Skip to main content
Herbs for a Cough

Herbs for a Cough

| Dr. JJ Pursell | Herbs for Common Ailments

Have you ever noticed how quickly an illness can descend once the holidays are over? It’s not all that surprising, after all—decadent meals, less physical activity, maybe late nights and less sleep than we’re used to all add up to a fatigued immune system.

Then, once we’re all gun-ho about our resolutions, adding more fresh fruit and veggies and all that other healthy stuff back into our diets, there’s this gap (I call it the good intention gap—that space between decadence and green-filled health) where the body is just trying to catch up and regulate itself. This gap is where viruses can take hold.

Now, part of this is a cleansing process—these illnesses are cleansing your system of toxins. All those fluids you’re sneezing and coughing up? Well, try to think of it as an internal scrubbing mechanism. So, if you can let the illness ride, go for it; this virus is advantageous and the cleansing is probably needed.

Of course, sometimes we don’t have the luxury of lying in bed for a few days, or we have a serious illness in need of antibiotics. (Always see your physician if you suspect infection or if your symptoms go on for more than seven days!)

Here are a few herbs that can help bring you back to health:


Sage not only helps soothe coughs, it also treats sore throats, is antibacterial, and lowers fevers. If you have a fever, you can drink cold sage tea (2tsp per 8oz of water—brew as tea and then let cool); to induce sweating, drink the sage tea hot. For sore throats or stubborn coughs, lace the tea with honey—a cough suppressant and sore throat soother in its own right—and add lemon.

Note: Avoid sage if you are pregnant; sage is not meant for long-term use (medicinally, that is—cooking with it is fine).


Horehound is a member of the mint family, but unfortunately didn’t inherit any of mint’s sweetness. This bitter herb is a good expectorant, cough suppressant, pain reliever, and soother of digestive upset. Traditionally, horehound is prepared as a cough drop (recipe here), but you can also brew it as a tea, adding honey and lemon.

Note: Generally not recommended if pregnant.


If you buy over-the-counter herbal cough syrups, you’ll probably find wild cherry bark as a key ingredient, and for good reason. Wild Cherry is analgesic (pain-relieving), antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory. It opens up the bronchioles in the lungs and soothes the spasms of a cough. You can use wild cherry as a tea, but it’s most often found as a syrup (recipe here).

Note: Not recommended for small children, nursing mothers, pregnant women, or people with severe kidney or liver disease. Not recommended for long-term use.

Connect w/ Dr. JJ Pursell


* indicates required