The People's Perspective on Medicine

How to Make Thyme Cough Medicine

You can make your own thyme cough medicine right in your kitchen. Here's the recipe, along with the explanation about why this homemade medicine works well.
Thymus citriodorus (Lemon thyme or Citrus thyme) in the garden

Have you ever found yourself coughing in the middle of the night and reached for the cough medicine? If your household is like ours, once in a while that bottle was used up two months ago. Luckily, you can make your own thyme cough medicine that will calm a cough and help you get the sleep you need.

How Do You Make Thyme Cough Medicine?

Q. I took a class from Dr. Low Dog and learned her recipe for thyme cough medicine. It consists of water, thyme, lemon and a natural sweetener: 1 cup of boiling water, 2 to 4 tablespoons fresh thyme or 2 tablespoons of dried thyme, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and 1/4 cup of honey or maple syrup.

A. Thank you for sharing this recipe. Dr. Tieraona Low Dog gave us a similar recipe that we included in our book, Quick & Handy Home Remedies. Dr. Low Dog is a favorite guest on our People’s Pharmacy radio show.

Thyme Cough Medicine with Thymol:

Thyme leaves contain thymol, a fragrant herbal oil. Scientists in Germany, Poland and Slovakia have studied its antimicrobial activity and found it helpful against cough (Forschende Komplementarmedizin, online Dec. 14, 2015; Wiadomosci Lekarskie, 2016; Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica, Mar-Apr. 2015; Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology, June 1, 2013).

Does Honey Play a role in Thyme Cough Medicine?

As for honey, pediatrician and scientist Dr. Ian Paul suggested six years ago that a bit of honey might be an appropriate substitute for over-the-counter cough medicines for which there was little evidence of efficacy (Lung, Feb. 2012).  Since then, researchers have conducted clinical trials confirming that honey is helpful against nighttime cough (Pediatrics, Sep. 2012).  In summary, a review of the research literature concluded that honey works better than no treatment and than diphenhydramine (DPH, aka Benadryl), though it is comparable to dextromethorphan (the DM in medicines like Robitussin DM) (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Dec. 23, 2014).

In addition, Chilean investigators found that honey seems to decrease the frequency and severity of cough without side effects (Medwave, May 2016).  The most recent review supports the use of honey to ease coughs due to upper respiratory infection in children (Annals of Otology, Rhinology, and Laryngology, online Dec. 2, 2018). As a result, we conclude that you would be smart to sweeten your thyme cough medicine with honey.

Look Further:

It’s good to know that there is scientific support for this simple, tasty remedy. If this is the sort of thing that would appeal to someone on your holiday gift list, you might consider the Healthy Holiday bundle. It includes The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies, Recipes & Remedies from The People’s Pharmacy and Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life.  Each of these books contains recipes from Dr. Tieraona Low Dog and some of our other distinguished guests. Consequently, any of them would make a great holiday gift.

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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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Thank you for sharing this information and one that I’ll be making for sure. I also found that applying a little bit of mentholatum to the bottoms of feet at night will curb the cough. I use Mentholatum because it doesn’t have synthetic ingredients like Vick’s Vapor Rub. But if all you have is Vick’s, that’ll work to. I’m looking for a recipe to make it at home with coconut oil or any other carrier solid type oil other than petroleum based.

Yes, please, how to store, [refrigerate or not], shelf-life refrigerated and/or not refrigerated?
Thank you, this is great!

Store in the refrigerator up to a week.

What dose of the thyme cough syrup do you take? One tablespoon? Two tablespoons? And how frequently?

One tablespoon.

How long can you keep this thyme cough medicine?

Store it in the refrigerator up to a week.

Although it is not a “natural” product, turpin hydrate cough syrup was used extensively until big pharma and CDC decided it did not show any proof of working (not that they bothered to ask the millions of people who effectively relieved their coughs with it). Because of the codeine, doctors are afraid to prescribe it due to it’s class 3 drug stigma. The fact of the matter is there is NOTHING better. It is still made in the pharmacy but they don’t have a large call for it. I get it from my compounding pharmacy. It helped me with cracked ribs (from coughing) when I had pneumonia. When will we ever get what we need?!

What about what I read in your news letter: VICKS rubbed on the bottom of the feet. IT WORKS!!! (put sox on after applying). And Vicks is in the bathroom near the bedroom!

The recipe provided by the student of Dr. Low Dog just lists the ingredients. Do you simply mix them together, and drink it as a tea? Is it intended for one-time use to be made fresh each time you need it? Or does one cool it after mixing and keep in the fridge for use by teaspoon whenever needed?

I have moved a jar of Manuka honey to the bathroom for easy access if I start coughing again after a bad case of bronchitis with
dry cough. After traveling to Germany for 50 yrs, even for Christmas and never getting sick, I got sick this year, probably from
the influx of all the new germs in the street cars from various countries. Doctor “prescribed” special drops and lozenges with
salbei (do not know English word for it). I also found it in cough tea blends only available at pharmacies without prescription.
Back at home, Manuka works well. Very expensive, but a fingertip amount was good for me. I also took a swig of colloidal silver and
oil of oregano to kick throat inflammation for which US doctor prescribed codeine syrup and prednisone. Yuck! Did not need it.

THIS IS an ‘oxymel’. Here is another. Works well on kids’ coughs, chesty coughs. Crush and boil a couple of teaspoons of fennel seed in 500ml (call it a pint) of vinegar. Add crushed garlic cloves, 3 or 4 and equal number of teaspoons of honey. Boil until thickish. Store in a dark glass jar (keeps forever and improves with age) strain off a little of the liquid as needed, return solids to jar.

Do you just combine those ingredients?

Yes I make this as a tea. Thyme is also a great decongestant especially for those that cannot take Pseudoephedrine containing products or young children. My kids have loved it for years because they can breathe easier. Just boiling dried thyme herb to humidify the room also helps respiratory health.

Does 1 teaspoon of lemon mean lemon juice?


Putting Vicks Vaporub on the soles of my feet stops my night time cough. I suggest you wear socks to bed if you use this tip.

While the ingredients are listed, there are no instructions as to how to make it. Do you let the ingredients boil in the water, or just steep IN the boiling hot water and how long before you strain it? How long will it keep and does it need to be refrigerated?

Do you have to use this medicine right away?

I’ve made this cough syrup and left in a covered jar on the counter for up to a week with no problems. This has helped my husband.

Straight gin will stop any cough!

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