Natural Herbal Cough Remedies

When the temperatures drop to freezing, persistent coughing can be an inevitable, disruptive side effect. A variety of herbs and herb formulas that suppress the hacking and soothe the throat can help you get ahead of the cold – and cough – season this year.

‘Tis the season! Cold, dry temperatures, low vitamin D levels, stagnant indoor air, wood fire smoke, and virulent germs make this prime time for viral respiratory irritation and infections, which can turn bacterial and chronic if not resolved promptly. Consider keeping some of these cough remedies on hand to ease symptoms and help you recuperate more quickly.

Key Cough Remedies

While over-the-counter cough remedies may ease symptoms, they often don’t address the underlying condition and may come with potential side effects {which are an even greater concern for children}. Simple natural and herbal remedies can be even more useful.

Wild Cherry Bark {Prunus spp.}: Wild cherry bark {P. serontina} and related chokecherry {P. virginiana} has a long history of use by Native Americans and in early European American medicine for dry, irritated, hacking, and spastic coughs. Consider it when the lungs are tight and irritated from wood smoke or chronic asthma {it’s not strong enough for acute asthma attacks – pull out your inhaler for that}. The pleasantly flavored bark tastes a bit like amaretto or maraschino cherries.

Prune and use the inner bark of older trees or focus on the whittled bark and chopped twigs of branches up to 1-inch in diameter {no need to remove outer bark from these young branches}, and let it air dry or dry in a low-heat dehydrator until crisp. The quality of commercial dried cherry bark tends to be surprisingly terrible, but home-dried will keep nicely for many years. You can then tincture the dried bark {in 100-proof vodka mixed with 10 percent glycerine} and make it into syrup, raw honey, glycerite, or tea. Cold or lukewarm processing works best for cherry bark because high heat reduces the medicinal properties.

Horehound {Marrubium vulgare}: This herb might be the most popular one you’ve never heard of. For five consecutive years, horehound has ranked as the top-selling dietary supplement in mainstream outlets, with sales totaling a whopping $140,832,190 in 2017. Why? Because of its presence in cough drops! Ricola, Claeys, and other brands employ it in their formulas.

The leaves and aerial parts of this terribly bitter mint-family herb, in contrast to cherry bark, work best in wet, mucousy coughs. Horehound soothes irritation while thinning, moving, and helping to expectorate mucus so your coughs are more productive yet subside overall. Horehound is also my go-to for other respiratory infections and allergies featuring thick mucus, such as post-nasal drip. Again, commercially dried horehound tends to be low-quality brown dust, but you can easily grow it in your garden {it likes dry, sunny spots without much competition, similar to lavender and rosemary} to use fresh or dry. Home-dried also lasts for many years, but it’s not palatable in tea. Opt for a fresh-plant tincture, honey, or syrup instead.

Honey: Wet or dry, honey helps with all manner of coughs. The viscous yumminess coats and soothes dry irritated throats while simultaneously thinning excessive mucus to help it expectorate. Several studies confirm its ability to diminish cough frequency and duration in children, whether taken before bedtime or throughout the day {a few kids did experience hyperactivity from the sugar, but it was otherwise well-tolerated}. Honey performed as well as over-the-counter dextromethorphan {DM or DXM} cough suppressant and better than diphenhydramine {Benadryl}, salbutamol {albuteral, ProAir}, placebo, and no treatment at all.

Consider honey solo, in combination with other cough remedies, or as a base for herbal extraction. Do not give honey to children under one-year-old due to the risk of Clostridium botulinum spores that may proliferate in the low-acid environment and immature gut flora of infant’s intestines.

Menthol and Peppermint {Mentha piperita}: The mint flavor of many cough drops and syrups is no accident. Peppermint and its isolated constituents menthol offer flavor plus potent anti-spasmodic and mucolytic properties, helping to reduce the cough threshold. {Interstingly, cigarette companies add menthol to tobacco to make it more tolerable to new smokers!} Consider peppermint in your cough syrup, honey, cough drops, and tea recipes, or a small amount of the tincture {which is quite potent} in a formula as a synergist. If I’m dealing with incessant cough, I keep a bunch of Ricola cough drops handy and also drop one in a tiny glass of water – it dissolves for a quick hit of cough relief. Check the ingredients label: different flavors have different menthol levels, and the sugar-free version has artificial sweeteners.

Unfortunately, in spite of its long history of use, topical or ingested menthol and peppermint essential oil {such as Vick’s Vaporub, which also has camphor and eucalyptus} may cause life-threatening respiratory distress in infants and young children under the age of two.

Kava {Piper methysticum}: I discovered the benefits of kava root for cough and throat irritation by accident one night when I grabbed the wrong bottle off my bedside table in the middle of the night. Kava has relaxing, anxiety-reducing, and sleep-supportive properties {the reason why I keep it by my bed}, but it also offers temporary numbing and pain relief on contact. This can quickly ease a spastic cough to help break a cough cycle and help you fall back to sleep. However, for safety and sustainability reasons, I would not recommend the heavy use of kava for coughs. It’s often adulterated, and because of this, it’s often linked to liver toxicity, mainly due to unscrupulous manufacturers padding their products with the liver-toxic aerial parts. It’s also a sedative-hypnotic and not generally appropriate for children. However, for occasional use in acute coughs, a small dose of tincture or a bit added to your cough syrup can do the trick. To work, it needs to come into contact with your throat {no pills}. Purchase only from reputable organic suppliers with good quality control testing, such as or or

Marshmallow {Althaea officinalis} and Slippery Elm {Ulmus rubra}: Marshmallow root and leaf as well as slippery elm inner bark contain slippery, slimy mucilage that coats and soothes the throat and respiratory system. Consider them for dry, irritated coughs in formula alongside more active cough-suppressing herbs like wild cherry bark, Korean licorice mint, anise hyssop, or peppermint. They extract best in water and can be taken as tea, lozenge, or syrup. I don’t use slippery elm due to sustainability concerns; however, the lozenges are widely available in natural food stores. Marshmallow is my preferred “slimer.” Both have a pleasant, slightly sweet, mild flavor. Plantain leaf {Plantago major and other species} also soothes but is a bit less slimy and antimicrobial.

Supportive Remedies

All of the above cough remedies focus more on easing the cough than fighting an infection or improving immune and respiratory health. For that, consider additional herbs in your protocol for both acute and chronic coughs. For the most part, the following herbs don’t specifically address coughs, but they can help target the root cause of cough.

Herbs that support the immune and respiratory systems: Echinacea {Echinacea spp.}, elderberry {Sambucus nigra}, Andrographis {Andrographis paniculata}, or Umcka {Pelargonium sidoides} can be taken frequently at the first sign of infection to help improve the body’s ability to recuperate swiftly.

For long term immune support and prevention, consider medicinal mushrooms or astragalus. Reishi {Ganoderma lucidum}, Chaga {Inonotus obliquus}, cordyceps {Ophiocordyceps Sinensis and C. militaris}, and/or mushroom blends have a particular affinity for strengthening respiratory health and can prove helpful year-round or at the start of cold season for people who tend toward respiratory infections. Take them as pills or in broth or tea.

For allergies, consider antihistamine herbs and supplements such as reishi, astragalus, peach twig {Prunus persica}, fresh nettle leaf {Urtica dioica}, goldenrod {Solidago spp.}, horehound, quercetin, and/or bromelain. Long-term use of reishi and fermented foods such as kimchi and kraut may also reduce allergic response overall.

Herbs that fight germs: Echinacea, oregano {Origanum vulgare}, thyme {Thymus vulgaris}, bee balm {Monarda fistulosa and other species}, sage {Salvia officinalis}, pine {Pinus strobus, and other species}, fir {Abies balsamea and other species}, licorice {Glycyrrhiza}, and Korean licorice mint {Agastache rugosa} or anise hyssop {A. foeniculum} can help fight pathogens on contact and systemically via the respiratory system. Take them in tea or as a tincture or pill; most of them are excellent in aromatic steam.

Basic DIY Recipes

Alcohol-Free Syrup: Make a strong, concentrated tea {for example, 1/3 cup of dry herb to 1 cup of hot water, steeped for an hour or overnight for high-mucilage herbs like marshmallow}. Strain, measure, reheat, and add an equal amount of white sugar {best shelf life} or honey. Store in the fridge and use within a few weeks {shelf life can vary widely}. Freeze extras. Dose: 1 teaspoon as needed.

Alcohol-Preserved Syrup: Make a strong concentrated tea as above but use a 50/50 combination of hot water and 100-proof vodka. Cover your concentrate with a tight lid and steep overnight. Strain and add an equal amount of honey. This is relatively shelf-stable, but it will keep for much longer in the fridge or freezer. Dose: 1 teaspoon as needed.

Raw Infused Honey: Loosely fill a jar halfway with dried herb. Cover with raw honey {gently warm honey, if needed}. Turn the jar every day or two for two weeks. To strain, first, plunk the {tightly sealed} jar in warm water to make the honey runny, then press the honey through a fine-mesh metal strainer. This should remain shelf-stable for at least one year. You can use fresh herbs instead of dried, but they do pose a greater risk for spoilage due to their moisture content. Dose: 1 teaspoon as needed.

Cooked Infused Honey: Gently heat 1 part honey per 1/4 part fresh or dried herbs. Try to keep the temperature just below 160 degrees F {honey’s boiling temperature} by using a yogurt maker or dehydrator, placing it in a hot car, or turning the stove range on and off. If you’re using fresh herbs, make sure to keep the lid off during heating so moisture can evaporate. After a few hours, while the honey is still warm, strain. Dose: 1 teaspoon as needed.

Honey-Alcohol Syrup: Loosely fill a jar to the top with freshly chopped herb or one-half to two-thirds with dried herb. Cover with a 50/50 blend of honey and 100-proof vodka. Shake well to combine, then shake periodically for two to four weeks. Strain. Dose: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon as needed.

Lozenges: Make these soothing lozenges, also called pastilles, with powdered herbs plus some marshmallow root powder and just enough honey {or glycerine or other sticky syrup} to make a thick paste. Roll this mixture into a thin log, cut into small pieces, and then roll those into tiny balls {or simply smooth the edges}. Roll in some yummy powdered herbs or spices. Dehydrate. Lozenges are best stored in the fridge for a few weeks. Dose: 1-2 lozenges as needed.

Fresh Plant Tincture: For every ounce of herb {by weight}, add approximately 2 ounces {by volume} of high-proof alcohol. It’s important to fill the jar and cover the herb completely. So, for an 8-ounce jar, shove in {really shove – use a fermentation tamper if needed} 2 2/3 ounces of chopped herb, then cover to the tippy top with alcohol. Go back a day or two later to top it off again with more alcohol. Strain after one month, squeezing out as much liquid from the plant material as you can. {Dark dots on herbs are okay – these are precipitated pigments, which are common for mint-family herbs in particular.} Tinctures generally keep for five to 10 years on the shelf. Dose: 1 to 5 ml, one to three times per day {1 ml equals approximately 30 drops, 1/5 teaspoon, or 1 squirt from the dropper}. Start low and work up to find your best dose.

Dry Plant Tincture: Follow the same instructions and dosing above, but use 1 ounce of herb per 5 ounces of alcohol and opt for 40- or 50-proof vodka or brandy instead of high-proof. {So, for an 8-ounce jar, you’ll use 1 1/3 ounce of herb and fill the rest with alcohol.} Though not necessary, it helps to grind the herb coarsely in a blender or coffee grinder first.

Throat Spray: Combine 60 percent tincture with 40 percent honey, syrup, or glycerine in a spray bottle. Dose: 1 to 5 sprays as needed. {Five sprays equal approximately 5 ml.}

Tea: Steep 1 heaping teaspoon to 1 heaping tablespoon of dried herb per 16 ounces of hot water for 15 minutes or longer. {Special cases: Mucilaginous herbs like marshmallow and slippery elm extract best when steeped for several hours or overnight. Wild cherry bark extracts best in tepid, not boiling, water for 20 minutes or longer.} For aromatic herbs like bee balm and peppermint, hold and inhale from your mug as it steeps for a mini-steam.

Steam: Bring water to just about a boil. Remove from heat and add a handful or two of fresh or dried aromatic herbs like bee balm, oregano, thyme, pine, and fir. Then tent your head over the pot with a towel or blanket and inhale deeply {make sure the water isn’t so hot that it burns}. In a pinch, you could add one or two drops of essential oil to the hot water instead. {And for a really lazy person’s steam, add a drop or two to the floor of your shower.} Be careful not to touch the essential oils directly as many of them, like peppermint, can burn the skin if diluted.

2 thoughts on “Natural Herbal Cough Remedies

  1. Cough is a natural reflex that allows the body to reject foreign bodies such as dust or viruses. Protecting the airways, cough can have several causes. It may be a reaction to an environmental factor or drug treatment. Cough can also be a symptom of a cold, flu, or a more serious condition such as chronic bronchitis, allergy, whooping cough, or asthma.
    Depending on its cause, the cough may last longer or shorter and be accompanied by other symptoms. Cough is called dry or irritation when not associated with sputum. It often has an environmental cause or appears at the beginning of a pathological state. Although it has a protective function, a dry cough can have consequences that are difficult to manage daily. It reduces the quality of sleep and disturbs concentration. Also, the cough irritates the respiratory tract, which generates a vicious cycle. To calm a dry cough, you can resort to natural remedies. Nevertheless, it is advisable to consult a doctor in some cases.
    i compiled a list of 7 Remedies To Calm Your Dry Cough Naturally. you can read them at the link given below.

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