How to treat coughs with 5 natural remedies

I had upper respiratory infection at the beginning of the year. Doctor reckoned it was not bad enough to take antibiotics. But it was bad enough to prevent me from laying down at night so I had to sleep sitting up. A pain in the butt. Literally. While my doctor was writing me a prescription for the strongest cough syrup available, she also said these things were not very effective. She asked me to also try natural remedies. She started me off with one suggestion and I received a few more tested-and-proven tips from friends and family. Seeing many friends are sick these days with coughs, I hope this post would help some of you to recover faster.

These are in order of relative convenience. It does take some effort to take care of your health and body. And there is no silver bullet so pick one or two and stick with it for at least a few days before dismissing them. Natural remedies tend to be more subtle then western medicine but they do work. In my case, besides making sure I had enough protein in a day, this was what I ate and drank throughout the day for about 10 days.

1. Steamed Orange with Salt

An illustration of a steamed orange with salt
Steaming orange with salt makes a soothing treat for coughs or simply a light dessert for everyday enjoyment

This is surprisingly delicious so in addition to being soothing for the throat, it’s also a wonderfully light dessert I find myself making even when I am not sick. Slightly cut off the bottom of an orange so it can sit flat, but without exposing the flesh of the orange. Then cut off the top, about 1/4 of an orange, to make a lid. Sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt over the flesh of the orange and put the lid back on. Steam this over boiling water for about 15 minutes. If you are not familiar with steaming, check out this recipe for tips on this cooking method. Make sure you use common oranges rather than mandarin orange or clementine.

2. Dark Buckwheat Honey

An illustration of a bottle of dark buckwheat honey
Raw and dark buckwheat honey is great for coughs

This was the tip from my doctor. She told me to find dark buckwheat honey and take a spoonful straight to help control the cough. The hardest part was finding the honey but most health stores in North America carry this. This is great as a quick fix if you are busy or always on the move.

3. Honey Lemon Drink

An illustration of a honey lemon drink
Honey lemon drink is a quick and easy warm hug in a mug for your throat

This drink is good throughout the day when you wanted something sweet and soothing, but no time to make the herbal tea mentioned below. Put a slice or two of lemon in a cup and add 2 TBSP of regular honey. Use a spoon to smash up the lemon slightly to release some of the juices and mix with the honey. Then pour over warm – not boiling – water to make this soothing honey lemon drink.

IMPORTANT TIP: There are studies out there that suggest heating honey over 40C (104F) will release toxins from the pollens and essentially make it toxic. My mom has always said not to put hot water in honey as it causes constipation. I am no doctor or scientist but better be safe than sorry so sharing here for your reference.

4. Homemade Herbal Tea

An illustration of a pot of homemade Chinese herbal tea with chrysanthemum, goji berries, and others
A cocktail of lovely Chinese herbs to calm the toughest cough

This tea was most helpful to calm my cough throughout the day.  Making the tea is easy; the hardest part is getting all the ingredients but these are very common Chinese herbs so I guess the hardest part is finding a nearby Chinese herb store. I was new to this too and felt a bit daunting at first. But it was worth it. If you like the taste of chrysanthemum tea then you will like this tea. Measure out the 5 ingredients below and give it a quick rinse under cold tap water. Then add to a pot with 4 cups of water and boil for about 5 min or when the malva nut expands about 5 times its original size. Best to drink this hot or warm, but never cold.

  • 1 cup dried chrysanthemum (菊花)
  • 2 tablespoon chuanbei or fritillary bulb (川貝)
  • 1 tablespoon maidong or monkey grass (麥冬)
  • 1 tablespoon goji berry (枸杞)
  • 2 pieces of pang da hai or malva nut (胖大海)

5. Steamed Chinese White Pear

An illustration of a steamed Chinese pear with chuanbei and honey
Steamed Chinese pear with chuanbei and served with honey is one of the most popular remedy for coughs in Chinese Medicine

This is probably the most common natural remedy for coughs in Chinese Medicine. I find this quite filling so I would eat this as my lunch or dinner, plus some kind of vege and light protein for a balanced meal. Chinese white pear is pear-shaped with pale yellow skin and white flesh. They could be harder to find so start looking first in your local Asian market. Wash and peel the pear, then cut off the top (1/3) and remove the core of the pear with a spoon. Rinse about 1 tablespoon of chuanbei or fritillary bulb and place into the core of the pear. Put the top back and steam for at least 30 min. The chuanbei should be cooked through and soft enough to eat. Add buckwheat honey to the chuanbei and eat the whole pear too. The honey is helpful here because chuanbei could be a bit bitter. You could also use a pestle and mortar to mash up the chuanbei for it to cook faster. There is no substitute for the Chinese white pear, unfortunately.


Closing note: Besides the above tips, try to avoid eating or drinking anything cold as it irritates the throat and makes you cough more. Also good practice to stay away from dairy as it tends to encourage phlegm. Good luck and let me know if these are helpful!


Leave a Comment