Civil War: Confederate Remedy for Chills

As a writer of historical novels, I love to run across remedies used in past centuries. A wonderful book, Confederate Receipt Book, contains a few cures from the Civil War era.

A common cure for chills was horehound, spelled hoarhound in the book. The soldiers believed that horehound, boiled in water and drunk as tea, was a “certain cure.”

People are usually running a fever when chilling. This leads me to believe that Confederate soldiers used the tea to reduce fever.

Is the herb still used medicinally today? Did the soldiers boil the leaves to make tea? The roots? The recipe does not say so I began researching.

Horehound is a bitter herb from the mint family. According to Mountain Rose Herbs, the part of the plant that is above the ground is dried and cut for use in teas and tinctures.

An article from supports this. Home remedies use the flower tops and leaves in bitter tonics to relieve the common cold.

The FDA ruled in 1989 that it didn’t find horehound, among others, to be useful in cough and cold medicines so products containing these ingredients had to be removed from the market.

Ricola, a cough suppressant made outside the United States, contains the herb and is sold in the US.

In modern times, horehound may be found in candies, liqueurs, and cough drops.

The articles I read suggest that more research is required to evaluate the safety of horehound and is not recommended for pregnant and nursing women. Physicians should be consulted before using this medicinally.

I love to find these old cures so that I can use them in my writing. Those who volunteer as Civil War reenactors may also enjoy this information. I have not tried this tea as a cure for cold or fever and I’m not recommending it. This is merely meant to be fun and educational.

-Sandra Merville Hart



A Compilation of Over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the Times. Confederate Receipt Book, Applewood Books, 1863.

“Horehound,”, 2017/03/11

“Horehound,” Mountain Rose Herbs, 2017/03/11

“Horehound Herb,”, 2017/03/11





Apple Pie Recipe Without Apples used by Confederate Soldiers


Recipes used to be called ‘receipts.’ Confederate soldiers were often low on supplies and had to make do with ingredients found nearby.

I found an intriguing recipe called “Apple Pie Without Apples” in an 1863 book, Confederate Receipt Book. I had to make this one.

The main ingredient is crackers. Civil War soldiers ate hard tack, which John D. Billings describes in his book, Hard Tack and Coffee, as “a plain flour-and-water biscuit.”

Billings, a Civil War soldier, had two of these crackers while writing his book that published in 1887. (It doesn’t say if the hard tack was baked during the war.) When measured, he found they were 3 1/8 inches by 2 7/8 inches and almost ½ inch thick.

This apple pie recipe uses crackers. The soldiers would have used hard tack because that was available.

blog-127Place crackers in a small bowl. (Not having hard tack on hand, I thought Triscuits might be an acceptable substitute.  I used 20 of these crackers. Regular crackers would also be fine.) Soak these in water until soft. For our modern crackers, this takes about five minutes. I can’t imagine how long soldiers soaked the hard tack.

Empty excess water. Mash the softened crackers.

Add 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, ¼ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and ½ teaspoon nutmeg to the crackers. Mix together.

Spray ramekins with cooking spray. Spoon mixture into ramekins until about 2/3 full and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

My husband tried it first. “It’s strange. It doesn’t taste like apple pie.”

I had to agree. This recipe does not taste like apple pie. I didn’t really care for it.

Soldiers probably didn’t have cinnamon too often in camp but this spice would definitely enhance the flavor. In the next batch I added a teaspoon of cinnamon along with the nutmeg.

Both my husband and I agreed that cinnamon improved the “appleless” pie. Though it was a strange and unfamiliar dessert, I’m happy I tried it. It would make a fun dish at Civil War reenactments.

For the Confederate soldier starving for his mother’s apple pie, eating this dessert probably gave him a nostalgic taste of home.

-Sandra Merville Hart


A Compilation of Over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the Times. Confederate Receipt Book, Applewood Books, 1863.

Billings, John D. Hardtack & Coffee, University of Nebraska Press, 1993.