Visit our Re-post guidelines
If you're feeling a tell-tale tickle in your throat that signifies a cough may be coming on, it's time to stock up on the top 10 natural cough and lung remedies. You don't need narcotic syrups or prescription medicines to start breathing easier today
For decades, the conventional way of managing a low-grade cough has been to take a medicated cough syrup. Whether obtained through a doctor's prescription or purchased over the counter (OTC), cough syrups can contain potentially habit-forming ingredients that come with strong contraindications for many individuals.
Prescription cough syrups may contain the opiate narcotic codeine, known for its potential for abuse, while OTC cough medicines often use dextromethorphan (DXM) or promethazine as active ingredients, both potentially addictive sedative drugs.[i]
Medicated cough syrups must carry warnings to minors and pregnant or breastfeeding women. In addition, cough syrup labels warn of the dangers of overdose, which can require urgent medical attention.[ii]
If you're seeking a safer way to mitigate a scratchy throat and low-grade cough, look no further. We have compiled 10 of the top natural cough remedies that are safe (and even enjoyable) for young and old and everyone in between.
Ginger root is a traditional medicinal herb that has been widely researched in modern times for treating more than 240 diseases. With natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, ginger is known for its ability to soothe nausea. It is also widely used in tribal herbal therapies for treatment of severe cough and cold symptoms.
There are many natural benefits of ginger: it flushes toxins from the body, improves the immune system and boosts energy with more than a dozen vitamins and trace minerals. Research into asthma cures found that ginger "significantly attenuated airway resistance,"[v] illustrating why upping your ginger intake may help you breathe easier.
Another benefit for improving coughs may come from ginger's effectiveness at reducing stomach acid, a lesser-known precipitating factor in some coughs.
Symptoms of a dry cough can onset when the weather turns cold and indoor heaters kick on, reducing humidity in the air. Coughs can be precipitated by this drier air as well as by trapped indoor dust particles causing irritation to the lungs.
Those living in warm, arid climates may experience cough symptoms such as these year-round. Rapid relief can come by reintroducing moisture back into your nose and throat through one or more of the following practices:
- Use a humidifier. There are many sizes and styles of misters and humidifiers for the home, and it's particularly useful to use one by your bed while you sleep. Moisture helps to open sinuses, allowing you to breathe easier while you rest.
Whether you choose warm steam or cool mist may depend on your climate, the time of year or season, as well as whether your cough is dry (no mucus) or productive (with phlegm). Dry coughs respond to cool or room temperature air, while congestion is often eased with warm steam.
Some misters allow use with essential oil drops, which can provide additional lung and sinus support. Herbs such as thyme, eucalyptus, peppermint and even oil blends specifically for sinuses can be readily obtained at most health food stores and herbal apothecaries.
- Gargle with salt water. A dry, red throat will be much relieved after a soak with mild salt water. Stir between 1/4 and 1/2 teaspoon of natural mineral salt into warm, purified water. Gargle gently for up to 30 seconds and spit. Repeat two to three times in a session.
- Steam bath. Place your head over a steaming bowl of water with a towel covering your head and trapping the steam inside. Inhale deeply for five or six breaths. Uncover your head and sit quietly, breathing normally for a minute or so. Repeat until the water cools down. You can add a few drops of therapeutic essential oils to the water for added support.
Finally, don't neglect your direct water intake while recuperating. Drinking around 2 liters of purified water each day is a good rule of thumb to follow.
Besides being a fragrant addition to many kitchen recipes, thyme is a potent aromatic herb that has many useful healing properties. Antimicrobial, antibacterial and antifungal, thyme has been studied as a therapeutic substance for more than 70 diseases, including bronchitis and asthma.
Thyme is considered a superhero in the world of gut health, but it's thyme's antispasmodic effects that make it useful as a cough suppressant.[vi] Studies show that treatment with thyme extract is more effective than placebo at reducing coughing fits due to bronchitis.[vii]
Available as an extract and often blended with oregano, thyme can be added to your regimen by taking it as a supplement or in a tea. Simply crush 1 to 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme into a cup, add 6 to 8 ounces of hot water and steep for two to three minutes. Strain and enjoy with raw honey, another wonderful way to soothe a sore throat and cough.
Honey is an ancient healing panacea that is also one of nature's most perfect foods. When in its raw state, honey has high nutritional value and immense health benefits. Great for feeding beneficial bacteria as well as killing bad bacteria, honey is not only delicious, it's full of amazing healing properties. And there's a good chance you have some in your pantry right now.
During cough and flu season, honey is particularly useful to have around. In a double-blind controlled trial, a paste made of honey and coffee was more effective than steroids at treating persistent post-infectious cough, a cough that remains for weeks or months after a cold or upper respiratory infection.
In this study, honey out-performed prednisolone, a common cough prescription, and guaifenesin, the active ingredient in many cough syrup formulas such as Mucinex, Wal-Tussin and Geri-Tussin, among other brands.
If you're all-in on honey, simply dissolve 1 to 2 tablespoons in hot (but not boiling) water and add your herbs and spices of choice. Coffee, tea and other fresh or dried herbs such as ginger, mint or chamomile can boost honey's healing effects, not to mention the taste. Don't forget a squeeze of lemon juice for a boost of vitamin C and extra anti-inflammatory effects.
Procuring local honey is best if you're using honey to boost resistance to allergies and seasonal pollens. Honey can even boost your immunity to influenza, especially important during flu season. Always purchase honey in its raw state, as some brands contain added glycerin and heating honey can kill the active enzymes that are a vital part of honey's healing properties.
5. Neti Pot
A neti pot is another useful tool from the traditional medicine cabinet. A neti pot refers to a specific type of container used to cleanse the sinus passages with warm saline solution. Popular in the Far East, the tradition of the neti pot has not been widely adopted in the U.S., although rising rates of seasonal allergy and the resultant irritated nose and throat may encourage more people to try this gentle, hygienic practice.
Neti pots can be purchased online and at most local pharmacies and they generally come with saline packs to add to distilled water (it's important not to use tap water due to potentially dangerous contaminants). You can also make your own saline solution using around 16 ounces of water to 1 teaspoon of mineral salt.
Per the Mayo Clinic, "To use the neti pot, tilt your head sideways over the sink and place the spout of the neti pot in the upper nostril. Breathing through your open mouth, gently pour the saltwater solution into your upper nostril so that the liquid drains through the lower nostril. Repeat on the other side."[viii]
6. Marshmallow Root
Marshmallow root, which comes from the plant Althaea officinalis, is a lesser known medicinal herb that has a lot of beneficial uses. Both the root and leaf of this perennial herb are used by traditional healers and herbalists to treat wounds and reduce infection, thanks to potent antibacterial properties.
When marshmallow root is processed, a thick, gummy substance called mucilage exudes from the plant, which, when mixed with water, creates a slick gel that has been used for centuries to coat the throat, stomach and skin to soothe irritation.
This sticky gum is also used in, you guessed it -- marshmallows. At least, that's how they were made before modern manufacturers substituted gelatin and other less wholesome substances.
Consumed as a tea, tincture or extract, marshmallow root has been used effectively to treat asthma, bronchitis, colds, sore throats and coughs.[ix] Marshmallow may be the herbal supplement that helps you slide right through cough season without a scratch.
One of the most therapeutic herbs available today is the golden-orange powdered spice turmeric. Explored for uses in treating more than 850 disease conditions, turmeric and its active ingredient, curcumin, are natural medicine's golden child.
Turmeric has shown promise in treating lung disease and controlling asthma in children,[x] while curcumin has proven effective at attenuating inflamed airways and improving breathing function in both human[xi] and animal studies.[xii]
Besides taking turmeric or curcumin in supplement form, you can prepare a therapeutic beverage called golden milk that's as delicious as it is soothing for dry, scratchy throats. Simply warm your milk of choice until it's just below boiling and add a heaping tablespoon of turmeric and honey.
You can boost the flavor and potency of your cup by adding additional anti-inflammatory spices such as ginger, cardamom and black pepper. We recommend avoiding dairy milk if you have a wet cough; try rice, almond, oat or coconut milk for a delicious plant-based alternative.
Known for its nose-clearing smell, eucalyptus is revered for its ability to soothe irritated sinuses and ease the lungs. Researched for healing properties such as the ability to reduce inflammation and pain, eucalyptus's antibacterial properties may be one reason it's used to treat upper respiratory infections.
A 2011 study tested a throat spray made with aromatic essential oils from five plants, including two types of eucalyptus. Results demonstrated that the eucalyptus spray brought about significant and immediate improvement in symptoms of upper respiratory ailment, including sore throat, hoarseness and cough.
Another great way to benefit from this soothing plant is to add drops of eucalyptus essential oil to a steam bath or home humidifier and breathe in the healing vapors while you sleep. If you have access to fresh eucalyptus leaves, consider crushing a few handfuls and adding them to a warm bath with magnesium-rich Epsom salts. Pure healing luxury!
Pineapple is an enzyme-rich tropical fruit with amazing healing properties, many of which are attributed to bromelain, a protein-digesting enzyme found in high concentration in pineapples. Extracts of bromelain are available in supplement form and may be highly effective at relieving a dry cough.
A potent anti-inflammatory, bromelain was shown to produce beneficial effects on asthma[xiii] in mice in multiple studies.[xiv] It was also used to good effect in a trial on children with acute sinusitis, with participants receiving bromelain experiencing a "statistically significant" faster rate of recovery from symptoms.
If you prefer the fruit to a supplement, pineapple is anti-mucogenic, which may have a positive effect on coughing symptoms.
10. Spiced Tea
Chai tea has become a popular drink in recent years, something that comes as no surprise to Ayurvedic medicine practitioners. Tea spiced with aromatic herbs and sweetened with honey is a traditional cough and sore throat remedy in India, and it's a relaxing and delicious way to get relief and comfort no matter where you are.
You can formulate your own spiced tea by starting with a base of green, black or herbal tea, and including any of the following spices that are appealing to you. They all have anti-inflammatory properties, and several of these herbs, such as cloves, ginger and cayenne, have expectorant properties, which can help reduce phlegm associated with a productive cough.
For an extra kick, try adding a dash of cayenne pepper, especially if you want to treat a wet cough. Capsaicin, a compound found in chili peppers, has been shown to reduce chronic coughing. Don't forget to add honey for the extra throat coat as well as to soothe the bite off this ultra-spicy therapeutic potion.
[i] American Addiction Centers, Codeine Addiction, Cough Syrup, https://americanaddictioncenters.org/codeine-addiction/cough-syrup
[ii] Drugs.com, Treatment Options, Cough, https://www.drugs.com/sfx/cough-syrup-dm-side-effects.html
[iii] Drugs.com, Treatment Options, Cough, https://www.drugs.com/drug-interactions/dextromethorphan,cough-syrup-dm.html
[iv] Drugs.com, Treatment Options, Cough, codeine/promethazine, https://www.drugs.com/drug-interactions/codeine-promethazine.html
[v] Effects of Ginger and Its Constituents on Airway Smooth Muscle Relaxation and Calcium Regulation, Townsend et al, Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2013 Feb; 48(2): 157-163. doi: 10.1165/rcmb.2012-0231OC. PMID: 23065130
[vi] Jonas Engelbertz, Tatjana Schwenk, Ute Kinzinger, Detlef Schierstedt, Eugen J Verspohl. Thyme extract, but not thymol, inhibits endothelin-induced contractions of isolated rat trachea. Zentralbl Gynakol. 2000;122(11):561-5. PMID: 18729040
[vii] Kemmerich B. Evaluation of efficacy and tolerability of a fixed combination of dry extracts of thyme herb and primrose root in adults suffering from acute bronchitis with productive cough. A prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled multicentre clinical trial. Arzneimittelforschung. 2007;57(9):607‐615. doi:10.1055/s-0031-1296656. PMID: 17966760
[viii] Mayo Clinic, Diseases and Conditions, Common Cold, Expert Answers, Neti Pot, Can it clear your nose? https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/expert-answers/neti-pot/faq-20058305
[ix] Penn State Hershey, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Health Information Library, Marshmallow, https://pennstatehershey.adam.com/content.aspx?productid=107&pid=33&gid=000265
[x] J Ethnopharmacol. 2019 Jun 28 ;238:111882. Epub 2019 Apr 13. PMID: 30991137 www.greenmedinfo.com/article/turmeric-ameliorates-asthma-control-children-and-adolescents
[xi] J Clin Diagn Res. 2014 Aug ;8(8):HC19-24. Epub 2014 Aug 20. PMID: 25302215 www.greenmedinfo.com/article/curcumin-has-value-addon-therapy-patients-bronchial-asthma
[xii] Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2015 May ;42(5):520-9. PMID: 25739561 www.greenmedinfo.com/article/curcumin-ameliorates-asthmatic-airway-inflammation
[xiii] Cell Immunol. 2005 Sep;237(1):68-75. Epub 2005 Dec 6. PMID: 16337164 www.greenmedinfo.com/article/bromelain-exerts-anti-inflammatory-effects-ovalbumin-induced-murine-model-alle
[xiv] Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2008 Mar;5(1):61-9. PMID: 18317550 www.greenmedinfo.com/article/bromelain-attenuates-inflammation-experimental-mouse-model-asthma