Sometimes a cough just comes and goes without a big hullaballoo. It lands with a bang on the evening of a perfectly planned party or other important event and then leaves silently in the morning after, just after you’ve dialled your GP. Or it just shows up right in the middle of a super-important Zoom meeting, while your boss is speaking, embarrassing you completely with your coworkers gently but worriedly asking you if you’ve got your vaccine.
And then there are times when the persistent ones, the kinds that tickle the back of your throat, make it sore and scare you into thinking you’ve got Covid-19, keeping you under blankets with a desperate prayer on your lips. Interrupted by those hateful raucous sounds that wake your neighbours up in the middle of the night of course.
Either way, there are a million reasons why you get a cough and a hundred more as to why, perhaps, it’s better to try a more…natural remedy before you panic or rush to your GP. Either way, for every reason (for both children and adults), there are several home remedies that can work just fine in a pinch.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Why home remedies for coughs?
- Underlying causes of coughs
- Home remedies for coughs in Ayurveda, Native American and Western Herbology, and Eastern Medicine
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why home remedies?
Why home remedies for coughs? Do they really work? Are they safe? Well, are you OK with taking codeine? According to author JJ Pursell, codeine itself is derived from the opium poppy, and helps relieve pain and reduce coughs. In his book The Herbal Apothecary, he writes “Currently, plant-derived pharmaceuticals make up one-fourth of the drugs available in American pharmacies.” Plant-based remedies are easily acquired in your home garden or a herbal pharmacy and in some cases, are far more effective, and not to mention safer than pills. He continues: “Many pharmaceutical compounds include inorganic components that the body either struggles to break down or cannot break down, and this can cause cellular communication issues and toxicity within the body…by nature, plants contain many of the same compounds found in the human body, which enables cellular recognition and the body’s innate ability to break down the components.”
That being said, if symptoms do not abate,neither mainstream nor plant medicine (and not even kitchen staples) should be used for longer than a week without the guidance of a physician who understands the compounds you have been using and the underlying cause of the cough.
Underlying causes of coughs
Before you dive into the world of natural remedies for coughs and select one, it is exceedingly important to understand the nature of your cough and the underlying cause. Are you having a wet cough, complete with a bucket for spit and phlegm by your side as you work, or a dry, hacking cough that’s making you incredibly uncomfortable and your voice hoarse? Is there a tickling feeling at the back of your throat? Is it happening only at night? There are different cures for each type.
Types of Coughs
There are many types of coughs. Here are some of them:
- Chest cough or productive coughs: These types of coughs result in the production of phlegm, mucus and other types of discharge.
- Dry, tickling or hacking coughs: These coughs are non-productive in nature, which means they are merely irritating to the respiratory pathways and do not produce any discharge.
- Bronchitis: This type of cough produces a yellow-gray discharge and is normally accompanied by cold-like symptoms such as stuffy nose, headache, and fatigue.
Note: not all home remedies are safe or gentle enough for young children and infants to use. For example, honey is not safe for children under the age of one.
Most importantly, you should know what your cough is caused by and treat accordingly.
Here are the possible reasons you might be coughing:
- Viral infections (during or post recovery)
- Bacterial infections
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD or Acid Reflux
- As a side effect to other medication
- Exposure to environmental toxins, such as secondhand cigarette smoke
- Cold or Flu
Home Remedies for Cough
Ayurveda is a 5000-year old body of knowledge that understands the body as driven by three main energies: vata, pitta and kapha. Its remedies and treatment plans all look to nature and its mechanisms as a source of inspiration and reflection. Although subject to much controversy for its curative properties, there is much value in its home remedies. Whether modern India is aware of it or not, many of its home remedies will find their way through to roots in Ayurvedic principles. The Ayurvedic recipes in this articles are taken from The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies by Vasant Lad, one of the US’s foremost authorities on Ayurvedic medicine. This section has been organized based on the chief ingredients in the remedies along with what specific type of cough is being addressed.
Ginger is one of the best natural remedies for coughs in Ayurveda and there are many ways to use it for different types of coughs.
CAUTION: Do NOT combine Ginger and Aspirin. Use any ginger remedy either two hours before or two hours after you take any aspirin.
Combine the following herbs together:
- ginger 1 part
- cinnamon 1 part
- lemongrass 2 parts
Steep 1 teaspoon of this formula for about 10 minutes in 1 cup of hot water; strain it, and add honey for sweetness if needed. This concoction will help to take care of colds, congestions, and flu.
Combine the following herbs together:
- ginger 2 parts
- cinnamon 3 parts
- cardamom just a pinch
Steep 1 teaspoon in a cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes. When the tea has cooled down somewhat, add honey for taste.
This is one of the best remedies for dry coughs or irritation in the throat caused by a congestive condition in the throat (such as pharyngitis or laryngitis). Boil:
- 1 cup milk with
- ½ teaspoon turmeric and
- ¼ teaspoon ginger,
This makes a golden yellow milk. According to Dr Vasant Lad, noted Ayurvedic physician, this drink, taken at night will relieve irritation in the throat and take care of a dry cough.
Another fantastic natural remedy for dry cough is tea made from ½ teaspoon ginger powder, plus a pinch of clove and a pinch of cinnamon powder in a cupful of boiled water, can offer relief from your cough.
If all else fails (or works too slowly) and your cough persists, try this:
- ground mustard ½ teaspoon
- ginger powder ½ teaspoon
Mix together in 1 teaspoon of honey, and eat slowly. Use this mixture 2-3 times a day for as long as the cough persists.
Chop one clove of garlic, and boil it in a cup of milk. Then add ¼ teaspoon turmeric. This creates a golden yellow milk that tastes like garlic soup. This garlic-turmeric milk is effective for soothing and healing most types of cough.
Mix ¼ teaspoon of pepper powder with 1 teaspoon of honey, and eat it on a full stomach. (If your voice is hoarse, Dr Vasant Lad says to use 1 teaspoon of ghee in place of the honey.) The heating quality of black pepper helps relieve congestion and drives out the cough. Take 2 or 3 times a day for 3 to 5 days.
8. Bay Leaf-Indian Long Pepper (Pippali)-Honey
Take a mixture of:
- ½ teaspoon of bay leaf and
- ¼ teaspoon of pippali
- in 1 teaspoon of honey
2-3 times a day.
Mix 1 teaspoon honey with a pinch of clove powder, and take it 2 or 3 times a day.
Native American Natural Remedies for Coughs
Indigenous Americans have always had an extremely close relationship to nature and wildlife. Their knowledge of wild plants and herbs and healing modalities is of a very different nature to modern medicine and much of it remains lost to time and poor documentation. However, there are a few, such as Alma Hutchens, who have dedicated their professional life to studyomg their vast world and documenting and practicing their healing modalities. All recipes in this section come from A Handbook of Native American Herbs: The Pocket Guide to 125 Medicinal Plants and Their Uses (Healing Arts) by Alma R. Hutchens
Angelica atropurpurea is a perennial plant with greenish-white flowers that grows in fields and damp places cultivated in gardens from Canada to Carolina. Its properties have been scientifically studied. Hot tea from the seed or herb will quickly break up a cold and any resulting coughs.
- 1 ounce of the seed or herb (less if powder is used)
- 1 pint of boiling water
Take ½-cup amounts frequently during the day, or 1 cup after each meal.
11. Balsam Fir
Abies balsamea is a North American fir, native to most of eastern and central Canada and the northeastern United States. Balsam fir is a great expectorant, which means it propels the secretion of sputum by the air passages, and widely used to treat coughs.
- 1 ounce Balsam fir (bark and twigs),
- 4 ounces glycerin,
- 4 ounces honey
Mix thoroughly, 1 teaspoonful four times a day. The bark and twigs may be added to other herbal teas for the above uses.
12. Blue Cohosh
Among other therapeutic properties, blue cohosh contains vital minerals essential to wellness such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, silicon, and phosphorus, which help to alkalize the blood and urine.
METHOD:Steep 1 ounce of the root in 1 pint of boiling water and take 2 tablespoonfuls every 3 hours. “For a nervous and sluggish cough,” writes the author, “It will act as an expectorant, for spasms it may be given more freely.”
The botanical name for Coltsfoot is Tussilago far fara. Tussilago means “cough dispeller”; this includes coughs, asthma, whooping cough—in short, it is a chest and lung expectorant with ages of history in medicinal use.
METHOD: Steep 1 teaspoonful of the leaves in 1 cup of boiling water for half an hour and drink ½ cupful at bedtime, hot or cold, or a mouthful three times a day, or administer according to case, up to 2 cupfuls daily. In case you are using the tincture, take 1–2 fluidrams.
14. Sunflower seeds
Sunflowers are gorgeous plants that add vibrance to green fields and our earth. They are versatile plants: as beautiful in a bouquet as they are in herbal remedies.
- 2 ounces of sunflower seeds
- 1 quart of water
- 6 ounces gin
- 6 ounces honey
Boil the seeds in water down until the total is down to 12 ounces and strain. Then add 6 ounces of gin and 6 ounces of honey. The dose is 1–2 teaspoonsfuls three or four times a day. “Make sure the seeds are fresh,” writes Hutchens. “As old and rancid oil is detrimental.”
Integrative Health and others
Western herbology, again, is a great source of wonderful home remedies. While it falls squarely under the ambit of “alternative medicine,” and is under questionable rigour of research and regulation, for those who believe in herbalism and how it empowers the body’s ability to heal itself by drawing from its similarity to plants and reducing over-reliance on pharmaceutical drugs, there is a haven of treatment options.
But for a holistic, integrative approach such as herbalism to health to work, there is a need for patience and wellness, as explained in Linda B. White, M.D’s book, 500 Time-Tested Home Remedies and the Science Behind Them. Most of the recipes in this section, unless otherwise stated, are taken from her book.
Take about a quarter of a teaspoon of a mixture of:
- 1 part echinacea
- 1 part goldenseal
- 2 parts cinnamon
With honey twice a day.
Recipe from The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies by Vasant Lad
16. Peppermint Honey
Ingredients (12 doses):
- 1⁄4 cup (80 g) honey
- 3 to 5 drops peppermint essential oil
Preparation and Use:
Put the honey and peppermint essential oil in a small, clean jar and blend with a chopstick. Cap and store in a cupboard. Take 1 teaspoonful up to four times a day.
How it works: Peppermint reduces chest tightness and coughing and helps clear mucus.
Warning: This recipe is for teens and adults only.
17. Peppermint Honey Cough-Cutting Peppermint Tea
Ingredients (1 serving)
- 2 cups (475 ml) water
- 1 teaspoon (1 g) dried thyme
- 3 teaspoons (5 g) dried peppermint leaves
- Honey (optional)
Preparation and Use
Bring the water to a boil in a small pan. Add the herbs. Remove the pan from the heat. Cover and steep for 15 minutes. Strain and add honey, if de- sired. Drink the tea and inhale the steam through your mouth. Try to drink several cups a day.
How it works: Peppermint and thyme both help calm coughs and combat infection. Peppermint can also ease throat discomfort associated with coughing.
18. Lemon Up
- 1 lemon
- Less than 1∕8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preparation and Use
Slice the lemon in half. Sprinkle the black pep- per over one half. Suck in the liquid and swallow. Brush your teeth afterward to remove the acidity from your teeth.
How it works: Lemon packs flavonoids and vitamin C for fighting infection. Pepper increases circulation, which helps the healing process. 19. Vicks Foot Rub
19. Vicks Foot Rub
- Vicks VapoRub (Chest rub/Foot rub as per preferences)
Preparation and Use
Straight from the jar, put dabs of Vicks on the sole of each foot. Massage into your soles for about a minute. Cover your feet with clean socks to keep the Vicks contained and help it soak in.
How it works: The cough-calming plant essential oils in Vicks (camphor, eucalyptol, men- thol, and thymol) are absorbed across the skin.
20. Eucalyptus Chest Rub
Ingredients (1 use)
- 1⁄4 cup (55 g) petroleum jelly or unscented hand lotion
- 2 to 3 drops eucalyptus essential oil (half that much for pregnant women and children)
Preparation and Use
In a small bowl, blend the petroleum jelly or lotion with the eucalyptus drops. Rub on your chest.
Pro-tip:Wash your hands before putting your fingers near your eyes or other sensitive tissues.)
How it works: The antiviral and antibacterial essential oil of eucalyptus is absorbed across the skin to fight congestion. It also favourably alters immune function and helps clear excess respiratory mucus.
Inspired by the ancient system of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the principles of the Japanese healing modality of Shiatsu, acupressure points work by stimulating the body’s meridians. It seems unlikely at first to work at all, but it turns out to be surprisingly, tremendously effective when attempted just a few times. Try this if your cough isn’t bothering you too much and you’re either open to trying something new or you’ve tried everything and nothing’s worked. In which case, you can attempt this in the waiting room. There’s absolutely nothing to lose. Tread with caution if you are pregnant as some of these points can be quite effective.
How to use acupressure points
Fold your index and ring finger halfway and use your extended middle finger on each of the specific points mentioned below. Place firm but gentle pressure on each point so that you can stimulate it while feeling for a pulse. Press each point for no more than 2 minutes at the beginning. After a few sessions you might even feel a pulsing on other, connected areas of the body as circulation improves.
Reference images for acupressure points
21. Elegant Mansion (K 27)
Location: In the hollow below the collarbone next to the breastbone.
Benefits: Relieves allergies associated with chest congestion, breathing difficulties, asthma, coughing, and sore throats.
22. Heaven Rushing Out (CV 22)
Location: At the base of the throat in the large hollow directly below the Adam’s apple.
Benefits: Relieves dry cough, bronchitis, sore throat, chest congestion, and heartburn.
23. Vital Diaphragm (B 38)
Location: Between the shoulder blade and the spine at the level of the heart.
Benefits: Relieves coughing, breathing difficulties, and respiratory problems. This calming point also helps balance the emotions.
24. Ding Chuan (Extra Point 17)
Location: To the side and a little above the vertebra that protrudes at the top of the spine when the head is tilted downward.
Benefits: Relieves throat problems, coughing, shoulder and neck pain, and thyroid imbalances.
25. Heavenly Pillar (B 10)
Location: One-half inch below the base of the skull on the ropy muscles one-half inch out from either side of the spine.
Benefits: Relieves sore throat, stress, burnout, overexertion, and heaviness in the head.
26. Steam Inhalation
Steam inhalation is a useful preventive tool for halting the early onset of numerous ailments including coughs, colds, headaches, conditions like sinusitis and more. The best part is that it involves no ingestion of bad tasting medicine and is fairly easy to set up.
Steam Inhalation Steps
First Step: Bring about 500ml of water to a boil in a saucepan.
Second Step: Pour the water from the saucepan into a large bowl.
Third Step: Throw a towel around your head such that it covers your face and the bowl.
Fourth Step: Inhale the vapours for about 5 minutes and no longer than 10 minutes. Do this about 1-3 times a day depending on the severity of your condition
The beauty of the steam inhalation method is there are many ways you can “jazz things up” based on your needs. Some people like to add a few drops of serum or tea tree oil to the bowl or steamer for skincare purposes. As for coughs, there are several things you can add to the boiling water to improve your congestion.
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- A few Eucalyptus leaves
- About 24g in total of Rosemary, Thyme, and Oregano to 475ml of water
- Peppermint essential oil
- Lemon Balm
There is no “fastest” way among home remedies to cure a cough. You could try the most touted cough remedies and still, your cough would need to take its course. On the other hand, if you truly need a quick relief and your symptoms are not abating after a week even with natural remedies, it might be time to see a doctor of modern medicine to rule out any complications or less benevolent underlying causes.
Expectorants and homemade teas from herbs and kitchen shelf ingredients and pharmaceuticals taken under a physician’s supervision after identifying the underlying cause of the cough.
By keeping yourself warm, taking pharmaceutical or herbal remedies (such as ginger concoctions), and a doctor’s advice.
Dry coughs can be super irritating because they do not remove mucus, sputum, phlegms and other irritants from your respiratory pathways effectively. They can linger for days after recovering from influenza and their underlying causes are varied, including asthma and environmental irritants. The best home remedy for dry cough would be to sip hot beverages constantly throughout the day, (masala chai lovers would embrace this), and include the following herbs:
Lemon is a great source of Vitamin C and an ally in defending your body from common coughs and cold. Vitamin C is a fighter for your immune system, and supports connective tissue and heart and blood vessel health both during your ailment as well as before and after. Several home remedies feature lemon because of its immune system support, which is useful during viral infections. The UK’s National Health Services consider lemon and hot water a fantastic aide in cough treatment.