honey water

5 natural cough remedies to try when nothing else works

I developed one of those awful, persistent coughs a few weeks ago and seemingly nothing would make it 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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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