While I appreciate the convenience of OTC cough medicines, there is no reason to turn to these drugs each time you get a nagging cough.

It is surprisingly easy to make an effective homemade cough medicine, and going the DIY route will spare you the harsh chemical ingredients.

What Causes A Cough?

Before we talk about how to make cough medicine at home, it is essential to understand why cough occurs in the first place. Depending on the cause of the cough, a different remedy might be in order.

Most coughs occur because of a virus or bacterial infection. There is no need to grab antibiotics right away – 90% of these coughs are NOT bacterial. Antibiotics won’t help with viral infections!

Other coughs can occur from asthma, smoking, airborne particles, or other conditions which inflame the lungs.

The cough actually has a very important purpose, as it helps expel unwanted stuff from your lungs.

Unfortunately, even after your cold or flu symptoms have disappeared, the cough can linger for weeks. This is because the infection causes inflammation in the airways, making them sensitive.

To protect the airways, the body produces phlegm.

Natural Remedies for Cough

To treat cough naturally, you need to achieve these goals:

  1. Loosen phlegm and mucus: Your body produces phlegm and mucus to trap harmful substances (such as smoke particles or bacteria). Your body then coughs these up, expelling the toxic substances along with them.
  2. Reduce inflammation: When harmful substances get into the respiratory system, it defends itself with inflammation.
  3. Soothe irritation: Inflammation results in irritation to the airways, which can be very painful.
  4. Boost immunity: In the case of viral and bacterial coughs, you want to boost your immune system to fight off the infection. So long as the infection persists, the cough won’t get better!

Luckily, there are plenty of natural remedies which can achieve all of these tasks.

Here are some solutions.

1. Easy DIY Cough Medicine Recipe

This homemade cough syrup is easy to make and includes ingredients that you probably already have in your cupboards.


  • 3 tbsp honey: Great for soothing irritation. Also helps boost immunity.
  • 3 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar: This helps break down mucus, reduce inflammation, and also boosts immunity.
  • 2 tbsp olive oil or water: This serves as a base.
  • ¼ tsp fresh or powdered ginger: Helps soothe inflammation
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne: Awesome at breaking down mucus and phlegm
  • Chopped garlic (optional): Boosts immunity, is a natural antibacterial and antiviral, and helps soothe damaged tissues


Put all of the ingredients in a jar and mix well. Ideally, you should let the mixture sit for a few days so the ingredients can steep together.

Stir well before using.

Take as much of it as you want! Just be warned that too much cayenne might cause GI symptoms

2. Salt Cough Remedy

Another simple homemade cough remedy is to use salt. Salt has long been used to treat respiratory ailments because it helps draw excess fluids from inflamed tissues, thus soothing them.

Salt also helps loosen mucus, kills bacteria, and boosts immunity.

Inhale Salt Water Steam:

  1. Boil a pot of water.
  2. Add about 1-2 tsp of salt. Let it dissolve.
  3. Remove the water from the heat.
  4. Put your head over the pot, keeping it about 12 inches away.
  5. Cover your head with a towel to make a “tent.”
  6. Breathe in the steam.

Gargle Hot Salt Water:

This simple DIY cough remedy works surprisingly well. The hot water helps loosen mucus, and the salt is soothing. Mix about 1/2 tsp of salt (preferably without iodine) in one cup of hot water. Once the salt has dissolved, gargle.

Homemade Cough Remedies from Wild Plants

If you are serious about DIY medicines, you will want to look into these wild plants for treating cough. They are all great natural antitussives (meaning that they loosen mucus). They can also work as expectorants, which means they help expel the mucus from the body.

You probably won’t find them in your pantry (or the supermarket). However, many can be easily foraged. Once you’ve gathered the plants, you will have to do some work to turn them into medicine.

Options for taking these natural remedies include:

  • Tinctures
  • Oil extractions
  • Resins
  • Teas

Read more about how to make tinctures, oil extractions, and resins.

3. Wild Lettuce

Wild lettuce has become my favorite medicinal herb. It helps suppress cough and is a potent pain reliever – hence why it is called “opium lettuce.” Don’t worry, though; it isn’t addictive! Read about wild lettuce here.

4. Wild Cherry Bark (Prunus avium)

The bark of wild cherry contains saponins, which help break down mucus. It will also help inhibit the cough reflex, making it ideal for treating those annoying dry coughs. Just be warned that this plant should be taken sparingly!

5. Pine Needles

Pine needles are a very effective natural cough remedy. To make medicine from them, boil 1 cup of pine needles in 2 cups water for about 10 minutes. Then strain out the pine needles. Add honey and take a few tablespoons, as needed.

6. Anise

Better known as a digestive aid, anise also helps dissolve mucus and calm the respiratory tract. The easiest way to take anise for cough is to make a tea (about 2 tsp of seeds per cup of water). You can make a more potent DIY medicine by boiling the seeds for a long time or making an oil infusion.

7. Mullein (Varbascum Thapsus)

Mullein is easy to find (you might even have some in your yard right now). I love this plant because it is fuzzy. You can even use it as a bandaid on minor cuts. For treating coughs naturally, it primarily works as an anti-inflammatory to calm the respiratory tract. It is also a natural expectorant.

8. Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

The name tussilago means “cough dispeller.” The plant’s flowers are used to make a tea, tincture, or oil infusion. It is particularly great for dry coughs and other respiratory ailments.

9. Burdock

Burdock is a very easy medicinal herb to recognize and forage. I love it as a caffeine-free alternative to coffee (though not everyone thinks it tastes so great!).

Usually, burdock is used to purify the blood, reduce joint pain, and fight bladder infections. However, it is also good at soothing a cough as it reduces inflammation.

10. Lungwort

As the name implies, lungwort is used for treating various respiratory ailments.

The plant hasn’t been studied much, so we don’t know its mechanism of action for treating cough. We do know that it is potent in saponins and antioxidants. Just be warned that the leaves taste very bitter!

11. Ephedra sinica

If the coughing is from asthma, then this natural remedy will work. The herb helps dilate the bronchial pathway, allowing more air to enter the lungs. It is also great at drying up mucus and decongesting.

12. Purple Dead Nettle

Try a homemade cough syrup featuring Purple Dead Nettle as a soothing remedy for colds and sore throats. The plant’s anti-inflammatory properties can reduce swelling, while its antioxidant qualities boost your immune system, helping you recover more quickly.

Read more about the benefits and uses of purple dead nettle.

You can use these natural herbs to make your own cough medicine. Or, for a more potent medicine, combine different herbs with some honey.

Have you made your own cough medicine? How did it work?