Natural Cough Suppressants

Natural Cough Suppressants

This is the season for coughs and sniffles. Healthy alternatives to relieving a cough can be found in nature.

This is the time of year when many people overindulge and overwork. Stress and improper diet can wear on the body and lead to fatigue and disease.  Coughing is the body’s way of telling us it is stressed and in need of care.

In 2007, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel declared that cough medicines for children can be potentially harmful, and recommended that many of these products be banned. As an alternative, it was recommended that something as simple as a spoonful of honey or even a small cup of herb-flavored water, be given to children with persistent cough, which has few side effects and seems to be effective. Here are a few cough suppressants which have been known to be helpful for many years. When preparing these natural cough remedies, remember that organic foods and herbs which have not been genetically modified or treated with toxic pesticides are generally always best and most healthy for the body.

Of course, always consult with your family physician, trusted healthcare provider, allergist, or nutritionist before trying new foods that your body is not accustomed to eating, and to determine the reason for your cough.

Cherry bark
Cherry bark has been a very important key ingredient in herbal cough syrups for many years. Cherokee and Iroquis native American Indians introduced cherry bark to colonists and settlers. Cherry bark is a good expectorant and treatment for dry coughs and throat irritations. Wild cherry bark contains prunasin which can be toxic if used unsafely, but when taken in tea or cough syrup form, it safe. It also contains natural cyanide (as do many other foods that contains pits), but cyanide poisoning is very unlikely since one would have to ingest very large doses of cherry bark.  You can make your own natural cherry bark syrup by boiling cherry bark with water, honey, and licorice root and allowing it to cool to form a soothing cough syrup, or by drinking as a hot tea.

Marshmallow Marshmallow is not just the white spongy,  confection that people in the United States put in their hot chocolate or roast at a campfire.  It is an herb, Althaea officinalis, a plant with short leaves and small pale white and pink flowers. The plant has been used for more than 2,000 years. The confectionery food treat by the same name, does not contain any of the herb and is not considered medicinal or effective in treating cough symptoms. According to the American Botanical Council, recent animal and human studies have found marshmallow root to be effective in treating coughs, when used alone and also combined with other herbs. Marshmallow root can be used as a tea, by adding 1-2 teaspoons of dried root to a cup of hot water and drinking several times a day.

HoneyHoney has been widely used for many years as a natural remedy for cough because of its  anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. Choose pure, organic honey. For cough relief, try swallowing one tablespoon of honey.  If an adult or child has difficulty swallowing pure honey, it can added or mixed with warm or hot water, or tea, or with herbs and spices.  Honey helps coat the throat to ease soreness as a result of excessive coughing. The honey flavored tea and water helps to break up the mucous in the throat and soothe the irritation. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,  honey may be useful in relieving coughing, but it should never be given to children under a year of age because in rare cases it can cause infantile botulism.

GingerGinger root, the rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale, is one of the most renowned natural remedies for cough. The key part of the ginger root is thought to be the volatile oils and phenol compounds gingerols and shogaols. Ginger has been well researched and many of its traditional uses confirmed by scientific studies. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and also is an effective aid in digestion. Ginger tea and ginger drinks can be found in most health food stores. Fresh ginger is best and most powerful.

  • Wash the root thoroughly in clean water, and slice a piece of ginger from the root.
  • To stop a persistent cough, apply the slice fresh ginger in your mouth whenever coughing occurs.
  • Chew the sliced ginger until your cough has stopped. You can also make ginger tea by adding chopped slices of ginger root to boiling water, steeping, and serving.

ElderberriesElderberries, Sambucus nigra are known for their antioxidant activity, in treatment of coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections and tonsilitis. Bioflavonoids and proteins in the juice fight cold and flu virus infections.  In 1995, it is reported that Elderberry juice was used to control a flu epidemic in Panama.  The berries are fully digestible when fully ripe but are mildly poisonous when eaten unripe. Elderberry plant is traditionally used as a medicinal plant by many people worldwide. 

  • Stem, bark, leaves, flowers, fruits, and root extracts can each be used to treat bronchitis, cough, upper respiratory cold infections, and fever.
  •  The dried flowers can be simmered for 15 minutes, and the tea can be poured through a coffee filter before drinking.
  • All parts of the plant can be poisonous if not eaten safely.

, “donkey’s ears” or Verbascum thapsus, an herb found throughout the United States, is a woolly-leafed biennial plant with yellow flowers. It has expectorant and cough suppressant properties and has been widely accepted by many around the world, as a useful and favorite herbal remedy for treating sore throat and cough symptoms.  It is primarily used to treat respiratory disorders such as asthma, coughs, tuberculosis, and related respiratory problems.

  • Mullein tea can be made by pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 – 2 teaspoons of dried mullein flowers and leaves.
  • Cover and steep for 10 – 15 minutes..
  • The tea can be filtered through a very fine sieve or coffee filter, to remove the fine hairs which irritate the throat.
  • A cough syrup can be make by boiling mullein, honey or sugar and water and allowing it to thicken and cool.

Ivy Leaf ExtractIvy Leaf extract (Hedera Helix), not as well-known as the others, has been found to be very effective in easing cough and upper respiratory problems. English ivy leaves seem to be able to break up chest congestion and relieve muscle spasms, and to help breathing in adults and children with chronic bronchitis. Cough Syrup with ivy leaf offers dependable help with the excessive formation of thick mucus and coughs associated with chronic broncitis, asthmas, tuberculosis, pneumonia and other upper respiratory disorders.  Hofmann, Hecker, and Volp (2003) concluded, “The trials included in this review indicate that ivy leaf extract preparations have effects with respect to an improvement of respiratory functions of children with chronic bronchial asthma, but more far-reaching conclusions can hardly be drawn because of a meagre database, including the fact that only one primary trial included a placebo control. Further research, particularly into the long-term efficacy of the herbal extract, is needed.


Bukutu C, et al. Complementary, holistic, and integrative medicine: The common cold. Pediatrics in Review. 2008;29:e66.

Paul IM, et al. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 2007;161:1140.

Hofmann D, Hecker M, Volp A, Efficacy of dry extract of ivy leaves in children with bronchial asthma–a review of randomized controlled trials. Phytomedicine. 2003 Mar;10(2-3):213-20.

Holzinger F, and Chenot J-F, Systematic Review of Clinical Trials Assessing the Effectiveness of Ivy Leaf (Hedera Helix) for Acute Upper Respiratory Tract Infections, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID 382789, 9 pages

Liu W, Jiang H, and Mao B, Chinese Herbal Medicine for Postinfectious Cough: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials, Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine, Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 906765. PMC385334810 Published online Nov 20, 2013. doi: 10.1155/2013/906765

Shadkam MN, et al. A comparison of the effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and diphenhydramine on nightly cough and sleep quality in children and their parents. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2010;16:787.



Jean E. DartThis article is written by Jean Voice Dart,  M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University.  Jean is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.”  She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance.  The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3  nonprofit health and wellness education organization.  For more information about  the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at

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