The People's Perspective on Medicine

How Can You Find Natural Cough Medicine That Works?

A search for a natural cough medicine from Germany turned up several herbs that can be helpful. Have you tried elderberry, thyme or Andrographis?
Sambucus berries. Common names include elder, elderberry, black european elder, European elderberry, European black elderberry. Black sambucus berries & leaves growing on tree or shrub. Fruit cluster

Have you ever looked for a natural cough medicine that you can take until you recover from your cold or bronchitis? Some readers have encountered cold remedies in Europe that they found helpful. When they look for them in the US, however, they are often stymied. 

The Hunt for German Cough Medicine:

Q. I am tying to find out how to purchase German Sambucha extra strength cough medicine. It is the only thing that helped me when I was in Germany. I can’t find it anymore.

A. Your question threw us for a loop. We searched high and low for “Sambucha” and came up blank. There is something called sambuca. It is an Italian liqueur. It is sweet and tastes a lot like licorice. We’re pretty sure that is not what you are inquiring about.

Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage. It is made by using a yeast and bacteria culture. We doubt that is what you are seeking either.

Sambucus-Based Cold Medicines:

We suspect you’re looking for the ingredient Sambucus nigra or Sambucus canadensis. These natural ingredients are both known by the common name elderberry. There is evidence that elderberry extract has activity against viruses that cause both influenza and colds (Journal of Functional Foods, March, 2019; BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Feb. 26, 2011).  

There are lots of sambucus (elderberry) products available in health foods stores, pharmacies and online under brand names such as Sambucol or Umcka. You can find capsules, syrups, gummies and lozenges. They may not mirror the German cough medicine you are seeking but they may be helpful nevertheless.

Traditionally, people used tea made from dried elder flowers to treat colds and coughs (Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals, CRC Press, 1994). We don’t know of any commercial cough medicine containing elder flowers, however. If you harvest and dry elder flowers in the late spring, you can make them into tea throughout the year.

Natural Cough Medicine with Other Ingredients:

One of the difficulties in locating natural cough medicine that works is a dearth of controlled studies. German scientists reviewed the research several years ago and concluded that there is strong evidence that a proprietary mixture of ivy, primrose and thyme works (Forschende Komplementarmedizin, Dec. 14, 2015). They also found strong evidence supporting the efficacy of the Chinese herb Andrographis paniculata.  

If you wish to make your own thyme cough medicine, you can find instructions here. You may find that natural cough medicine tastes better than standard drugstore products and can be quite helpful.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Torabian G et al, "Anti-influenza activity of elderberry (Sambucus nigra)." Journal of Functional Foods, March, 2019.
  • Krawitz C et al, " Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses." BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Feb. 26, 2011. DOI: 10.1186/1472-6882-11-16
  • Wagner L et al, "Herbal medicine for cough: A systematic review and meta-analysis." Forschende Komplementarmedizin, Dec. 14, 2015. DOI: 10.1159/000442111
  • Bisset, NG, ed. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals: A handbook for practice on a scientific basis. Translated from the German (Stuttgart 1989). CRC Press, Boca Raton, Ann Arbor, London, Tokyo: 1994. pp.446-447.
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I chew on a hunk of “naked” crystalized ginger found with the dried fruit in the baking section of the supermarket. It works every time and will calm the tummy at the same time.

Dr Low Dog’s Herbal Cough treatment:
2 Tbs dried thyme I 1 cup nearly boiling water, steep 10 min. Strain & add 1tsp lemon juice, 1/2 cup organic honey. Dose 1 Tbs as needed. Store in fridge. It works!!

Nature’s Way UMCKA, natural and very effective for coughs and colds. Now being sold not only at Whole Foods and other Health Stores but also at Walgreen’s. That’s my go to remedy at the first sign of a cold, flu or cough.

I have read that eating pineapple can quell a cough.

It’s a pity that the use of elderberry isn’t better known. A traditional treatment for coughs and colds is Elderberry Rob–elderberries are boiled with honey, cinnamon and allspice and the resulting syrup strained and mixed with a little brandy as preservative. A few spoonfuls of this mixed into hot water usually reduces cold symptoms very effectively. Sambucus Canadensis grows wild in many places in North America and I suspect that the homemade syrup probably retains more of the plant’s properties than most over-the-counter Sambucus preparations.

Dr. Low Dog recommended ginger as a decongestant and that works very well. I will try the elderberry products next time but some doctors prescribe that natural codeine in small amounts and that works well too.

I have COPD. During the winter months I am very susceptible to cold/flu virus infections which can very quickly infect my lungs. I had recently read about Sambucus syrup being very popular in Germany and decided it would be worth my while giving it a chance, and try and build up some immunity to these viruses.

I found Sambucus Standardized Elderberry Original Syrup available in the U.S. from Natures Way. It is my understanding that this “standardized” version that they sell is similar to the sambucus syrup sold in Germany. I purchased a couple of 8 oz bottles and started taking the recommended “maintenance” dose. I will have to wait until next winter to see if it is effective for me, and will post again at that time.

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