Using Natural Remedies for Coughs

A cough is a reflex that helps clear phlegm and other irritants from your throat and airways. In many cases, coughing occurs as a symptom of a short-term illness, such as the common cold, bronchitis, or the flu.

Chronic coughing, on the other hand, may be caused by one of the following conditions:

Chronic coughing may also result from smoking or from the use of some medications. If your cough is persistent, painful, accompanied by difficulty breathing, fever, chills, or weakness, or if you're coughing up blood or yellow or green mucus, it's particularly important to call your doctor.

Natural Cough Remedies

Although they won't cure the condition causing your cough, the following may help to ease your symptoms:


In a study published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, researchers compared a single dose of buckwheat honey or honey-flavored dextromethorphan given 30 minutes before bedtime or no treatment on nighttime coughing and sleeping difficulty. Honey was found to be significantly better than no treatment for cough frequency and was comparable to the dextromethorphan.

Try adding honey to herbal tea or warm water and lemon, or taking a spoonful of honey on its own.


Compounds extracted from marshmallow (Althea officinalis) may provide cough-suppressing benefits. While there are no clinical studies supporting these claims, the herb has long been used for soothing dry, irritating coughs and sore throat in herbal medicine. The herb contains mucilage, which coats the throat and soothes irritated tissue.

Marshmallow can be taken in tea form.

Ivy, Primrose, and Thyme

The herbs ivy (Hedera helix), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), and primrose (Primula veris) are sometimes used in combination in herbal cough syrups and drops to ease a cough. Best known as a culinary herb, thyme contains thymol, a compound with expectorant properties that may help get rid of phlegm. Ivy is a common vine that contains compounds said to act as expectorants (agents for loosening mucus and making it easier to cough up).

In a research review published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2011, researchers analyzed 10 previously published studies assessing the effectiveness of ivy leaf for acute upper respiratory tract infections (three of the studies evaluated a combination of ivy and thyme).

In their conclusion, the authors state that all studies found that ivy extracts are effective at reducing the symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection (including the frequency and duration of a cough), but that further evidence is needed because most studies were significantly flawed.

Using Natural Remedies

Drinking plenty of water or warm tea can help loosen mucus and ease throat irritation resulting from a cough.

Certain herbs and ingredients in herbal cough syrups may cause side effects and adverse effects. For example, ivy can cause severe contact dermatitis in some people (particularly those who also react to carrots). Also, keep in mind that there's a lack of research on natural cough remedies. If you're thinking of trying any type of cough remedy, it's a good idea to talk with your doctor first to weigh the pros and cons and to discuss whether it's appropriate for you.

It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

If you are scheduled to have surgery but have developed a cough, consult your doctor before taking any supplement. (Certain remedies can interfere with blood clotting and should be discontinued for a period of time before and after surgery.)

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Article Sources

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  1. Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, Shaffer ML, Duda L, Berlin CM Jr. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parentsArch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007 Dec;161(12):1140-6. doi:10.1001/archpedi.161.12.1140

  2. Holzinger F, Chenot JF. Systematic review of clinical trials assessing the effectiveness of ivy leaf (hedera helix) for acute upper respiratory tract infections. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:382789. doi:10.1155/2011/382789

  3. Gladman AC. Toxicodendron dermatitis: poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Wilderness Environ Med. 2006;17(2):120-8. doi:10.1580/PR31-05.1

Additional Reading

  • Holzinger F, Chenot JF. Systematic review of clinical trials assessing the effectiveness of ivy leaf (hedera helix) for acute upper respiratory tract infections. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:382789.