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Search Health Information    Cough (Holistic)

Cough (Holistic)

About This Condition

That nagging cough may be due to a common cold or a number of other infections. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.
  • Try traditional herbs

    Relieve coughing with herbal remedies containing marshmallow, sundew, thyme, coltsfoot, or slippery elm

  • Get a checkup

    Visit your healthcare provider if your cough lasts longer than two weeks, or if you think you are coughing up blood

About

About This Condition

A cough is a symptom of many diseases. Most coughs come from simple viral infections, such as the common cold . Sometimes, but not always, mucus is produced with the cough. If the color is green or yellow, it may be a hint of a bacterial infection , although this is not always a reliable indicator. If the color is red, there may be bleeding in the lungs. Any cough that produces blood or blood-stained mucus, as well as any cough that lasts more than two weeks, requires a visit to a medical professional for diagnosis.

Holistic Options

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) may be helpful in the treatment of a cough. Cupping (the use of a glass cup to create suction over a skin surface) is a traditional Chinese therapy, often used for patients to help relieve a cough. An uncontrolled study using cupping to relieve coughs reported a curative response in 35 of 41 patients.1 Other TCM therapies, including acupuncture and herbal medicine, may be helpful in cough-producing ailments such as asthma and bronchitis .

Supplements

What Are Star Ratings?

Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.

For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.

3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.

2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.

1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.

Supplement Why
1 Star
Anise
Refer to label instructions
The active constituents in anise, particularly the terpenoid anethole, give this plant a delightful flavor. As an antispasmodic, it helps in gently relieving spasmodic coughs.

The active constituents in anise (Pimpinella anisum), particularly the terpenoid anethole, give this plant a delightful flavor. As an antispasmodic, it helps in gently relieving spasmodic coughs.2

1 Star
Bloodroot
Refer to label instructions
Bloodroot has a long history of use for relieving coughs

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Catnip
Refer to label instructions
Catnip has a long history of use for relieving coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Comfrey
Refer to label instructions
Comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the roots) has a long history of use for relieving coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Elecampane
Refer to label instructions
Elecampane has a long history of use for relieving coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Eucalyptus
Refer to label instructions
Historically, herbal practitioners have recommended a steam inhalation of eucalyptus vapor to help treat asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, and emphysema.

Caution: Do not use eucalyptus oil internally without supervision by a healthcare professional. As little as 3.5 ml of the oil taken internally has proven fatal.   

The early 19th-century Eclectic physicians in the United States (who used herbs as their main medicine) not only employed eucalyptus oil to sterilize instruments and wounds but also recommended a steam inhalation of the oil’s vapor to help treat asthma , bronchitis , whooping cough, and emphysema.3

1 Star
Horehound
Refer to label instructions
Horehound has a long history of use for relieving coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Hyssop
Refer to label instructions
Hyssop has a long history of use for relieving coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Ivy Leaf
Refer to label instructions
Ivy leaf has a long history of use for relieving coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Licorice
Refer to label instructions
Licorice has a long history of use for relieving coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Lobelia
Refer to label instructions
Lobelia has a long history of use for relieving coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Mallow
Refer to label instructions
Mallow has a long history of use for relieving coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Marshmallow
Refer to label instructions
Marshmallow has a long history of use for treating coughs and has been shown in one study to have cough-relieving abilities.

A number of herbs have a rich history of use for treating coughs due to colds, bronchitis , or other mild conditions. Only a few studies have examined the effectiveness of these herbs. However, their effectiveness is well-known by practitioners of herbal medicine the world over. Among those herbs that have been shown to have some degree of cough-relieving activity are marshmallow ,4 sundew ,5 and coltsfoot .6 Use of coltsfoot should be limited to preparations of the leaves and flowers only, as the root is high in pyrrolizidine alkaloids, constituents that may be toxic to the liver.

1 Star
Mullein
Refer to label instructions
Mullein has a long history of use for relieving coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Onion
Refer to label instructions
Onion has a long history of use for relieving coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Pennyroyal
Refer to label instructions
Pennyroyal has a long history of use for relieving coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Plantain
Refer to label instructions
Plantain has a long history of use for relieving coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Red Clover
Refer to label instructions
Red clover has a long history of use for relieving coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Slippery Elm
Refer to label instructions
The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Sundew
Refer to label instructions
Sundew has a long history of use for treating coughs and has been shown in one study to have cough-relieving abilities.

A number of herbs have a rich history of use for treating coughs due to colds, bronchitis , or other mild conditions. Only a few studies have examined the effectiveness of these herbs. However, their effectiveness is well-known by practitioners of herbal medicine the world over. Among those herbs that have been shown to have some degree of cough-relieving activity are marshmallow ,7 sundew ,8 and coltsfoot .9 Use of coltsfoot should be limited to preparations of the leaves and flowers only, as the root is high in pyrrolizidine alkaloids, constituents that may be toxic to the liver.

Thyme has a long history of use in Europe for the treatment of dry, spasmodic coughs as well as for bronchitis .10 Many constituents in thyme team up to provide its antitussive (preventing and treating a cough), antispasmodic, and expectorant actions. The primary constituents are the volatile oils, which include the phenols thymol and carvacol.11 These are complemented by the actions of flavonoids along with saponins. Thyme, either alone or in combination with herbs such as sundew , continues to be one of the most commonly recommended herbs in Europe for the treatment of dry, spasmodic coughs as well as for whooping cough.12 Because of its apparent safety, it has become a favorite for treating coughs in small children.

1 Star
Thyme
Refer to label instructions
Many constituents in thyme team up to provide its antispasmodic, mucus-expelling, and cough-preventing actions. It also appears to be safe even for small children.

Thyme has a long history of use in Europe for the treatment of dry, spasmodic coughs as well as for bronchitis .13 Many constituents in thyme team up to provide its antitussive (preventing and treating a cough), antispasmodic, and expectorant actions. The primary constituents are the volatile oils, which include the phenols thymol and carvacol.14 These are complemented by the actions of flavonoids along with saponins. Thyme, either alone or in combination with herbs such as sundew , continues to be one of the most commonly recommended herbs in Europe for the treatment of dry, spasmodic coughs as well as for whooping cough.15 Because of its apparent safety, it has become a favorite for treating coughs in small children.

1 Star
Usnea
Refer to label instructions
Usnea contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

1 Star
Wild Cherry
Refer to label instructions
There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs.

The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot , catnip , comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound , elecampane , mullein , lobelia , hyssop , licorice , mallow , (Malvia sylvestris), red clover , ivy leaf , pennyroyal  (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion , (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.

References

1. Liu X. Treatment of cough in children by cupping on back. J Tradit Chin Med 1996;16:125.

2. Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. Gothenberg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum and Beaconsfield,UK: Beaconsfield Publishers Ltd, 1985:203–4.

3. Castleman M. The Healing Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1991, 162–3.

4. Nosal’ova G, Strapkova A, Kardosova A, et al. Antitussive action of extracts and polysaccharides of marshmallow (Althea officinalis L, var robusta). Pharmazie 1992;47:224–6 [in German].

5. Schilcher H. Phytotherapy in Paediatrics. Stuttgart: Medpharm Scientific Publishers, 1997, 38.

6. Wichtl M, Bisset N (eds). Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Stuttgart: Medpharm Scientific Publishers and Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1994.

7. Nosal’ova G, Strapkova A, Kardosova A, et al. Antitussive action of extracts and polysaccharides of marshmallow (Althea officinalis L, var robusta). Pharmazie 1992;47:224–6 [in German].

8. Schilcher H. Phytotherapy in Paediatrics. Stuttgart: Medpharm Scientific Publishers, 1997, 38.

9. Wichtl M, Bisset N (eds). Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Stuttgart: Medpharm Scientific Publishers and Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1994.

10. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1996, 492–5.

11. Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C. PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics, 1998, 1184–5.

12. Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum and Beaconsfield, UK: Beaconsfield Publishers Ltd, 1988, 208–9.

13. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1996, 492–5.

14. Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C. PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics, 1998, 1184–5.

15. Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum and Beaconsfield, UK: Beaconsfield Publishers Ltd, 1988, 208–9.

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