A Question From A Blind Pig Reader

Little black croup pills

A few months ago Genie Wilson, a Blind Pig Reader, sent me the following email:

When I was a child, my Mom would give me ‘little black croup’ pills that she acquired from a mountain doctor. Do you know what those pills were made of?

Genie Wilson

I’ve done some research and come up with nothing. I’m hoping you might be able to answer Genie’s question or at least point us in the right direction.



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  • Reply
    Kathy Henry
    February 11, 2021 at 1:44 pm

    I took those little black pills for croup as well! With warm water! Yuck! But they worked I remember calcidine or something thereabouts was it name and it came in a little brown bottle! Everytime I would get it my dad would take me to the dr thru the back door and he’d give them to me! I wish we could get them now along with acromycin!

    • Reply
      September 27, 2021 at 11:44 am

      I can still smell, and taste, those little black pills in the little brown bottle. Did not do much for the cough, but opened up that swollen throat really well.

  • Reply
    Judy Prince
    November 10, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    I was born in 1951. We were given the little black pills for croup and cough. I think they were creosote pills. I’ve tried to find them to no avail. They worked very well. I used a liniment on my first child when she had a chest cold. It was called “Save the baby”, a clear liniment you poured onto a rag or piece of gauze and placed on the chest, then put a tshirt with ties and tie tightly to hold the cloth in place. This worked good too, but I can’t find it either. The FDA had made all of those old GOOD remedies unavailable to us for the benefit of the pharmaceutical industry. 🙁

  • Reply
    Mary Morrison
    January 6, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    I took the little black calcidine cough tablet as a child and they worked. Sure would like to have them now. I was around 4 and up until l it grew them. I am now 73.

    • Reply
      Lori D
      January 22, 2019 at 9:56 am

      Yes, was also given theses small black pills. Mom kept them in the refrigerator because I was very susceptible to croup in late 1940,s and early 1950’s.
      Calcidin .. not sure I’d spelling. I took them in a spoonful of brown sugar!
      Our family doctor, Dr. Booher, was a great doctor who made many of house calls in my early life due to croup and bronchitis.

  • Reply
    May 28, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    I’m 62 and we had those little black croup pills when I was growing up. They were NOT sweet (not licorice root etc.) – they were nasty/bitter and they worked.
    My mom said they were “Iodine” … and a previous post here said “Calcidine”. I googled Calcidine and found another post somewhere saying Calcidene was Iodine bonded to Calcium.
    Anyway I can still remember exactly how it tasted as I’m typing this nearly 60 years since I last had to taste one.

    • Reply
      Kathy Henry
      February 11, 2021 at 1:45 pm

      Don’t you wish they would do that now?! a I guess the equivalent would be telehealth but it’s just not the same!

    • Reply
      Greg Gorby
      April 17, 2021 at 9:27 am

      I recall Calcidine. Those black, tarry terrible tasting pills that worked very well for croup. It was Iodated lime, so yes Iodine bonded to calcium was indeed their makeup. As of the ’80s you could no longer get them, but a family doctor prescribed to my wife at the time something called Organidin which was drops you mixed with orange juice. It also contained iodine. And they worked.

  • Reply
    June Woodward
    November 30, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    My grandmother (in Maine) used to try to force her tonic on us. It was a taste hard to forget; and not because it was delicious! resembled liquid tar. I enjoyed reading about the home remedies on this site. I favor natural remedies to the side-effects of prescription drugs, whenever possible.

  • Reply
    November 12, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Mark-so glad youre enjoying the Blind Pig the Acorn!! Im happy it reminds you of fond memories : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Mark Mojado
    November 10, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    I like your blog .Nice to see life at a good pace.I live in California San Diego county. It has got crazy out here so many people, homes going all over .The coast of living off the chart not like it was when I was growing up. Born in Vista, Spent my summers bucking hey mending fence tending cattle on the Pala Indian reservation where my dad is from going back to school after break hearing about the rest of the kids going to the beach or the mall chasing girls hanging out at the bolling ally ect. On the rez under big oak tree staying cool till we had to go feed the cows again.Now thats changed. With the Casinos the citys brought drugs and crimes to add to the drinking problem that came about.Too fast of a pace out here not to talk about  the trafic. Nice to see such a differant way of life that has not growen to fast Thank You for sharing !

  • Reply
    November 10, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Mark-never heard it before-but I’ll check it out!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    November 8, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    I don’t remember black pills, but I do remember a very thick black syrup our mom gave us for coughs called “Black Pine Tar Elyxir” (which tasted bad, just about as you’d expect it to).
    I did find this about pine tar, saying it was used for:
    “—Medicinal Action and Properties—Rubefacient, diuretic, irritant. A valuable remedy in bladder, kidney, and rheumatic affections and diseases of the mucous membrane and respiratory complaints; externally in the form of liniment plasters and inhalants.”–34.html#spe
    So, who knows. LOL
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Mark Mojado
    November 8, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    I ment Little Feat .

  • Reply
    Mark Mojado
    November 8, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Do you like Little Feet, Dixie chicken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 8, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    A long time ago I used to go to Dr. Westbrook. He examined me once with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth. He said I had mild asthma and told me to go to the drugstore and get some guaifenesin. It wasn’t a white pill but it worked for what ailed me. It didn’t require a prescription. It cost me 5.00 for a big bottle. Several years later when I was experiencing the same symptoms I went back to get more. They didn’t sell it any more but they did have Mucinex which was the same thing except it cost way more. If the little black pills actually worked, some pharmaceutical company probably patented it and now you will need a prescription and it will cost you $300.00 if haven’t met your deductible.
    PS: I had to quit going to Dr. Westbrook. He died of lung cancer.

  • Reply
    Alyce Faye Bragg
    November 8, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    I grew up on the “little black pills” used for sore throat and colds. It was called “Calcedine” and dispensed by a country doctor. (Not herbal) It was good also for congestion. Haven’t seen any for years–I am 79.
    Alyce Faye Bragg

    • Reply
      January 24, 2019 at 1:30 pm

      I wish I could find these pills today. I’m 40. And I used to get croup all the time. These little black pills worked great. My son gets it now and the medicines they have today don’t compare to what I used to take.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 8, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    I called an older woman to ask her about what Country Doctors remedies were for the croup. She didn’t know about the little black pills, but she said a country doctor told her
    to eat raisins often to avoid the
    sore throat. Seems like everything is watered down too much today, and doctors
    like to push those synthetic

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 8, 2014 at 11:41 am

    It would be helpful if we knew the years that Genie grew up.
    For instance in the forties, we were given all sorts of home remedies for coughs or croupy cough with the hacking sound. Besides all the chest poultices, hot white cloths soaked in a eucalyptus like solution (strong odor) that was placed on the chest, just under the chin and slept with overnight. Vaporizers were used, as well as spoonful’s of cherry syrup extract.
    Smith Brothers BLACK Cough Drops were given to us. They came in a little cardboard box.
    When I got in high school, I bought my own when I had a cough from a cold, they are licorice flavored which I loved when I was a teen!
    That is the only BlACK drop that I remember. We did have to take Cod Liver Oil drops…ewwww…for a time after a sick spell, prescribed by a mountain type doctor, to build up our whatever! LOL All it did was make me gain weight!
    We were given Carter’s Little Liver Pills (white pills half the size of a pea) came in a little tube like bottle. Later the name Liver was forced to be dropped in the name as it didn’t cure liver problems.
    Now-a-days, doctors are recommending cleansing (laxatives) for just about every illness on earth! In other words whatever germ/virus you got, force it out to get better quicker! LOL
    Garland mentioned Castor Oil yesterday…My stomach turned over just reading his words. I remember crying when having to be forced to take that stuff…no a spoonful of orange juice or sugar didn’t “help the medicine go down” either!
    Seems we were given Castor oil for everything including colds, coughs etc. Once my Mother found out it was used to lubricate typewriters,(we brought it to her attention) she backed off on giving it to us. I will love my 5th grade teacher forever, for that tidbit of information in class that year! She hated it too!
    Luden’s Cherry drops, Vicks cough drops, Smith Brothers, etc were the cough suppressants that I remember after the main fever, etc. broke!
    There were many remedies passed on to my parents that they used in the forties and fifties. Some I wish they had forgot about!
    Thanks for jogging my memories, Tipper and Genie.
    A little sheltered friend of mine (due to her handicap)and me, was picking plantain, leaves, etc. for our playhouse supper table. All we had to do was get the babydolls well, they had been sick. She came upon a little pile of black (wild rabbit) dried pills in the grass behind my playhouse. “Here’s some pills we can give the babies!” she said. I screamed, “No, no that’s rabbit poop!” It made her cry she thought she had found a cure! I always hated that I hurt her feelings! But, what if she ate those pills…eeeewwwww!

  • Reply
    Maggie Galliher
    November 8, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Croup pills were not horehound. Different animals. My mother grew horehound and used it in cough syrup, but croup pills were tiny opaque black pills with a pungent scent that were purchased and not prescribed. I imagine that, much like paregoric, they were removed from OTC availability but the ingredients probably still exist in a product available through prescription. I say that because, as difficult as they were to get past one’s nose, they did relieve croup.

  • Reply
    Pamela Moore
    November 8, 2014 at 10:47 am

    I am thinking there may have been licorice root, horehound and maybe some opium in those pills.
    My dad used to talk about goose grease being rubbed on his chest and covered with a red wool flannel.

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    November 8, 2014 at 9:11 am

    I have heard of horehound candy dissolved in whiskey. My brother in law said it didn’t help, but you didn’t care

  • Reply
    November 8, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Mom used to buy horehound candy for us when we had a sore throat or cold. It was almost black, unlike the much lighter color available today. I don’t recall her ever giving it to us in pill form, but suspect that’s what Genie’s mom gave her for the croup. There is a brand known as Virginia Beauty that still uses real horehound to make their braided candy. It’s not available where I live, but is on nearly every grocery shelf in eastern KY. I always stock up with enough to last until I travel there again.

  • Reply
    November 8, 2014 at 8:25 am

    Interesting question and I have a tendency to learn toward horehound drops with something else in them to make them darker than the horehound purchased today. Honey was probably a good part of it. I wonder if a pharmacist could give a more definite answer. Good luck to the girls and their wonderful singing.

  • Reply
    Carol Stuart
    November 8, 2014 at 8:07 am

    I feel fairly certain that it was horehound, as I seem to remember that was used for coughs and croup. Check out; also there are several other websites that support my theory.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    November 8, 2014 at 7:45 am

    Tipper–Wild cherry extract or juice was a common folk remedy for various types of congestive problems. It was often mixed with honey. I’m guessing these black pills might have contained wild cherry extract.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    November 8, 2014 at 6:50 am

    I have no idea, but could have been something mixed with elderberry to make a pill.. most are syrups with elderberry.. At Wal-Mart it’s called Sambucol..

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