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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.
How to Make Thyme Cough Medicine
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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