The People's Perspective on Medicine

What Is the Impact of Herbal Treatments for Cough?

Herbal treatments for cough can help avoid overuse of antibiotics and prevent antibiotic resistance. Have you tried sage for sore throat & thyme for cough?
Sage (Salvia officinalis) , a medicinal plant, also called medicinal herb. Sage is an aromatic plant

Cold and cough season is well underway in most parts of the country by now. Are there natural approaches to help you stay healthy? And if you do come down with a cold or other respiratory infection, can you use herbal treatments for cough instead of drugs like dextromethorphan (DM)? Not only does dextromethorphan taste bitter, this medicine does not work extremely well against cough and respiratory infections. Some herbs can be helpful, though.

Herbal Treatments for Respiratory Infections:

Q. I listen to your podcast. Since I heard Dr. Low Dog suggest thyme and sage for respiratory infections, my family, friends and livestock have not needed antibiotics, even for deep infections. Do these herbal treatments affect the gut microbiome?

A. When we checked the medical literature, we were surprised to find that thyme leaves frequently carry the probiotic Bifidobacteria (International Journal of Molecular Sciences, July 26, 2019).  There is also evidence that both thyme and sage have antimicrobial and antiviral activity. Consequently, it is entirely possible that they would affect the gut microbial balance, possibly in a beneficial direction.

Being able to avoid antibiotics whenever possible keeps them available for use when they are truly needed. As your question implies, however, these powerful antibacterial agents can disrupt the gut microbiota in complex ways (Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, online Nov. 7, 2019). 

Herbal Treatments for Cough:

If you are interested in herbal treatments for cough, you can learn more about Dr. Low Dog’s recipes for Immuno-Tea and thyme cough syrup. Both may be found in our book Recipes & Remedies From The People’s Pharmacy along with our recipe for thyme tea. It is extremely soothing when you have a cough and can keep coughs at bay for several hours. There is also a chapter on sage as well as thyme in our book, Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life.

Sage Gargle for Sore Throat:

Dr. Low Dog’s grandmother kept a sage gargle handy during cold and flu season. You can use one ounce of dried sage leaves, one ounce of dried thyme leaves and 16 ounces of apple cider vinegar. Grind the herbs and place them in a canning jar. Cover with vinegar, close the jar and shake thoroughly. Let it sit for two weeks. Strain and use as a mouthwash or gargle. 

Vicks VapoRub for Cough:

We have heard from hundreds of readers that applying Vicks VapoRub can ease a bothersome cough. The manufacturer recommends applying the ointment to the chest and back. However, mothers and grandmothers may prefer at times to apply it to the soles of the feet. Vicks contains thymol, eucalyptol and other herbal treatments for cough. 

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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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    Citations
    • Patz S et al, "Culture dependent and independent analysis of potential probiotic bacterial genera and species present in the phyllosphere of raw eaten produce." International Journal of Molecular Sciences, July 26, 2019. DOI: 10.3390/ijms20153661
    • Mu C & Zhu W, "Antibiotic effects on gut microbiota, metabolism, and beyond." Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, online Nov. 7, 2019. DOI: 10.1007/s00253-019-10165-x
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    I haven’t tried sage, but I’ve used thyme infusion in the last two weeks, coping with an upper respiratory infection. What I’m getting dramatic results from, though, is marshmallow root and linden flower. I use about 1 tsp each in a quart of water, simmered for about 3 minutes and steeped for 5-10 minutes. My tickle throat cough magically disappears!

    I found Thayer’s Slippery Elm Throat Lozenges are great for stopping a dry hacking cough. The ingredients are slippery elm bark, dextrose, vegetable magnesium,stearate, and sucrose. Native Americans used the inner bark of the slippery elm tree for this purpose. I read about slippery elm 45 years ago in a Euell Gibbons book and rather than learn how to use the bark I found this product at a health food store and have been using it ever since.

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