5 Natural Cough Remedies To Try When Nothing Else Works

photo of jar near cinnamon sticks - Natural Cough Remedies
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5 Natural Cough Remedies To Try (When Nothing Else Works)

I often seem to develop one of those awful, persistent coughs in the winter. And one I had a few years ago just wouldn’t go away. Things were mostly manageable during the daytime, when I was upright and not taking deep breaths. But every night it would come back with a vengeance, tormenting me at my most exhausted.

I’m not kidding when I tell you I bargained with God to make it go away (I mean, it did get better, so I guess I need to follow through with my promises).

Before I launch into the What I Learned portion of this post, let me say that I have no qualms with modern medicine. I am migraine-prone, so I always pop a few ibuprofen when I can feel a headache coming on, and I take Sudafed during the first few days of most head colds. 

But there were a few hitches this time around. For one, I didn’t have a lot of sinus pressure or aches, so standard cold medicine wasn’t necessary. Mucus didn’t seem to be the main problem, because Mucinex only exacerbated my dry cough.

The folks who swear by Alka-Seltzer let me down, because it did precisely nothing for me. And I’m allergic (like vomiting-all-night-and-can’t-breathe allergic) to cough suppressants. So natural remedies were my last – and only – hope. 

Here’s what I relied on to get me through the worst of it:

salt on spoon being poured into glass of water

1. Salt water gargle

Add enough salt to warm water for it to taste like the ocean, then gargle, spit, and repeat until you feel satisfied. This was the single best remedy to persistent, dry cough that I tried.

It coats and soothes the throat, plus salt has antibacterial properties that help combat infection and aid in healing. This was the only thing that slowed down the coughing long enough to help me fall asleep.

2. Hot water with honey and lemon

Do this all day, every day, if you can. Try adding a spoonful of honey and a squirt of lemon juice to hot water for instant throat relief. Honey, like salt, has antibacterial properties and coats the throat, while lemon loosens up mucus. If you like having tea, try this remedy in a cup of antioxidant-rich green tea (in the evenings, I liked to drink lightly brewed ginger tea instead).

While this didn’t give me the longterm relief I needed to fall asleep, it helped me overcome some of the throat pain caused by incessant hacking and got my throat into good enough condition to spend last Sunday singing with my church choir just days after the coughing started to let up. Plus, it tastes delicious.

3. Pineapple

Bromelain, a substance in pineapple juice, is thought to help reduce swelling, though the scientific community hasn’t thoroughly tested those claims.

Regardless, I bought myself a pineapple, diced it up, and enjoyed a small helping with lunch for several days and it gave me a small but noticeable amount of throat relief. Also, like honey water, it’s delicious and (relatively) nutritious, so it’s a mood booster even if it isn’t proven to reduce coughing.

hot cocoa with marshmallows in orange mug

4. Hot Cocoa

Like pineapple, a substance in chocolate called Theobromine can help with persistent coughing. Unlike pineapple, it’s scientist endorsed.

According to a 2004 study, cocoa was a better cough suppressant than codeine, the current drug administered to the coughing inclined. I had a bit of hot cocoa with almond milk and my throat certainly felt a bit better. It temporarily relieved coughing – I’d say it gave me about 30 minutes of peace.

5. Voice rest

Quit the chatter! This was a hard one for me, because I work in retail and like to talk, and the last few weeks have been full of social engagements that have made it more difficult to stop talking.

But it works! If you can manage to go on even a partial voice rest, you’ll start to heal much more quickly. I managed a couple good days of this and I could feel the results almost immediately.

To those of you out there with nasty coughs and colds, I wish you good health and lots of rest.

Let me know if you’ve found other cough remedies, too. After weeks of sleepless nights and misery, I want as many options for combating coughs as possible.

Things I tried that didn’t work:

  • Peppermint Tea
  • Cough drops
  • Mucinex
  • Whiskey

Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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  1. Addie Talley, Photographer

    you can also just eat a spoonful of straight honey – this will ease any sore throat symptoms right away if you need instant reliefalso ingesting local honey will help with allergies immensely… I used to suffer dreadfully from allergies every spring, and for the last two years, Ive been putting local honey in my tea and not once have I had an outbreak. since its made from the local flowers/plants that cause the allergens, its a safe way to get your body use to them and therefore prevent the ill effects

  2. mmmmm the hot cocoa sounds a lot better than mine…. I make one with one pound blackberries, one pound honey, 8oz sugar, 1/2 pint wine vinegar. cook blacberries in a gentle heat till juice runs, then boil to a mush. sieve/strain, and then put back in pot with rest of ingredients, bring to boil, and skim off any scum. pour into warm clean jars. keeps well – like jam. i use a few spoons in a cup of boiling water. its smells so much of vinegar but tastes fine….

  3. My go-to is honey/lemon/ginger in tea or whiskey. Ginger pictured, but not mentioned. Sometimes I steep thyme in a crock pot that I keep going for occasional deep inhales. Salt water gargle and Neti cleanse. Never thought of pineapple or chocolate.

  4. Besma | Curiously Conscious

    Wonderful list, especially as I have a sore throat at the moment! I'm a big fan of the salt water gargle, it's my go-to as soon as I start feeling tickly… Pineapple is a new one on me though!Besma | Curiously Conscious

  5. Try a Citrus Bomb. Mix equal parts unsweetened grapefruit juice and pineapple juice, add some ice and serve. It seems to cut through the flem and soothes a stubborn cough.

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