An intense cold when you can feel the mucus drip down your throat, have difficulty breathing, and have lost the ability to verbally articulate any thoughts because you're coughing every other word is pure hell. We're in the middle of the "bomb cyclone," and the chances of getting sick are unfortunately pretty high. You can always go the conventional route and stock up on cough drops and cough syrup for a quick fix, or you can go the more natural route and try some remedies that you can find in your pantry. "Natural cough remedies lack many of the negative side effects experienced with pharmaceutical cough suppressants. Many of the pharmaceutical options leave one feeling drowsy with a dry mouth and have a rebound effect where the symptoms worsen once the drug wears off," says naturopathic doctor Tara Nayak.
"Natural cough and cold remedies are typically herbal formulas or vitamin formulas that have antiviral actions, immune-strengthening actions, and lung tissue support," says chiropractor, acupuncturist, and naturopath Gabrielle Francis. "They are not only are designed to kill infections, but they build the immune and heal the terrain. Conventional medicine is usually reducing fevers and cough suppressants or decongestants. They are treating the symptoms and not getting to the root cause."
Do they work just as well as conventional options? Both Nayak and Francis seem to think so. "The most common misconception about natural cough remedies is that they don't work," says Nayak. "However, most often, people are not taking the remedy often enough or not using a quality supplement/herb. The potency and dosage of a remedy can greatly affect its efficacy."
"If the fever is low and the cough is white phlegm, then it is most likely a virus and the natural remedies work very well," says Francis. "If the fever is high and the cough is yellow or green phlegm, then it is most likely bacteria and may need an MD to prescribe an antibiotic." As always, check with a doctor for any severe colds before solely depending on these natural remedies for treatment, but if you're looking to stay away from the medicines you find at your local drugstore, Nayak and Francis have given us some great options.
Scroll down to see the natural cough remedies they recommend.
"This essential oil combines herbs that enhance immune function," says Francis.
"This is a comforting 'old folk' remedy that really works. To do this, take ground mustard seed or powder and mix with warm water sufficient enough to make a thick paste (brownie batter consistency). Slather the paste between two damp paper towels or cheesecloth (something thin enough that the herb will still make contact with your skin). Place over your entire chest and cover with a low heating pad for 10 to 20 minutes before bed. For an added boost, rub a few drops of castor oil onto your chest before applying the plaster. The skin will turn a bit red, but don't worry! Remove if the warming sensation becomes uncomfortable," says Nayak.
"For a cough with thick phlegm, I often use N-Acetyl Cysteine. This is an amino acid that is found easily over the counter in any local pharmacy or even grocery store. NAC is a powerful antioxidant that increases your body's natural production of glutathione (a strong antioxidant). However, I use it in coughs because it greatly thins out the mucus by breaking up the bonds of thick phlegm. Once the mucus is thinner, it is runnier and will be easier to clear out of your lungs. It's important to drink a ton of water when you have phlegm because this helps thin out the mucus as well," says Nayak.
"I always recommend steam inhalation for deep coughs. A bit of gently boiled water in a bowl with two to three drops high-quality essential oil such as lavender, eucalyptus, or thyme, and then cover your head with a towel as a makeshift tent. Lean over the bowl and breathe deeply through the mouth into the chest. Careful not to get too close. We don't want any burns. The steam is comforting and soothing, though at first, you may cough a bit as your lungs get used to the moist, heated air. Essential oils can have soothing anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects. They can also help to open up the airways," says Nayak.
"I like to use demulcent herbs to soothe the throat when there is a dry cough or a cough that is being irritated by post-nasal drip. Demulcent herbs include slippery elm, marshmallow, and licorice. The herbs have a high amount of mucilage that coats the mucous membranes of the throat to soothe that scratchy, raw, irritated feeling. I normally give these in the form of a tea that can be taken hot or iced. The key here is to brew the tea very strong and let it steep for a long period of time. I often make a big batch of the tea hot, start sipping 10 minutes later, and keep the herbs in while I sip it all day," says Nayak.
"This combination of herbs soothes the lung and respiratory tracts by building the mucous membranes, soothing the lungs, and dissolving the phlegm in the lungs that causes coughs," says Francis.
"Garlic is one of my go-to components of a good cough protocol. Ever wonder why your breath stinks when you eat garlic? It's because the main route of excretion of garlic's volatile oils is through the lungs. Eating raw garlic can act as an antimicrobial boost to fight off any bacteria that may grow in the lungs while you're sick. The key here is to chop the garlic and let it sit for a few minutes because this actually activates the medicinal constituents. I add raw garlic to a salad dressing or drink a juice called 'The Nasty' when I'm sick. 'The Nasty' (I don't know where this name originated) is basically a green juice with a bunch of dark leafy greens for high mineral/nutrient content such as kale, spinach, etc., cayenne, ginger, and raw garlic. It's not for the faint of heart, but it definitely provides nutrients the immune system needs and that raw garlic punch," says Nayak.
"There was a study done in Iran that showed honey and instant ground coffee mixed together was actually as effective as a corticosteroid for reducing cough. The recipe given was for a bulk amount, but you can certainly scale it down and make this super-effective cough syrup. It's not exactly clear why these work better together than alone. Honey has some properties that scientists haven't yet figured out, and it has yet to be determined if caffeine (which is known to open up the lungs) is the benefit conveyed from the coffee. Though we don't have the exact reasoning on how this works, it's worth a shot," says Nayak.
"Thyme is widely known to have volatile oils that are antimicrobial but also help thin out mucus. Thyme has long been known to treat upper respiratory infections, cough, etc. The best way is to add a tea/decoction of fresh thyme to some fresh lemon juice and honey. To make the decoction, simply pour hot (not boiling) water enough to cover fresh herb (a cup). Let this steep for 20 minutes before adding to other ingredients. Sip all day long," says Nayak.
"This combination of herbs is antiviral, antibacterial, and antimicrobial, and it strengthens the immune and antibody responses to infection," says Francis.