Is this all you bought?”

“Sorry, babe. I bought them out. It didn’t look like enough, but they didn’t have any more. I even had the sales woman check.”

I let out a long, frustrated sigh. How was I going to make my award-winning cough syrup recipe without the correct amount of licorice. I considered cutting the syrup out of my presentation, but when an herbal remedy wins an award, that is worth talking about. I decided I’d follow in the footsteps of herbalists greater than myself, and revise my recipe to make do with what I had on hand.

Many of my dried herbs are still packed in boxes from the move. Not all my shelves and baskets are unpacked yet, so storage space is at a premium. I rooted through the baskets in my office and found marshmallow and fennel seeds. Fennel is a good substitute for licorice. It can quiet a cough, and is used for bronchitis and upper respiratory infections. The taste of fennel isn’t as strong as licorice. Taste is one reason why I chose licorice over fennel or anise in my original recipe.  Marshmallow is a coating agent and is used to coat and soothe sore throats, so I decided to use some of that, as well.

Into the pot went horehound, shredded licorice, fennel seeds, and marshmallow along with the required water. I let that simmer until the liquid was reduced by half, and then strained and cooled my mixture. Next, I added honey to make a syrup.

When I tasted the resulting syrup, it was more bitter, and tasted of horehound much more strongly than my original recipe, but taste isn’t everything. I know the recipe is effective.

Today, when I talked about my award-winning cough syrup recipe, I told this story and made sure everyone understood that the sample I had today was not the same recipe. It was fun to be able to say “hey, I whipped this new recipe last night because I couldn’t find what I usually use.”  Several people asked me about the recipe making process, and one person took home a sample bottle of the new recipe. I’m interested to see how she likes it, and how well it works for her.

Tell me your thoughts.