Q. Some time ago I had a horrible coughing fit at my bank. The teller, an Indian woman, motioned for me and handed me a couple pieces of candied ginger from her purse. It worked immediately and now I keep some handy for anyone needing it to quell a cough.

A. What a tasty cough remedy! Research dating back to 1984 shows that a compound in ginger, (6)-shogaol, is at least as effective as a codeine compound in fighting a cough (Journal of Pharmacobio-Dynamics, Nov., 1984). More recently, scientists have confirmed that this compound can also fight fever, pain and inflammation (Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology, Aug., 2013).

We have frequently recommended ginger tea or honey as a cough remedy for children, rather than drugstore remedies. It seems that candied ginger combines some of the properties of both, and is highly portable besides. Just as with cough drops, though, the sweetening can act like candy and should be taken in moderation.

You can learn more about natural approaches to seasonal coughs from respiratory infections in our 8-page Guide to Colds, Coughs & the Flu.

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  1. I have actually been finding crystallized ginger – what it says on the bag, same as candied ginger – in our local grocery stores here and there: I was at a Kroger Signature store nearby when I saw some in specialty foods. I bought that bag I mentioned at a Big Lots store in the foods section, but also see it at Whole foods stores and other grocery stores. I do live near a big India-style section of Houston, maybe that is why it is more available, not sure. Anyway it is showing up many places now.

  2. I read with interest your article about candied ginger (crystallized ginger)…I have a friend with a chronic cough (stubborn old man!) whose doctors tell him it will eventually go away…so I bought a bag of crystallized ginger to give him to see if it would help him. (we go bird watching together 3-4 x a month)I told him about it and he did not want to take it, (very stubborn and right about everything!)…so I kept the bag. he is still coughing, and last time he picked me up to go bird watching, his car smelled like cough drops so he is being stubbornly stupid about it.
    well, the rest of the story…I kept the bag in my cupboard. then last night I got a bad spell of hiccups – something I ate or drank, don’t know where it came from, but it would not go away. Also was somewhat gassy and bloated – most likely something I ate or drank caused both reactions. Anyway I thought about that bag of crystallized ginger, went to the cupboard, opened the bag and munched on the biggest piece I could find in the bag (these were natural-looking pieces, not squares)…anyway it was mere seconds, and the hiccups were gone…after bothering me for 10 or more minutes! Hmm…that crystallized ginger tasted good…hot spicy and sweet with the sugar crystals…so I munched 3 or 4 more pieces, not a lot. Went back to watching TV. Well…within an hour or so, all my gas and bloating were gone! Went to bed feeling good. (I am 69 years old and relatively healthy)…woke up with the flattest tummy in a long time…(average weight, maybe a little overweight, not much)…anyway feeling better today and now I know what to do about hiccups, gas, bloating…will keep some in a plastic bag in my purse like the Indian woman teller did for that person I read about in your column! But hiccups too, and gas and bloating? wow! Good stuff! I only wish my coughing friend would listen to me….

  3. A word of caution re: Listerine strips. A friend gave me one and it made me sick. I had a hard time catching my breath and had to go outdoors to get fresh air. It took about 15 to 20 minutes before I felt better. Apparently I am allergic to the concentrated form of Listerine.

  4. Listerine strips stop those tickling coughs that coughing won’t stop and are easier to carry in pocket than
    candied ginger.
    They’re also great for halting the canker sores that start to erupt the minute my daughter bites into an unexpected piece of nut in a bread or salad. (A dentist advised her to carry Listerine to put in her mouth when she feels canker sores erupting in response to some allergen.) Now we all carry
    the Listerine strips.

  5. Kahleen – I buy candied ginger at Earth Fare food store. Whole Foods might carry it too. My alternative meds person says it’s good for fighting infection too.

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