What is a cough?
A cough is an involuntary reflex (it can also be performed voluntarily) and as such is the bodies way of attempting to clear any unwanted secretions or irritants (eg mucous, accidentally inhaled water, dust or smoke etc) from the lungs and airways. Coughing therefore occurs as an attempt to protect the lungs from irritation or damage and as such should rarely be suppressed for obvious reasons. Instead the cause should be sought and remedied if possible. The air from a cough can travel up to 300 miles an hour!
A persistent cough will often result from increased mucous in the airways due to infection, as a result of irritation from acid reflux, from narrowing of the airways in asthma and allergies or inflammation caused by bronchitis for example. The main types of cough are termed 'productive' or chesty when the cough brings up mucous or 'dry' when no mucous is brought up. Some medications can give rise to coughs also.
Herbal and natural treatments aim to increase the effectiveness of the cough in bringing out the mucous, soothe irritated airways, rectify the cause of the cough and strengthen the lungs generally.
Avoid foods that cause excess mucous production such as dairy, junk and sugary foods and white flour and sugar foods for example.
Eat only fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds and fresh water and herb teas to increase nutrients in the body.
Onions and garlic are excellent foods which help disinfect the airways and thin mucous secretions making them easier to expel. A simple yet effective cough syrup can be made by chopping a white onion (and a clove of chopped garlic if you wish), putting it in a bowl and adding just enough honey to cover the onion. Cover with a plate and leave for several hours or overnight. Spoon off the now liquid honey and take a tablespoon every hour or so. This works well for chesty coughs when thick mucous is being coughed up.
Drink plenty of fluids in the form of water, freshly squeezed citrus juices or herbal teas.
There are a good many herbs that can help with coughs but this recipe is one that I found works well for both chesty and dry coughs. It takes a day or so to brew but can be kept for many months if stored in a cool dark place. The following recipe is for 1 litre of cough syrup:
In a large saucepan put a tablespoon each of balm of gilead buds, aniseeds, elecampagne root, marshmallow root, wild cherry bark and half a tablespoon of liqourice root. Add about 600ml of water, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for half an hour or so with the lid on. Turn off the heat and stand overnight or for at least 6 hours or so.
Next strain off the liquid (squeezing thoroughly to get as much liquid as possible from the herbs) and discard the herbs to the compost heap. Put the herbal liquid back in the pan and now add a tablespoon each of thyme, mullein leaf and white horehound and bring to the boil with the lid on. Once boiling, turn off the heat and stand as before, overnight or for about 6 hours. Strain the liquid from the herbs, squeezing thoroughly and add a tablespoon of slippery elm powder and a pinch of cayenne powder before pouring the liquid into a 1 litre glass bottle. You should have about 500ml of herbal liquid hopefully.
Add about 500ml of vegetable glycerine, close with a secure top and shake well to mix. The syrup can be taken in the dose of a teaspoon in a small glass of water up to 5 times daily for adults. Halve the dose for children 7 and over, quarter dose for children under 7 and do not give to babies under 1 year old, take the adult dose yourself and breast feed your baby. If you are not breastfeeding, a simple tea of liqourice root (half a teaspoon of liqourice root per cup) given 5 drops at a time every 2 hours or so should work fine.
If the cough is very spasmodic and hurts the whole chest and body use the relaxing nervine herbs like valerian, skullcap and hops. Take a teaspoon of the combined tinctures (equal parts) up to 3 times daily.
For stubborn and prolonged coughs due to infection you could use an additional immune boosting formula which could include echinacea, astragulus, elderflower, barberry root and siberian ginseng tinctures in equal parts. Use a teaspoon 3 times daily for a few weeks until all signs of the cough are gone.
For an extremely dry irritating cough take a teaspoon of either irish or iceland moss and make a tea. Drink 3 cups daily. You will not be able to strain the irish moss so eat with a spoon. Both are incredibly slimy and soothing and both are very nutritious.
An old Gypsy remedy for coughs and congestion is to simmer 2 tablespoons of linseeds in 1.5 pints of water for 15 minutes. Strain and add the juice of 2 lemons and 5 tablespoons of honey. Take 2 tablespoons every hour or so.
Coltsfoot flowers and leaves are also a good remedy for coughs that are exhausting the body with their violence and frequency. Use a teaspoon of a mix of dried leaves and flowers per cup and take 3 cups daily.
About the author:
Deanna Millard is a qualified and experienced Herbalist who has been in practise for over 15 years.
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