Herbal Help for Coughs

 What is Coughing?

The cough reflex is a vital part of the body's defence mechanisms. Normally, the lungs and the lower respiratory passages are sterile. If dust or dirt get into the lungs, a piece of food goes down the wrong way or if there is excess mucous due to infection, the body will act defensively and aim to expel it.


The reflex action is started by stimulation of sensory nerves in the lining of the respiratory passages.

When we cough, we take a  short intake of breath and the voice box (larynx) closes momentarily. The abdominal and chest muscles used for breathing contract, which in turn increases the pressure needed to drive air out the lungs when the larynx re-opens.

The resulting blast of air comes out at high speed, scrubbing and clearing the airway of dust, dirt or excess mucous. Ineffective clearance of the airway can lead to a chest infection and possible pneumonia.


What causes coughing?

Coughing usually means there is something in the respiratory passages that should not be there.

 Coughing can be provoked by:

  • The Common Cold (lasts up to 3 weeks)
  • Bacterial or viral infections (acute bronchitis, pneumonia)
  • Whooping cough or croup in children
  • Heart Failure
  • ACE Inhibitors (Medicines used in heart disease)
  • Pulmonary Embolism
  • Smoking
  • Asthma
  • Gastro-oesphageal reflux
  • Psychological illness



Coughing is more efficient when preceded by a full intake of air.

For this reason, patients with weak muscles, poor coordination of airway closure and re-opening, or who have airflow obstruction (as in COPD) will have a poor cough and be susceptible to complications including infection in the lower respiratory tract and pneumonia.

How can coughing be treated?

Coughing is a symptom, not a disease. It is the underlying cause of the cough that needs to be treated.

You should consult your local medical herbalist or doctor if any of the following symptoms accompany a cough, so that possible underlying causes can be investigated and treated where necessary:


  • Coughing up phlegm that is green, rusty brown, yellow, blood-stained or foul smelling
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Pain and swelling in the calf
  • Recurrent night-time cough
  • Whooping cough or croup
  • Worsening smoker’s cough
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Fever and sweating
  • Hoarseness of the voice with a chronic cough that doesn’t clear up spontaneously.


Airways infection

This time of year Infections in the breathing tubes (bacterial and viral) can be the most common cause of cough in otherwise healthy individuals. The most common cause (particularly in children) is a virus, which cannot be treated by antibiotics but can be treated with anti-viral herbs.


Herbal medicine is often associated with preventing illness or treating chronic conditions, however it can be very effective in treating acute respiratory infections. However you must see a fully trained medical herbalist who can fully examine you, listen to your breathing and if necessary refer you for further investigation. Coughing is a symptom and the underlying cause must be assessed. If the herbalist is satisfied that it is an infection (bacterial or viral) they will prescribe and dispense an individually  tailored medicine to kill the infection and ease your symptoms.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

 This herb is used extensively for resolving infections of the respiratory and digestive tracts. Grow in a window box or your garden and harvest from April/May right through to November. It will also dry well for storing throughout the winter. It is a powerful antiseptic and expectorant and super for treating bronchitis and asthma where excess mucous production can encourage a secondary chest infection.

Make a strong infusion to use as a gargle for tonsillitis and laryngitis. Inhale the essential oil for sinusitis.

The antispasmodic and healing properties of the herb will do wonders for a tummy bug, especially as the powerful antiseptic qualities will kill the bacteria causing the problem.

Don’t drink too strong a tea as the oils may leave you feeling nauseous. Just make a weaker cup next time!


 Carrageen Moss (Chondrus crispus)

This wonderful seaweed grows along our Atlantic coasts and is traditionally picked on the spring tides as it is only rarely exposed out of water, only appearing at these lowest tides. It can be bought dried in the health food store. High in iodine, vitamin A and B and many minerals, it is most nutritious and is ideal for those convalescing.

The seaweed is very soothing and antibacterial and is super for dry hacking coughs and sore throats. (Check with your medical herbalist if you have an existing thyroid problem before taking seaweeds).


You can combine the therapeutic actions of these herbs in a wonderful homemade cough syrup. Added honey will also help to soothe and heal. The fresh lemon juice will give you added vitamin C. Easy to make and will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.


Carrageen Moss €2.19 per bag from your local health food store


 Kelli’s Cough Syrup


Handful of Carrageen Moss

400ml water

2 tbsp fresh thyme/ 1 tsp dried thyme

Local/ Manuka Honey

Freshly squeezed lemon juice



  1. Reconstitute dried carrageen by soaking it in a little cold water for 15 minutes before use.
  2. While this is soaking, make a strong cup of thyme tea; add the dried herb to 100ml of the water, cover and allow to infuse for 10 minutes. If using fresh herb, place water and picked leaves in a pot, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
  3. Now discard the water used to reconstitute the seaweed and add the carrageen to the remaining water.
  4. Simmer gently in a pot for 10 minutes or until a light gloopy/syrupy consistency.
  5.  Add the thyme tea to the pot, strain and add honey and lemon to taste. It should have a thick, syrupy consistency but it will thicken further as it cools. Pour into sterilised bottles and store in the fridge.




Take a generous spoonful 4-6 times a day when needed.

Helpful Hint!

Check out www.irishbeekeeping.ie for local honey



Strengthen Your Defenses - Boost your Immune System

To help prevent and fight of respiratory infections, look after your immune system at this time of year.


What Can I Do to Fight Winter Flu and Colds?


Nature naturally prepares us for winter time. The natural hedgerow pharmacy is brimming with plants designed to boost our immunity against viruses and bacterial infection. There is much you can do to help strengthen your defences.



Simple hand washing and disposable tissues ‘Catch it, Bin it, Kill it’. I suggest carefully burning the tissues if you have an open fire or burner in your home. The virus can live on surfaces for quite some time.


Eat healthily

Minimise processed, refined and ready made meals and eat more freshly harvested and prepared local fruit and vegetables instead.



Turmeric spice has anti-viral properties and can be added to stews, casseroles and curries. This herb can also be taken in capsule form.



Natural Liquorice can be a beneficial treat with its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.


Multi-vitamin & Mineral

A good compliment of vitamins and minerals are essential for immune function. Naturally it is best to eat a varied diet rich in fruit and vegetables to ensure good nutrition. Children can benefit from a little helping hand in autumn and early winter, particularly if they have a limited diet.

Floradix Floravital Liquid Iron and Vitamin Formula €9.95 for 250ml. Take as directed.

Food State Multivitamin & Mineral €12.95 for 60 tablets. Take one tablet daily.

Solgar kangavites €8.99 for 60 chewable tablets. Take as directed.

Floradix Kindervital €8.95 for 250ml, is a liquid formulation. Take as directed.


Vitamin C

Vitamin C has proven anti-viral properties. Seasonal vitamin C –rich foods such as berries (fresh blackcurrants, blackberries, elderberries, bilberries, and rosehips), leafy greens (watercress, kale) and citrus fruits will boost levels. Larger doses may be beneficial during an infection and can be supplemented under advice.


Quest Vitamin C 1000mg timed release €8.00 for 60 tablets.

Higher Nature Fizzy C 500mg €5.60 for 20 effervescent tablets.



Zinc is a vital mineral for a healthy immune system. Natural sources include; stone-ground organic wholegrain flour, organic brown rice, dried fruits, molasses, onions, garlic, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.


Solgar Zinc picolinate 22mg €9.95 for 100 tablets.


Vitamin D

Make sure you have adequate levels of vitamin D, also necessary for a healthy immune system.


Solgar Vitamin D3 2200IU €8.90 for 50 capsules.


Elderberry (Sambucus nigra fruct.)

Many previous peer-reviewed studies offer strong evidence that elderberry significantly decreases the duration and severity of influenza A and B infections.


Elderberry Rob

This is a traditional spiced fruit syrup recipe for coughs, colds and flu’s. This recipe is suitable for all the family and can be taken when pregnant or taking other medications.


Gently remove the stalks and gently rinse just picked elderberries. Place them in a pot and just cover with water. Simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and measure the liquid. Pour back into the pot and for every 570ml (1 pint) of liquid add;


225g (8oz) sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1 inch of fresh ginger grated

12 cloves


Simmer for a further 30 minutes and then pour into labelled, sterilised bottles. Drink diluted with warm water and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

A plain syrup made with 1lb sugar to every pint of strained elderberry liquid can also be made. This can be stored by freezing in large ice cubes (individual portions).


Elderberry Juice

Provides a rich source of vitamin C and anti-oxidants and has a proven anti-viral action. The juice can be bought from your health food store and added to the daily drinks for school etc. As well as being useful in actively fighting a flu (It has been proven to reduce length of recovery from flu by 50%), it boosts the immune system and actually tastes delicious, providing a ‘kid friendly’ base for sneaking other herbs into!

Sambucol - a concentrated elderberry syrup, formulated for children €11.15. Take as directed.

Original ‘Sambucol’ (€10.80) from your local health food store.

Dose: Adults: 10ml (2tsp) 4 times daily

Children (under 12yrs) 10ml (2 tsp) twice daily


Bee Pollen (Propolis)

This is an excellent nutritive and tonic supplement for building up the immune system and helping the body to cope with stress.  Pollen contains 21 of the 23 known amino acids, many of the B vitamins, Vitamin A and numerous minerals. It also contains powerful anti-oxidants.

Bee Health Propolis liquid €5.40 for 30ml

Childrens Propolis Herbal Elixir (Lemon and honey flavour) €10.95 for 200ml. Take 2 teaspoonfuls daily (Not suitable for children under 2 years of age).

 Also available as tablets, lollipops and lozenges (€4.75 for 12)

Grapefruitseed Extract

Higher Nature Citricidal, Grapefruitseed extract €10.10 for 45ml.



 Add as many cloves as liked chopped or crushed to stews, soups etc. It will add anti-bacterial power to your food when added at the end of cooking to preserve the active constituents.

Kwai Garlic (one a day) €5.65 for 30 tablets.


Ginger (fresh)

Fresh ginger is warming and will help clear congestion and phlegm in the upper respiratory tract. Added to foods or taken as tea.


Omega 3, 6 ,9


Omegas 3, 6 & 9 are also vital to your immune health

Eskimo-3 €29.25 for 210ml

Eskimo Kids €11.99 for 105ml

Eye q baby (6months – 2 years) €11.10 for 30 capsules



Echinacea(Echinacea angustifolia/purpurea)

There are two types of Echinacea species Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea. It is generally accepted that the angustifolia is the stronger of the two species in immune stimulating action.  Most research done on this herb focuses on the root portion of the plant having proven effectiveness. It is important when buying the tincture that you look for this. While the angustifolia is the stronger in action of the two species, research has found a synergy in action between the two types of Echinacea.

Start taking Echinacea now and continue periodically over the winter months to help prevent infection. Taken in larger doses, more often, it is a proven immune stimulant when taken at the first sign of an infection (see your medical herbalist for individual prescribing doses for acute infection).

Caution if you are sensitive to members of the daisy family of plants. Chamomile and Mmarigolds are also members of this family. Allergic reaction is extremely rare but can happen in sensitive individuals

Dosage: Over the Counter (OTC) Childrens preparations, as directed per product. Available in tincture or tablets

Your medical herbalist may prescribe you suitable larger doses, more often during times of acute infection.

A.Vogel Echinaforce €10.50 for 50ml.

A.Vogel Echinacea Junior €6.75 for 60 chewable tablets.

Naturlife Kids Echinacea €12.99 for 100ml (contains Echinacea angustifolia root)


Herbal inhalation

To be inhaled in a bowl of hot water - could do it every day. If you felt a cold coming on you could increase it three times a day if convenient. Ideal for those who suffer with ongoing sinus problems.

You will need
. Eucalyptus essential oil
and lavander essential oil

  1. Take three drops of each and drop into a bowl of steaming water.
2. Position your childs head over the bowl and let them inhale slowly and deeply as long as can be tolerated while holding a towel over their head.

Helpful Hint! For children too young to safely do an inhalation, add 3 drops of essential oil to the bath water.

Rosemary, Thyme and Tea tree essential oils also have anti-microbial actions and can be used in your oil burner or as an inhalation.

Eucalyptus €4.50 for 10ml

Rosemary €6.95 for 10ml

Tea tree €5.95 for 10ml

Thyme €9.95 for 10ml


Anti-infective skin oil:

Tea tree essential oil

Lavander essential oil

Sweet Almond Oil (Carrier oil)

Tea tree is (antibacterial anti-microbial) and lavender is both (antibacterial and relaxing) oils - put them in the bath (10 drops), or in a bowl and allow steam inhalation - (put a few drops in a bowl water and put towel over your head.

Tea tree €6.49 for 10ml

Lavender €11.90 for 20ml

The sweet almond oil can be used as a base oil; add 3 drops of each essential oil into 30 mls of base oil. It is ideal to rub the oil onto the skin around the lungs and around the glands below the ears and under the throat. It can be a nice part of the evening routine, a light relaxing massage before bed.

€3.75 for 50ml

Never use undiluted essential oil on the skin.

Lavender has a nicer aroma than the tea tree - antiseptic and anti bacterial properties relax and calm children ..

Please note that the advice given in these notes is not intended to be a replacement for professional medical advice and treatment. Always visit a fully qualified medical herbalist or G.P. for diagnosis. If you are pregnant, have an existing condition or are currently taking medication consult a medical herbalist to see which herbs are appropriate for you to take.

If your child has experienced recurrent infections or is currently taking prescribed medication it is best to see a medical herbalist for individually tailored comprehensive treatment.