Home Remedies for Coughs and Colds

Pharmaceutical companies don't have the market cornered on all cures for that which ails you. Grandma did her part long before dextromethorphan was supposedly stopping coughs. What we didn't understand until now was that Granny was getting it right more often than we thought. Doctors are expensive, and Grandma's cures are back en vogue.

Grandma didn't always get it right, though. Here are some favorite home remedies for cough and cold, along with whatever we've learned about them since Granny first gave honey (or brandy) to dear old Dad.


Honey for Coughs

spoonful of honey

Naho Yoshizawa / Aflo / Getty Images

First point goes to Granny. Honey turns out to be better than cough medicine for quelling the hack of winter (or summer). Of course, since the cough medicines don't actually do anything, the bar wasn't set too high. Still, honey helps a little.

Just don't give it to the littlest coughers or you might give them more than a cough. Honey might lead to botulism in infants.


Vitamin C to Beat the Common Cold

woman with juice
Luka / Getty Images

This one's hard to pin down. Grandma was right in one sense: you should take your vitamins every day. Taking vitamin C supplements every day may reduce the length of a cold if you should get one. However, there is no consistent evidence showing that large doses of vitamin C taken once a cold starts reduces its severity or duration. It wasn't studied in kids, and it worked sometimes in adults. Moral of the story: try it. One thing's for sure, taking a daily vitamin C helped, so listen to your Granny and chew your orange-flavored cold-beater (or drink plenty of OJ).


Steam to Treat Croup

Patti McConville / Getty Images

Ask almost any emergency department nurse or ambulance paramedic how to treat croup and we'll put up a hefty bet they'll tell you to take your tyke into the bathroom and run a hot shower. We've all been under the impression that humidity from the steam or even the cool night air will fix Junior's barking croup faster than Sea Biscuit ran the Belmont. Of course, we have all been wrong. Humidity doesn't do a darn thing for croup.


Hot Peppers for Stuffy Noses

chili peppers
David Murray / Getty Images

As it turns out, capsaicin (the stuff in red chile peppers) is indeed good for opening up the sniffer and clearing out the gunk. Now if we can only manage to mix honey and chile peppers in an edible dish...


Echinacea for Colds

Echinacea, purple coneflower, fresh and dried root, and capsules
Steve Gorton / Getty Images

It's not a home remedy as much as an herbal remedy, but Echinacea has gotten lots of press for being the way to truly beat a cold. As is often the case with herbal cures, the evidence is weak at best and nonexistent most of the time. It's one of those recommendations that basically says, "If it makes you feel better...."


Brandy (Whiskey, Scotch, Rum, etc.) for Cough

brandy bottle and aperitif glass
Wittelsbach bernd / Getty Images

Sometimes Grandma liked to have a little fun. All the better to have a bottle or two tucked away in the cabinet for emergencies. We're not sure there is too much benefit in using liquor as a cough suppressant, but that's basically what all the nighttime, sniffling, coughing medicines are.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Goldman RD. Honey for treatment of cough in children. Can Fam Physician. 2014;60(12):1107-8, 1110.

  2. Hemilä H, Chalker E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common coldCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd000980.pub4

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.