Whether it’s a dry hacking, cough or a little tickling cough that just won’t let up, the right home remedies for cough may be even more effective than commercial cough syrups. In this post we’ll cover some of the most effective cough remedies for children and adults, including croupy cough. Learn how to quiet a cough so you can get some rest and heal.
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.
Remember – If coughing is severe, hangs around more than a couple weeks or produces thick mucus, please see a trained medical professional. If you can’t breathe or start coughing up blood, get emergency medical attention.
What Causes a Cough?
Coughing is your body’s natural reaction to clear something out of your airways that shouldn’t be there. It’s most commonly associated with colds and flu, allergies, asthma or acid reflux. Treat the underlying condition and you should get some cough relief.
For instance, inside the home you can reduce indoor allergens by getting rid of carpet, vacuuming regularly and using air filtration. For acid reflux, see “10 Home Remedies for Acid Reflux and The Problem with PPIs for GERD”. Our post on Natural Decongestants may help eliminate sinus drainage, removing that source of throat irritation.
To speed recovery from cold and flu symptoms and boost your immune system, you can check out the full list of Cold and Flu posts on the Home Remedies page.
The honey, syrups, milk with butter and golden milk would be most helpful home remedies for dry coughs.
Note: In the coughing photos in the post, I’m demonstrating coughing into your arm. This is the preferred option to keep your germs to yourself. Even with coughing into a tissue and frequent hand washing, when you cover your mouth with your hands, there’s more risk of sharing any illness with those around you.
#1 – Honey and Cinnamon for Cough
A spoonful of honey for cough is one of the easiest and best cough remedies. In a study comparing the use of honey, dextromorphin and no treatment for coughing children, “parents rated honey most favorably for symptomatic relief of their child's nocturnal cough and sleep difficulty due to upper respiratory tract infection.” Add cinnamon, and you get an extra dose of antibacterial and anti-viral herbal goodness. Note: The CDC recommends that raw honey not be used for children under 2 years of age due to botulism concerns.
To make a homemade cough syrup with honey and cinnamon, pour about ½ cup of honey into a small container ( I used an 8 ounce mason jar) and mix in about ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon.
For children over two and adults, take a spoonful of honey or honey and cinnamon as needed to quiet cough. Both cinnamon and honey are anti-bacterial and anti-viral, and the honey coats and soothes the throat.
#2 – Lemon Juice
Lemon juice helps to loosen and clear phlegm. It also gives you a dose of immune boosting vitamin C. See “Vitamin C for Colds – How Much Do You Need and Best Food Sources” for more vitamin C information.
To use lemon as a cough remedy, 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 honey sweetened lemonade.
The Coconut Mama made up a sweet and gentle honey and lemon cough medicine for her little girl using 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, ¼ cup raw honey and 2 tablespoons coconut oil, stirred together and gently heated until the coconut oil is melted. She recommends using one spoonful as needed for cough, or stirring it into hot tea. Store your homemade cough syrup in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one month. This cough remedy is good for dry and scratchy throats.
#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 spew them back up again.
We have two different elderberry syrup recipes on the site – one made with dried elderberries and one starting with elderberry juice. See “How to Make Elderberry Syrup with Fresh or Dried Elderberries” for detailed instructions and links to studies that show that elderberry is an excellent treatment for influenza.
You can also order real elderberry syrup online. Gaia Herbs Black Elderberry Syrup is USDA certified organic elderberry syrup, and is made with Organic Black Elderberry, Organic Acerola fruit, Vitamin C (from Organic Acerola), Organic cane sugar, water, lemon juice.
#4 – Herbal Tea
Hot herbal tea helps to ease congestion, keep you hydrated and soothe irritated tissues. Some of the best herbal teas for cough include:
- Linden (also known as tilia or basswood)
- Lemon balm
- Horehound (more commonly used in cough and sore throat lozenges and syrups)
To make herbal tea, place one teaspoon of dried herb (or several slices of fresh ginger) in a mug and cover with one cup boiling water. Cover with a lid or plate to trap the steam and steep for about 10 minutes. Strain and add honey and lemon if desired.
You can also use several herbs together, such as in this herbal cold and flu tea recipe, or buy herbal tea bags such as:
#5 – Herbal Cough Lozenges
You can purchase herbal lozenges like Ricola (the stronger flavored ones tend to work better than the sweeter ones) or make your own. The herbs soothe as well as fight the underlying illness. Menthol cough drops numb the throat, which is helpful when it’s raw and irritated.
Amber wrote up a wonderful tutorial recently with two different easy homemade cough lozenge recipes. There's a kid-friendly recipe with chocolate and orange, and a recipe for adults with slippery elm and other soothing herbs.
#6 – 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. This is one of the safest cough remedies for small children. Note: Make sure to keep your humidifier clean so you’re not growing more microbes that may make you sick.
#7 – 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.
Dr. Gellner: That barking cough you hear is called croup, a sound that can cause a lot of concern and rightfully so. …
So what is croup? Croup is actually a viral infection of the vocal cords and the trachea, which is the windpipe. It causes a tight, low pitched, barking cough. It actually sounds like your child is a seal with how they're barking. They can also have a hoarse voice leading up to it.
Sometimes they have a vibrating, raspy sound when they breathe in called stridor. …
So how can you treat stridor? One of the best things to do when you're at home is get the shower all steamy up and get your child in the bathroom, because warm, moist air seems to work best to relax the vocal cords and break the stridor. A humidifier, not a hot vaporizer, but a cool mist humidifier also will help with getting the swelling down. Cold air also helps relieve stridor. If it's cold outside, take your child outdoors. If it's not cold outside, you can actually hold your child in front of an open freezer door and have them take a few deep breaths in.
#8 – 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.
#9 – 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.
Peppermint tea is another option. If cough is accompanied by sinus drainage and mild upset stomach due to sinus drainage, peppermint tea will also calm the stomach upset.
#10 – Milk and Butter or Golden Milk
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 blended into golden milk with turmeric and other spices coats the throat and reduces inflammation. My friend Jessica has three recipe variations for golden milk on her website. You can also purchase golden milk powder online to mix into your coconut milk.
#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).
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 acts as a home remedy for cough on its own.
#12 – 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 of slippery elm for a scratchy cough 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.
Did we miss any home remedies for cough?
Do you have a favorite home remedy for cough that didn't make the list? Leave us a comment and let us know. Useful feedback from our readers makes the site more helpful to the Common Sense Home community. Thank you!
You may also enjoy other posts in our Home Remedies series, including:
- 12 Home Remedies for Earaches – Ear Pain Relief for Kids and Adults
- 9 Home Remedies for Congestion – Natural Decongestants That Work
- Natural Remedies for Colds and Flu to Help You Feel Better Faster – 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, 2018.