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European cold and cough remedies have won converts when U.S. visitors travel to the continent. There could be a reason for this success.

Q. When I was in Europe last month, I caught a cold and developed an awful cough. Luckily, a German pharmacist understood my sign language and sold me a miracle cure that cleared it up in a few days.

The medicine is Makatussin and it contains “Thymianfluidextrakt” and “Sternanisol.” It comes as drops to be put on a sugar cube or in tea. It worked so much better than the Robitussin DM I usually use that I would like to find something similar here. Is there a medicine like it?

A. Makatussin contains extract of thyme and star anise oil. The German government has approved both herbs for colds and coughs.

We know of no similar medicine available in the U.S. You could, however, make yourself a tea with thyme leaves, approximately one half teaspoon per cup, and a piece of star anise. You can buy this spice where Chinese groceries are sold.

Scientific Research on Thyme Against Coughs:

Polish scientists writing in the journal Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica (March-April, 2015) note that a popular syrup called Bronchosol contains a “dense” extract of thyme and primula root (primrose). They noted that in their in vitro experiments this thyme-containing cough medicine had strong antibacterial and anti-fungal activity. They conclude:

“The confirmation of the antimicrobial activity of Bronchosol provides an explanation of its effectiveness in the therapy of respiratory tract infections.”

Several other studies suggest that thyme has benefits against upper respiratory tract infections and coughs. It has certainly been our experience that tea made with dried thyme leaves and a little honey can calm a troublesome cough. A semi-retired dermatologist shared this amazing success story about thyme tea against a cold.

Here are some other stories from visitors to this web site:

“Simple chicken soup helps cure colds (chicken, an onion, two cloves garlic, two celery stalks, two carrots, parsley… a little pepper). Now I’ll add a bit of sage and thyme. Yum. Thanks for the information about soothing a cough and / or cold. Maybe that’s where the song came from…. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme…. remember me to the one who lives there. She once was a true love of mine. Oh sorry, I’m rambling.”

-Chicken Soup & Herbs

“Another powerful home remedy for cough and other cold symptoms is to drink a turmeric milk: boil in a cup of milk a teaspoon of turmeric powder. Drink this 3 times daily.”

“I don’t know about everyone else, but when my family or I have a cough, its 1-2 tsp of honey as needed. I have been using this for about 3 years now and it works better than any over-the-counter “cough remedy.” In the rare case it doesn’t work as well as I want it to, I apply Vicks VapoRub on the soles of my feet…How It works? Who knows… but it does!”

“I have a friend from Africa who sucked a slice of raw ginger for a sore throat and cold, a common remedy in his country. You can dip it in granulated sugar to make it more palatable, but it works. I really thought that he would have to see a doctor but he was well within 2 days.”

We are sending you our Guide to Colds, Coughs & The Flu, which offers other natural approaches for treating colds and coughs. Anyone who would like a copy can download it here. And if you would like to read about other remedies for coughs, colds and flu you may find our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies of great value. It makes a great gift this time of year!

Revised 1/28/16

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  1. Abigail

    I was working in a health food store back in the 70’s. We had a big Christmas sale starting the next day. I felt awful and told my manager I was coming down with flu. He told me “No, you’re not. Take two garlic oil capsules tonight with 100,000 i.u. s of Vitamin A.” He was right. I was at work the next day. This was a one-time dose and very high in Vitamin A which we now are careful about using in high doses.

  2. Penelope

    With the first hint of a cold, scratchy throuat or runny nose, we swab out our nostrils and gargle with mixture of half & half cider vinegar and water. We also load up on vitamin C in whatever form-ester-C drink, pill, orange, etc.

  3. Nancy
    Auburn, WA

    A few years ago we were on vacation in the Midwest, visiting my aunt. I was getting a sore throat and cold (really makes you feel crummy in the heat!). My aunt gave me a cup of hot water with honey and lemon in it. She said you can drink that as often as you need (in a day) to help with the symptoms I had. Six cups later (that same day), and a good nights’ sleep….it was gone the next morning! I was amazed, but have continued to this day, and have pretty much avoided colds and sore throats.

  4. Fran
    Chapel Hill NC

    I had a hideous cold with racking cough while on a layover at Amsterdam airport about 20 years
    ago and went to the pharmacy for help. I was given a cough medicine that tasted exactly like my
    old childhood reliable, Pertussin, a thymol-based delicious syrup that worked very well on my
    chronic bronchitis back in the early 1940s. This Dutch elixir worked just as well. In our herb-crazed culture, it’s incomprehensible to me that we have no such remedy any longer on our
    pharmacy shelves. I’m guessing it’s oil of thyme that may be the magical ingredient.

  5. Arlene

    Greetings,,,I have chased away many developing colds / sore throats, at the very start of a feeling of soreness in throat, or itchy ear. I put about 30 drops of grapefruit seed extract in a couple tablespoons of water. A tiny sip of this every couple hours or so, and put my head back to let it sit as long as possible at the back of the throat,,then swallow it. I also take a teaspoon of raw honey and keep at the back of throat as long as possible. With clean Q-tips, I dip in the extract / water and clean out deep in the ear canal to stop any bacterial growth in the ear.
    My son does this also….
    Keep the extract / water mixture on bed stand to use during the night to continue to chase away that sore throat !!
    It works….

  6. Amy

    Whenever I get a cough it seems to last for 6-8 weeks,, even with an inhaler. A friend told me to take Oil of Oregano. Got a bottle of 30 pills for $10 at Nutrition Store and took 3 little pills a day with food. within 36 hours my cough was 90% better and 48 hours it was gone. It is said to be an antifungal and antibiotic.

  7. DS

    I laughed out loud at the People’s Pharmacy’s response! However I do not notice the odor of garlic on myself or my husband when we eat a lot of it. I think some people are “exuders”, as a friend called it, and some are not.
    I am going to keep the avocado/garlic combination in mind.

  8. S.T.

    I was coming down with a cough following a minor bout with flue. Was told about the teas many Germans use to reduce an oncoming cough. Research into recipes showed ingredients that are not likely to be found here, but they all had these in common : Thyme, anise, fennel. You can easily make a tea for yourself by steeping an anise seed or two, some fennel seeds with a teaspoon of fresh thyme for a quart of hot water. Steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Add honey to taste. I used this as needed and it seems to have helped me avoid having to use any “medicines.”

  9. TexasGreg

    For any of you thinking of heading to Germany to load up your suitcase, I gave this info to my German wife before she traveled home to visit family last week. Makatussin now requires a prescription because of the codine content. The chemist showed her Aspecton which is “similar” and available OTC. For once she returned without picking up a cold so we’ll have to wait a bit longer to try it out. I say just keep eating the fresh fruit along with commenter ‘Sid’s’ precautions.

  10. DS

    If you have a sore throat, gargling with warm salt water tastes nasty but really works to ease the pain and clear out the infection.

  11. Chris W.

    When I have a scratchy throat, I begin to gargle with hydrogen peroxide diluted slightly with water and my throat will be better the next morning, continue to do that for a few times and it does not develop. I have also used it for coughing and it works very well. chris

  12. PG

    I make a tea of ginger and honey. It seems to work, the cold only lasts a couple of days.

  13. Fonnie H.

    I was raised in a very large Italian family, and when I was a child and had a cold, my grandmother insisted that I have anise cookies with hot tea.
    All my life when I started to get a cold, I usually have to make my own anise cookies, as they are hard to find. But, it has always worked, and I usually am over the cold symptoms in two days.
    If I had a really bad cough, she would crush the little anise stars and mix it with olive oil and rub it on my chest, and put an old t-shirt on me, and the next morning I felt a lot better. She also would rub the mixture on my neck, and put a piece of flannel cloth around my neck, and again my sore throat went away.
    Funny, I never connected it to be something that a German pharmacist would use to cure a cold.
    live and learn.
    god bless, fonnie

  14. BC

    Sambucol is from Black Elderberry and works well for me and my husband. It is an anti-viral. We get tablets but it comes as a syrup, too.

  15. Sue

    When my daughter’s Ventolin inhaler fails, I just make some tea from the thyme and give her a few spoonfuls and she is good to go.

  16. DS

    In London years ago I had a bit of nasal congestion and because I didn’t want to get an earache I went to a pharmacy to pick up some Sudafed. The pharmacist said I’d need to see a doctor to get that, but he could sell me something “natural.” He sold me a bottle of Olbas oil. Just a drop on a tissue held under the nose clears congestion. Now I always buy a bottle when I go to London. I think you can get it online now too.

    • Ebm

      Health stores carry Olbas oil, inhaler sticks etc.

  17. Sid

    Even better is not to catch a cold. Each day that I am out in the public, when I return home I wash my hands, rinse my mouth with hydrogen peroxide, spray saline solution in my nose. I can’t remember when I last had a cold. Prior to this routine I used to have 2 or 3 colds each year.

  18. Paulette

    I am not surprised this helped. I have used Makatussin in Germany and fairly certain it contains codeine. Codeine cough syrup is available in US without a prescription by asking the pharmacist and signing for it.

  19. ark

    Turmeric milk is an old old ayurvedic remedy for cough and cold. And ayurvedic way of treatment is practiced in india for at least 5000 years!! It is also referred to as golden milk:)…no pun intended!!

  20. SSI

    Makatussin contains codeine. Just looked it up. Codeine is a cough suppressant.

  21. Toussaint

    We rarely gets colds because we take 6 grams of Vitamin C a day, 18 to 20 grams if we’re starting to get something. But when I feel “off,” I make at least 2 tablespoons of finely chopped garlic, mix it into half a Hass avocado, & slap it on buttered rye toast. Yummy. If it doesn’t do the trick in 2 hours, I’ll do it again & again until it does. Symptoms rarely last 12 hours.
    My wife learned this trick when she had a high fever & a vicious sore throat. 2 tablespoons of finely chopped garlic every 2 hours. The next morning, no sore throat, no fever, & she felt as fine as a fiddle.
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Another benefit: you are less likely to spread the infection to others, who may be staying at arm’s length with the aroma of garlic so strong.

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