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Q&A: Are there natural cough remedies?



Question: Sometimes it seems the coughing will never end, especially during cold and flu season. The pharmacy shelves are stocked with cough syrups full of chemicals, alcohol and dyes. Are there natural cough remedies to try?

Andrea Candee replies: Try some of these easily prepared cough remedies made from nature’s pharmacy.

Onion-Honey Cough Syrup

Here’s a sweet and delicious cough remedy your child will love to eat! The anti-inflammatory properties of both honey and onion help relax coughing spasms and soothe irritated tissue. Onion and honey are anti-microbial, as well.

Research reveals that onions, as well as garlic and cayenne, produce an irritation in the stomach lining that signals the lungs to release a flow of secretions that help thin sticky, thickened mucus. Can you recall how peeling an onion brings tears to your eyes? That’s the same mechanism in action. This is what makes onion such a good expectorant, breaking up congestion in the lungs.

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• In a small saucepan, mix together 1 cup honey; 1 medium, yellow onion, chopped; and 1 tablespoon thyme leaf (more, if you use it fresh).
• Cook the above ingredients until the onion is softened.
• Serve warm by itself, eaten by the teaspoonful, over mashed potatoes or with your child’s favorite vegetable, meat or chicken.
• Small amounts may be eaten several times a day, if desired.

The healing properties of thyme have often been called upon in another of my passions, directing children’s theatre. Sometimes, the fledgling thespians’ vocal chords don’t hold up for multiple performances, so I share the formula with their parents, suggesting they use it throughout the day. I also recommend that they send their children to the performances with a container of honey-sweetened thyme tea. School plays don’t usually have understudies, so you can imagine how important in the microcosm of the little actors’ world a remedy for laryngitis can be!

Thyme-Honey Syrup

Thyme is an excellent expectorant as well as an anti-microbial herb, and honey not only soothes but acts as a preservative as well. I keep this wonderful-tasting syrup in my refrigerator all winter long. It can be used for colds, coughs, laryngitis and sore throats.
• Steep 1 ounce of dried thyme leaf (Thymus vulgaris) in 1 cup boiled water, covered, until cool.
• Strain; mix the liquid with 1 cup of honey.
• Store refrigerated in a glass jar. It keeps well for several months.
• Give undiluted doses of 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon several times a day as needed.

Thyme-Eucalyptus Bath

Another way to benefit from the anti-microbial properties of thyme is in an inhalation bath. As thyme is also a bronchodilater, it’s a good way to help relieve the constricted breathing that can be experienced with a chest cold, pneumonia or bronchitis.

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Eucalyptus helps stimulate secretions and is anti-microbial. Before immersing your child in this bath, be sure that the eucalyptus is well tolerated. I have found that some allergic, asthmatic children experience just the opposite: a constricted, heavy feeling in the chest.
• Steep 2 tablespoons dried thyme leaf in 1 quart of boiled water for 30 minutes; strain; add to bath water.
• Add 4 to 6 drops essential oil of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) and stir into bath water.
• Teach your child how to breathe deeply while bathing.

Heavy-Duty Onion Poultice

To break up heavy lung congestion, as in pneumonia, or to soothe the inflammation of bronchitis, consider the anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, secretion-stimulating action of this treatment. It takes some preparation, but the results are well worth the effort.
• Simmer a large, thinly sliced, yellow onion in water until just softened.
• Place the onion on a piece of white cloth (cheesecloth, cotton diaper or linen napkin) and fold it up to make a packet.
• Carefully apply to your child’s congested area, making sure it is not too hot to the touch, and cover with a terrycloth towel to retain the heat.
• As the onion poultice cools on your child’s chest, prepare another one to replace it.
• This procedure can be repeated several times using fresh onions for each poultice.

The Onion Pack

I’ve never seen anything work faster to stop incessant coughing than a pack made of yellow onion. When my sons coughed through the night, remaining asleep while I lay awake, I’d head for the kitchen to prepare this remedy. By the time I would get from the bed to the door, the coughing would stop!

The medicinal properties of the onion are contained in its fumes and the inhalation of them is what does the trick. The room won’t smell so fabulous in the morning, but I always figured it was worth a night’s sleep.
• Thinly slice a small yellow onion, place in cheesecloth, folding it over to make a self-contained “pack.”
• Place in a 200-degree oven for just a few minutes to warm it.
• Place on your child’s chest, taping in place with surgical tape and covering with a nightshirt.

Chest-Relaxing Ginger Rub

When your child’s chest feels tight as a result of cold or flu and coughing is painful, a ginger rub will bring herbal heat to the chest. Ginger’s stimulating properties increase circulation and help loosen things up, with greater comfort being the happy result. I can remember times when this remedy was so effective that the next night my son required an onion pack to stop the incessant coughing from all the loosened phlegm!
• To prepare this rub, mix together 1 tablespoon each of powdered ginger (Zingiber off.) (purchased from a health food store, where it will not have been irradiated) and a non-petrolated petroleum jelly (also available at a health food store).
• The mixture will look rather like brown frosting. But don’t eat it — spread it on your child’s chest, then cover with a cotton T-shirt.
• A reddening of the area is normal and indicates that the ginger is increasing circulation to the capillaries near the surface of the skin.
• In the morning, the petroleum jelly will have been absorbed and the ginger will have worked its magic, as indicated by your child’s ability to breathe more easily.

Another wonderful reason to use ginger: A Brigham Young University study revealed that this herb significantly decreased nausea and diarrhea associated with the 24-hour flu.

Aromatic Congestion Oil

Blending together any of the following oils will create a treatment that deeply penetrates tissue, stimulating blood flow to the lung area, helping to open air passages. In addition, the herbs are anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial.
• Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
• Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)
• Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
• Lavender (Lavandula off.)
• Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
• Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
• Hyssop (Hyssopus off.)
• For children under 8 years of age, blend 6 drops of combined essential oils in a teaspoon of carrier oil such as almond, apricot kernel or grapeseed. For the older child, increase the dilution to 10 drops to the teaspoon of oil.
• The congestion oil may be rubbed on the chest and back in the morning, afternoon and at bedtime. Cover with a cotton shirt.
• Continue treatment until congestion loosens and your child is more comfortable.
• You may expect a slight reddening of the skin due to the oils’ circulatory enhancing effect. If your child exhibits more than just a slight reddening or a rash, discontinue use.
• Several drops of the congestion oil may be used in a bath.
• For inhalations, add a few drops of the congestion oil to a pot of hot water, encouraging your child to breathe deeply over the water.
• Several drops of the oil may also be added to a vaporizer.

© Andrea Candee

NFO regular contributor Andrea Candee is a master herbalist with a consultation practice in South Salem, New York. Author of the award-winning Gentle Healing for Baby and Child (Simon & Schuster), she lectures at the New York Botanical Garden, for schools, corporations and throughout the country about natural health care. To receive her free e-letter, click on “Did You Know” at her web site www.AndreaCandee.com.

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