The People's Perspective on Medicine

How to Make Onion Syrup for a Cough

Some readers like to make onion syrup when they have a cough. It is an old home remedy that seems to help calm a cough with minimal side effects.

In the midst of cold and flu season, many people are troubled with lingering coughs. Are you barking like a seal? Is your cough keeping you awake at night? Luckily, there are a number of remedies that can be helpful. You might want to make onion syrup and try it out as cough medicine.

How Do You Make Onion Syrup?

Q. I read about onion syrup for coughs and colds. How does one prepare this? I have never seen it in a store.

A. This old home remedy is not difficult to make.

One reader described her approach:

“When my kids were babies and got croup, I made onion syrup on the stove. I cut a few onions in half and covered them with water. First I’d bring it to a boil, then simmer the mixture real low and slow with enough water just to cover for a couple of hours. The onions would get soft and the cooking water would be syrupy. I’d sweeten it with a little sugar or honey, depending on the child’s age. Nothing worked better.”

Another reader offered this:

“I really believe in the onion syrup. When my daughter was a baby, she had colic and was coughing all the time. A friend of mine sliced an onion, sprinkled sugar all over the cut edges, and waited about 30 minutes until the juice began to collect. Then we gave the baby a teaspoon with instant success. We continued to give it to her, and she slept well.”

What Can You Take for a Cough Besides Dextromethorphan?

Other readers have shared their approaches:

Q. I survived flu season without getting sick, but now I have a terrible sore throat and am starting to cough. I hate the taste of DM (dextromethorphan) cough medicines. What else can you recommend?

A. Flu season is almost over, but some people are still suffering. You may want to get a rapid flu test to rule this out.

Make Onion Syrup as a Home Remedy for Cough:

If you have a cold rather than the flu, there are several home remedies to control a cough. One is onion syrup. The onion is sliced thin and simmered in sweetened water until it is quite soft, 45 minutes to an hour. Many readers assure us that it is delicious. It does taste rather strongly of onion.

Those who can’t abide onions may prefer ginger or thyme tea. You’ll find recipes for both in our Guide to Colds, Coughs & the Flu. Some kids will do fine with onion syrup, while others will prefer honey or ginger tea.

Drinking Thyme Tea to Calm a Cough:

Q. I had the flu four weeks ago and still have a cough despite taking Robitussin DM. I tried drinking thyme tea this afternoon, and it has calmed my cough. Others might want to know.

A. A post-viral cough sometimes lingers for weeks after all other symptoms of the flu have gone. Calming such a cough can be challenging.

The Value of Thymol:

Experiments show that thymol, an active component of thyme, can reduce the urge to cough and the number of coughs (Gavliakova et al, Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology, June 1, 2013).  Many people find that a cup of thyme tea made with a half-teaspoon of thyme leaves and sweetened with honey if desired is a pleasant way to control a cough. 

Pamela reports:

“I found that drinking thyme tea during an active cold thinned and loosened the mucus, making it much easier to cough up. It seemed to do the same for sinus congestion as well.”

Another way you can tap the power of thymol to calm a cough: smear Vicks VapoRub on the soles of your feet at bedtime. Be sure to put on socks, so you don’t mess up the sheets. Thymol is one of the essential oils that give Vicks its distinctive aroma.

Another essential oil in Vicks is eucalyptol.

Glory from California get her eucalyptol in tea she makes:

“I drink eucalyptus tea. Made with 2 or 3 leaves, pour boiling water and steep for 5 min. Let cool some, then drink or add a touch of honey first.”

Richard R. of West Palm Beach, FL, offers this testimonial:

“I have taken onions and honey for a cough and found it very effective. The cough medicine I bought in the store was not nearly as helpful.

“I have also found that applying Vicks VapoRub to the soles of one’s feet really works to stop coughs at night. I found that remedy here on The People’s Pharmacy.”

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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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I also will be trying this…

A word of encouragement: Such onion syrup does NOT smell like onion!

I make onion syrup this way.
Cut up an onion. Use a yellow or white onion but don’t use a Vadalia type (too mild).
Place onion in a container and pour over with honey just until all onion is covered.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hrs. Strain out onion and keep honey.
Works great, tastes pretty good, too. I thought it also helped with phlegm.
I saved what was left and used it to brush on a roasting chicken. A honey-onion glaze.
Also “Throat Coat” tea, by Traditional Medicines, is wonderful for irritated throats. It’s a little expensive but I only use it when needed. Wonderful ingredients including slippery elm.
Available in my grocery store.

Someone made the comment above, about a rapid flu test, I’ve never heard that. What is a rapid flu test?

Thank you so much for publishing a recipe for Onion Syrup for use as a cough medicine. Fifty years ago my mother used to make it for us kids on the top of our old black cast iron stove in the corner of the kitchen. Not only was it effective, but it tasted so good that, unlike store-bought cough medicine, we actually enjoyed taking it! When my mother died, somehow all her recipes were lost; now I’m delighted to have the actual recipe for this delicious remedy.

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