Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Buckley's Cough Mixture

I read about Buckley's Cough Mixture at Boing Boing earlier this month and worked up the courage to look for and try some last night. It's ghastly and effective, and as I just realized, I'm paraphrasing the company slogan: "It tastes awful. And it works." Among the ingredients: menthol, camphor, Canadian balsam, and pine needle oil.

What is it like to swallow a teaspoon of Buckley's Cough Mixture? Imagine swallowing a toothbrush coated with Vicks VapoRub, sprinkled with retsina, and rolled in sawdust. The second time is worse than the first, as one knows what's coming.

I now have an idea of what it must have been like for my dad when his mother made him swallow a spoonful of Vicks for a cold. Dad, I have felt your pain!

Buckley's is a Canadian product (and, I gather, a Canadian tradition). I found some in an Illinois Walgreens. That's Frank Buckley, son of pharmacist and founder W.K. Buckley, in the photograph.

Buckley's (The company website)

comments: 14

Jason Dockter said...

Ha! The important question, though, is did the medicine help? Was it worth the pain?

Michael Leddy said...

Jason, yes. The "And it works" part is true, at least in my experience.

Elaine Fine said...

The swallowing of the toothbrush seems like it would be the most difficult part. Ouch.

Stephen said...

I don't want to say I grew up on this. So I won't. But it was in the house, and today it's the only sugar-free cough syrup I can find for sale.

The company president, Frank Buckley, 86, is a WWII vet and still appears on Canadian TV ads.

Michael Leddy said...

Elaine, yes, I meant the whole tootbrush. You'll see what I mean when (if?) you try a spoonful.

Stephen, thanks for reading and commenting. I'd like to see a Frank Buckley commercial. The taste-test commercials are hilariously deadpan.

Danielle said...

I would have to add that it tastes like all of what you mentioned, plus some stale cat urine. It really does work though.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, Danielle — I knew I left something out!

Jeff in NC said...

I just took some of this here in North Carolina and I must say it is the worst tasting thing I have ever put in my mouth. It's like menthol on one side and bad salt water on the other.

At first the menthol lit my head up and that was great, and I think it still is overwhelming the other sensations about five minutes in, which is all that makes it tolerable.

So far, I feel a lot better and haven't coughed once.

I was thinking about the next dose. Like you said, you know what's coming. But it does seem to be effective.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Jeff. I noticed my bottle in a cabinet yesterday and wondered if it's still good (if "good" is the right word).

Abdully Duller said...

OMG is this stuff fast acting I took it once and wow gone..... then about 2 years later the cough returned and I tough it again but it only releived the cough for 8 minutes and I couldn't get the rest out of the bottle.

Does this stuff not age well?

Anonymous said...

I tried the cough medicine and WOW awful does not describe the actual taste. I cannot imagine anything tasting worse, I just about vomited. After reading the ingredients I know why it tastes so bad. BUT, it sure does work!!

Michael from Manhattan said...

I think the key thing about Buckley's is that the first ingredient listed, and therefore apparently what's it's mostly made up of, is a form of ammonia! This is terrifying once you notice it and leads one to think that the ability to cough is simply shut down by the poison, which is why it's so effective (and it is). There are lots of Diabetic cough syrups around now without sugar, by the way. Nothing works quite like Buckley's but then I think it's the ammonia shutting off the body's ability to cough. I have a colleague who grew up taking it, by the way, and he's practically incapable of grasping an abstract concept....

Michael Leddy said...

A Wired article on Buckley’s describes ammonium carbonate: “In smelling salts, the fumes of this volatile compound irritate your lungs to jolt you awake. Here, it causes mucous membranes to produce less-viscous phlegm that’s easier to cough up.” I kinda doubt that something used in smelling salts is going to shut down the ability to cough.

The Buckley’s website lists the ingredients in its different products (click on each product). My bottle of Buckley’s has Dextromethorphan HBr, a cough suppressant.

Michael from Manhattan said...

The Wired article is interesting, Michael. Practically every cough syrup, including Buckley's, features Dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant, as its main "active" ingredient, but only Buckley's harbors a distinct ammonia taste within its cauldron of horrid flavors. I have a feeling that it's one thing to breathe in a jolt of ammonium carbonate but quite another to actually drink it. Something way beyond the Dextromethorphan stops coughs dead in their tracks and I think the ammonium carbonate is the prime suspect. Our bodies are screaming at us not to swallow when confronted with a spoonful of Buckley's, and I doubt that's a coincidence. On the other hand, I'm just relying on intuition and what feels like common sense when reading the ingredients and then swallowing a spoonful of it. Given the fact that I intermittently continue to taste the stuff through the following day, I finally decided that the cough is preferable to this cure. If I had a cough and were hiding in a closet from someone inside my apartment looking for me with a pistol in his hand, though, I'd rely on Buckley's to save me. It does indeed work.