logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

Terpin Hydrate Helped World War I Veteran

What do you do for a cough? Do you find that dextromethorphan (the DM in OTC cough meds) tastes terrible? Have you ever found that terpin hydrate helped?
A recalcitrant child stares at a spoon of liquid medicine

Terpin hydrate, with or without codeine, used to be a highly popular cough remedy. It was available without a prescription from the 1880s until the 1990s. That’s when the FDA decided there wasn’t enough data to support its use. But readers of our newspaper column and visitors to this web site insist that terpin hydrate helped calm their coughs. Here is a compelling story about a World War I veteran and his chronic cough.

Terpin Hydrate Helped Calm Coughs:

Q. My father was gassed in World War I and had chronic bronchitis as a result. The VA prescribed terpin hydrate with codeine. It really helped him and us kids when we had a cough. One probably can’t get it with codeine in today’s environment.

A. Terpin hydrate is no longer available, as the FDA decided there wasn’t enough evidence of effectiveness. Codeine used to be available without a prescription in OTC cough medicine, but most states now restrict it to prescription status.

Other Readers Insist That Terpin Hydrate Helped:

Here is what Margo in Kansas shared about her experience with terpin hydrate:

“In the 1950s it was possible to buy Elixir of Terpen Hydrate with codeine without a prescription. I could take one swallow of that OTC cough remedy and my cough was gone for the rest of the day. It worked well for a serious dry hacking cough. That was true even for a cough caused by a severe cold or the flu. It worked well as an expectorant.

“My son can still obtain Terpin Hydrate without a prescription overseas. That is not true here in the U.S. I can tell you from personal experience that terpin hydrate is much more effective than most other OTC cough remedies!”

Tom in Mohawk Valley agrees that terpin hydrate helped calm a cough:

“Terpin Hydrate with Codeine was the most effective cough relief medicine I’ve ever taken. I suspect that codeine helped the most to relieve coughing. I used to have it compounded at my local pharmacy with a prescription from my doctor.

“If I request a prescription now because of a really bad cough brought on by a cold I am ignored. I suspect that has more to do with narcotic control than anything else. Everyone is afraid of narcotics, so doctors won’t even prescribe a low-dose of terpin hydrate with codeine any more. Cough until you vomit seems to be the current treatment modality.”

How Can You Get Terpin Hydrate With or Without Codeine?

You cannot find terpin hydrate on pharmacy shelves. Most young pharmacists will look at you with a blank expression if you ask for this cough remedy. But there are ways to access this old-timey remedy. Here is a link that will provide the answers.

What About Other Cough Remedies?

We have to agree with readers who say that terpin hydrate tasted yucky. What about cough remedies that taste good and also help calm a cough? We have been collecting home remedies for coughs for decades. That’s in part because we are not fond of FDA approved OTC cough medicine. We are definitely not fans of dextromethorphan. It’s the DM in most cough remedies on drugstore shelves.

Here are a few of our favorite other options: Thyme cough syrup is, in our opinion, one of the best natural cough remedies you can find. We are thrilled that Tieraona Low Dog, MD, shared her recipe with us. You will find it in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies. You will also learn about applying Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet.

Here’s another one we bet you have never heard about:

This comes from Dave:

Honey & Onion Cough Syrup

“Combine a half-cup of honey and a half-cup of water. Add in one whole chopped onion and one chopped clove of garlic. Add a dash of sage, thyme or oregano and allow to steep overnight at room temperature. Strain and use the liquid as a cough syrup. Store in your refrigerator.

“If you can’t wait overnight for your syrup to steep, simmer the mixture for five to 10 minutes until the onions soften.”

Ron in Orange, California, offers this approach:

“When I was a kid, my German mother would chop up an onion and boil it in wine and some honey. She would then strain it and boil it down some more. When that concoction cooled, it was our cough syrup.

“At the first sign of a cold or sore throat, she herself would make an onion/tomato sandwich on sourdough bread and eat it.”

What’s your favorite cough remedy? Please share it in the comment section. And if you like home remedies that work, check out Quick & Handy Home Remedies. It would make a fabulous holiday gift for your grandmother, mom or uncle Charlie.

Rate this article
4.6- 10 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
The People’s Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies

Home remedies can be surprisingly effective for a number of common ailments. They're less expensive with fewer side effects than prescription drugs. Time-tested solutions for minor health problems.

The People’s Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

Showing 14 comments
Add your comment

On the advice of a Naturopathic physician I have used Guaifenesin for decades to relieve scratchy throats and coughs. For children under 8 yrs. old it’s recommended to see a doctor instead of just dosing with it.

An RX is not needed for this remedy. It is available in natural food stores in the supplements area.

I”m getting over bronchitis; somebody told me to mix 1/3 lemon juice, 1/3 honey, 1/3 whiskey. I haven’t done this mainly because I believe coughing is necessary! I’m still coughing up bad looking stuff, so until it hurts, I will cough. I may change my mind if I get sore ribs or something like that. My throat definitely hurts from the coughing, and I lose my breath sometimes, but I’m OK for now. Actually those hard coughs force me to breathe more DEEPLY. (Seems that when I was a child in the 50s, mothers were too quick to give meds to quell coughs;the body needs to get that junk out of the lungs! )

Terpin hydrate with codeine worked very well for me when I was a child. Wish we could still get it.

I used Terpin Hydrate w/Codiene 45 years ago. Was great for my cough,but gave me horrible dreams. About 10 years ago Benzonatate was suggested to me and it works wonderfully.

I am 72 years old and have struggled with asthma since age 2. Because of my asthma and as a result of a recent bout of bronchitis, I am left with a terrible cough that attacks, sometimes so hard I nearly pass out. I asked my ENT, my pulminologist and my primary care to please give me a prescription for Terpin Hydrate and I would take it to the nearest mixing pharmacy available to fill, which is almost 40 miles away. They refused and told me to get something over the counter, which will work just as well. I am so disappointed by my medical team and their concern for me. And i can’t just change doctors on a whim.

when I was a kid, during the time of WW 2, we would get terpin hydrate and codeine
for coughs, OTC. this continued for several years. by the late 50’s, when our children needed something for coughs; we still could get THC, but had to sign a book. knowing the workings of bueruacracy, nobody probably ever looked at this book.
I don’t know exactly when, but a prescription was later required.
today? our doctor writes a Rx for guaifenesin, sometimes with codeine. It sort-of works. of course, we are now old. nothing works the same.
thank you. PP is ok. make that OK, in capitols!

As a kid some 80+ years ago Terpin Hydrate with codeine was what our Mother used to give us (She was a pharmacist) for a cough. My memory of it was it tasted so bad one did not dare to cough again. It really worked. Unfortunately the FDA always knows best. I suspect pressure from pharmaceutical companies is the reason it is not available.

World war 11 in St. Albans veterans hospital , pneumonia ward. Elexir turpin hydrate was used. When Germany surrendered, it was given out as a cocktail to the patients. I am 91 years old, and remember that well.

I was glad to read about making cough syrup with onions and honey. My father used to make it with onions and brown sugar. We kids were never given this “cure” though. I still remember the smell and look and can visualize my dad cooking up his brew in the 1950’s. Maybe I will try it.

I’m puzzled by the FDA removing something because they don’t have “proof of efficacy”? The claims of sometimes many thousands of people are not considered. Yet they seem to allow a lot of drugs to be sold that have very dubious benefits and a lot of evidence of harm, sometimes great harm. I’d guess it’s because it was over the counter and therefore not very lucrative for some drug company.

Again it seems that the well being of the public is not very far up there on the FDA’s priority list. Let’s get rid of something that benefits many and seems much more harmless than a huge number of drugs out there. Maybe if they spent more time investigating harms along with dubious or even outright bogus claims of efficacy of the flood of drugs inundating the market currently, things would start to improve. Nah, …. that’s not gonna happen. Too much money involved.

One of my friends even told me, that when he had a cough, his grandmother one day told him about taking a small taste of Lemon. Just put a small dab of lemon juice on the tip of his tongue. Swallow the juice. It not only stop his cough but it did stop his throat from hurting with coughing.

Once again it is Big Brother dictating what you can and can’t do. Elixir Terpin Hydrate with Codeine was a pretty good cough suppressant. It could be sold OTC in 4oz bottles with the sale being recorded in the Exempt Narcotic Book. Oh, for the good old days.

In the 1970’s I was trained as a hospital corpsman with further training as a pharmacy tech and independent duty nuclear submarine corpsman. In my early years Terpin Hydrate was referred to as GI Gin. The high proof may have accounted for its popularity. It was as popular then as Robitussin (glyceral guiaccolate) was nasty. I also remember a cough suppressant called Novrad, the l-isomer of Darvon. See the reverse spelling.

Broncolin is a Mexican honey, propolis and herbal cough syrup that works well. I have used it for 20 years. I buy it at Mexican bodegas or some Target, Walgreen’s or Botanicas. However, Terpin hydrate works quite well. For me, cough syrups like Robitussin are completely ineffective.

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^