12th December, 20194 min read

Natural cough remedies: What works and what doesn't

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A natural remedy may sound like a safe way to treat an irritating cough, but how much do you know about common natural cough remedies?

Answer the questions below to discover which natural cough remedies work and which don’t.

Myths about natural cough remedies

Apple cider vinegar

True or false?

Answer: False

Some people believe that apple cider vinegar helps to fight inflammation and soothe a sore throat. People also claim that apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial properties which can help it kill the germs responsible for most coughs. Unfortunately, there’s little evidence to suggest that apple cider vinegar can actually help to soothe a cough.

Some studies show that apple cider vinegar may have some beneficial properties, but there’s no evidence that it can reduce inflammation. More testing is needed before a firm conclusion about its antimicrobial properties can be drawn.

It’s also worth noting that apple cider vinegar is an acid, so it may irritate your throat if you drink too much.

Liquorice root tea

True or false?

Answer: Inconclusive

Liquorice root tea is sometimes said to help a cough. Mouse studies have shown that substances found in liquorice may reduce how often you cough by 30% to 78%. Research also suggests that liquorice root may help a cough by reducing inflammation and limiting the growth of bacteria, fungi and viruses.

While this all sounds promising, a problem exists. These studies have been carried out in mice, which means there’s little evidence to show how liquorice affects coughs in humans. With that in mind, further research is needed to determine if liquorice root tea is an effective natural cough remedy in humans.

If you do decide to try liquorice root tea to soothe your cough, take care. Liquorice root can raise blood pressure and reduce potassium levels. It’s also not suitable for pregnant women.

Speak to a doctor before trying liquorice root tea.

Pelargonium root

True or false?

Answer: False

Pelargonium root is a traditional herbal medicine that’s supposed to help fight off coughs and colds. Like apple cider vinegar, pelargonium root is thought to have antimicrobial properties that help you fight certain viral infections.

Unfortunately, clinical trials don’t support this conclusion and the European Medicines Agency says that pelargonium root is only approved for sale because of its use in traditional herbal medicine.

There’s also no evidence to suggest that inhaling essential oils can help to ease the symptoms of a cough. However, some evidence shows that inhaling warm steam can relieve irritation, so you may still find it helpful to try aromatherapy if your throat is sore.

Honey and lemon drinks

True or false?

Answer: True

Clinical trials don’t support the use of honey and lemon drinks, but some evidence suggests they can help to soothe a sore or irritated throat. Honey and lemon drinks will provide your body with extra vitamin C, but there’s limited evidence to suggest that increasing your vitamin C intake will help your cold symptoms.

You can make a lemon and honey drink by:

  • squeezing a little lemon juice into a cup of boiled water
  • adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey
  • drinking it while it’s warm

There’s some evidence to suggest that gargling salt water can help to relieve the symptoms of a sore throat. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) recommends dissolving a small amount (half a teaspoon) of salt in a glass of warm water and gargling for 30 seconds before spitting it out.

Are you worried about a cough? Find out if you need to

see a doctor for your cough

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.