When cold and flu season hits, it's nice to have an assortment of home remedies for coughs on hand to soothe sore throats. Most of these are suitable for coughs in adults or children. The honey, syrups and milk with butter would be most helpful for dry coughs. We've tried just about all of these at one point or another, depending on who's coughing and what type of cough they have. I hope you find them useful as well.
Home Remedy for Coughs #1 – Honey and Cinnamon
Pour some honey in a small container ( I used an 8 ounce mason jar) and mix in some cinnamon to taste. Take one spoonful as needed to quiet cough. Both cinnamon and honey are anti-bacterial and anti-viral, and the honey coats and soothes the throat.
Home Remedy for Coughs #2 – Lemon
Lemon helps to loosen and clear phlegm. You can mix it with your honey, make a lemon gargle (1/4 cup water plus 2 tablespoons lemon), or mix up a cup of warm lemonade (1 cup water, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, sweetener to taste).
Home Remedy for Coughs #3 – Elderberry Syrup
I was so relieved when I discovered how to make elderberry syrup, because it was something that my youngest could take that really helped quiet his cough but didn't make him throw up. He's got a sensitive stomach, and when I tried OTC meds when he was younger (before I knew better), he'd hurl them back up again. Learn how to make elderberry syrup.
Home Remedy for Coughs #4 – Hot Tea
Whether it's herbal or regular, the steam and extra liquid provided by hot tea help to loosen congestion, keep you hydrated and soothe irritated tissues. Learn more about herbal teas for congestion.
Home Remedy for Coughs #5 – Slippery Elm
Slippery elm is good for sore throats and sore bellies. It was commonly used in colonial America. Because it is hydrophilic and absorbs a lot of water, it gets a slippery, somewhat gelatinous texture when heated with liquid. Slippery elm gruel is recommended for diarrhea and sore throats (it bulks up stool and gently coats the throat and digestive tract). I made up a batch using about 1 cup water and 2 tablespoons powdered slippery elm, and seasoned it with just a sprinkle of salt and a dab of honey. I thought it was okay, but my eldest found the texture too slimy.
Home Remedy for Coughs #6 – Herbal Cough Syrup
There are many variations of herbal cough syrup, but this season I've been using Rosemary Gladstar’s “Cough-be-Gone and Sore Throat Syrup”. It's made with an assortment of herbs and sweetened with honey. You can find the full recipe at this Herbal Cold and Cough Care post.
Home Remedy for Coughs #7 – Herbal Cough Lozenges
You can purchase herbal lozenges like Ricola or Halls (the stronger flavored ones tend to work better than the sweeter ones) or make your own. In the video below, Mountain Rose Herbs explains how to make homemade lozenges with slippery elm bark, licorice root and honey. The herbs soothe as well as fight the underlying illness.
Home Remedy for Coughs #8 – Peppermint
Sucking on a peppermint candy or sipping a small amount of peppermint schnapps may also help calm a cough. Use caution with this one – don't use the schnapps with children.
Home Remedy for Coughs #9 – Steam
Few things are more comforting than a warm, steamy shower for loosening congestion and opening air ways. This is likely to provide only temporary relief, but it sure feels good. Keeping a humidifier running to moisten air will also help a dry cough/itchy throat.
Home Remedy for Coughs #10 – Cold Air
We came across this remedy by accident when our youngest had a croupy cough as a baby. During the course of taking him in to the ER one night when he was really miserable, we found that transporting him in the cold air quieted his cough. The doctor advised us to use this trick again as needed if he was hit with another coughing attack. The cold air helps reduce the swelling and inflammation in the throat.
Home Remedy for Coughs #11 – Booze
There's a reason many over the counter medications contain alcohol. Alcohol kills bacteria and acts as a counter-irritant in the throat (thus the burn on the way down). Instead of high priced alcohol cocktail, adults may opt for a simple shot of liquor to calm their cough. Mom used to dose us with peppermint schnapps. Just a sip can often have the desired effort. Whiskey is another popular option, but I think the alcohol/peppermint combination is better, since peppermint also helps with coughs on its own.
Home Remedy for Coughs #12 – Milk and Butter
This was a new one on me, but in Home Remedies What Works, they suggest combining 1 cup of warm milk with two tablespoons sweet butter for dry coughs. This will work better for a dry, unproductive cough (not much mucus), because it will coat and relax the throat. (Skim doesn't have enough fat to get the job done.) Warm coconut milk would probably also work well for this.
Bonus for the bold – Home Remedy for Coughs #13 – Chinese Hot Mustard, Wasabi or Horseradish
If you can brave them, these fiery spices can kill your cough – and possibly your taste buds – as well as clearing out congestion in a hurry. You can use them liberally on food, or take them straight. What I don't recommend is something a college friend of mine did on a dare – inhaling Chinese hot mustard right up your nose. He won the bet and cleared his congestion, but I don't think his sense of smell has been the same since.
You may also enjoy other posts in our Home Remedies series, including:
- Home Remedies for Earaches
- Home Remedies for Congestion
- The Best Cold and Flu Fighters – summary of all our cold and flu related posts
These remedies are a combination of personal experience and suggestions from Home Remedies What Works by Prevention.
This post is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to replace a trained healthcare provider. If pain is severe, incapacitating or lasts more than 24 hours, please see a trained health professional.
originally posted in 2012, updated in 2016.