Homemade Cough Syrup for Dry, Tickly Coughs

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Our family doesn't tend to get sick very often, but when sickness does overtake us, I'm grateful to have natural and traditional remedies within reach.

This is compounded even more since I'm currently pregnant – no way do I want most OTC medicines available these days coming anywhere near my precious baby's developing brain and endocrine, hormone, and nervous systems.

So recently, when I came down with a hacking cough, tickly throat, and a swollen larynx, I reached for a few simple ingredients in my kitchen and mixed up this homemade cough syrup that quieted my cough and allowed me to sleep. We have found that even if it doesn't alleviate the cough entirely, it soothes the throat considerably and gives the membranes a chance to rest.

We often use this recipe with our children as well, but they're not always crazy about the flavor. (I quite like it, personally….) On those days, we make Mexican Hot Chocolate Cough Syrup for Kids, which is delicious enough that we have to remind them that they can't just help themselves and eat the whole jar!

The original version of this recipe appeared in the 1982 edition of Herbally Yours by Penny C. Royal. I prefer a thicker syrup, so I've added more honey and don't use any water, but overall it's very similar to the recipe she recommends. And obviously, due to the honey content, this syrup should not be used with an infant under the age of 12 months.

If you would prefer cough drops, we've got homemade cough drops too!

Want the ultimate natural remedy guide at your fingertips?

I've included several hundred natural remedy recipes, tips, and tutorials in my book, The Thinking Parent's Guide to Natural Remedies. That way, the next time your child wakes up with an annoying cough in the middle of the night, you'll be both confident and ready, so grab your own copy right here.

Some people love this homemade cough syrup, some people hate it, but either way, it seriously works. And considering it let me sleep last night when I had a bad, hacking cough, that was enough for me. :) Well, that and the fact that I had all the ingredients already in my kitchen and it's all natural!
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5 from 2 votes

Homemade Cough Syrup for Dry, Tickly Coughs

This simple homemade cough syrup helps soothe irritated membranes and stiffle those irritating coughs that keep you up through the night.
Cook Time5 minutes
Total Time5 minutes
Servings: 6 tablespoons


  • ΒΌ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger OR 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, grated (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons honey, preferably raw
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons water (optional)


  • Place all ingredients in a small jar with a tight lid and shake to combine or whisk vigorously in a medium bowl. The mixture will stay fresh for several days, especially if stored in the refrigerator, but is most effective when made fresh every two days.
  • Take 2-3 spoonfuls every few hours or as needed. (Personally, I find it very drying to the throat, so taking a dose more than once an hour becomes an irritant for me – you'll find your right balance easily.)


For a homemade cough syrup option that's more appealing to children (and some adults!), see our Mexican Hot Chocolate Cough Syrup.

The Ingredients

The cayenne pepper has capsaicin, which acts as a pain reliever. Even though it's also what makes hot peppers spicy, capsaicin interrupts the pain message between the nerves and the brain, thus alleviating the pain sensation. It is also warming and stimulating to the nerves, thus increasing blood flow and promoting healing.

Ginger is a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory, as well as anti-nausea agent. It likewise is warming and stimulating to the nervous system and is helpful in relieving chest congestion. I prefer using fresh ginger because it is more potent and the juice is especially helpful in this recipe, but ground ginger is certainly a worthy substitute.

Garlic is known for its anti-viral properties and stimulates the immune system. Include the garlic in this recipe if you are fighting a particularly nasty viral infection.

Honey is soothing, tasty, and coats the throat. Raw honey is packed with nutrients and enzymes and is a powerful antiviral and antibacterial substance, due to the propolis, which is what the bees themselves use to seal the hive from bacteria and infection. One study published by Stanford University (pdf) has shown that buckwheat honey is especially effective for cough relief. 

Apple cider vinegar has a plethora of beneficial uses and in this case provides antiseptic, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. It also provides a large number of minerals, vitamins, enzymes, and amino acids, which boost the immune system and promote healing in the body.

Other Cough Remedies

Mixing raw honey and fresh lemon juice in a ratio of 1 tablespoon honey to 1 teaspoon lemon juice is a very simple syrup to concoct and soothes most sore throats and annoying coughs. It's refreshing and soothing and provides a needed dose of Vitamin C.

A few important notes…

Please remember, any cough that:

  • lasts more than a week, especially if coupled with a fever
  • is accompanied by a whooping sound
  • has swollen tonsils with white dots and feels like you're swallowing glass
  • brings up blood or thick yellow or green mucous

needs to be seen by a doctor, naturopath, or other medical professional. Most coughs are harmless and annoying, but some can be the first signs of something much more severe and in some cases are highly contagious and need to be treated quickly.

Also, if you are prescribed an antibiotic, remember to eat plenty of yogurt and other probiotic foods, such as sauerkraut, kombucha, or kefir. The antibiotics work successfully by killing off the bacteria in your system and the good bacteria need to be replenished. (Do also remember, though, to not eat the dairy-based probiotics, such as yogurt or milk kefir, at the same time as the medication, as the dairy will interfere with the effectiveness of the drug.)

And of course, remember to never feed honey to an infant under 12 months old, and if your child finds the cayenne unpalatable, feel free to just leave it out.

Some people love this homemade cough syrup, some people hate it, but either way, it seriously works. And considering it let me sleep last night when I had a bad, hacking cough, that was enough for me. :) Well, that and the fact that I had all the ingredients already in my kitchen and it's all natural!
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  1. 5 stars
    Nick has a cold and we tried the recipe for cough syrup, minus the apple cider vinegar since we don’t have any. He said it really burned going down, but it did help his sore throat!

    1. Thank you so much for including us! I clicked through to read your post and you’ve compiled some great information. πŸ™‚

  2. I just made this but added the lemon juice to it and it actually tastes great! Mine has real kick (I blame the very strong garlic) but if that doesn’t cure my tickle, I’m not sure what will. Thanks!

  3. I started getting that tickle in my throat and a little laryngitis, so I mixed this up and used it for one day, it wasn’t bad at all. Except for the fact that, by that night I had a terrible sore throat and by the next day canker sores galore in my mouth and throat. So bad I thought it was strep (it wasn’t). So I’ve been nursing a very, incredible, awful, etc, etc, sore throat and mouth for 6 days. I”m just curious if the cayenne would cause canker sores? Any idea? I do have a very sensitive mouth.

    1. Wow – that’s really painful. Do your sores make it feel like you’re swallowing glass? Are they red and angry or are there white spots all over them? And are they just on the tonsils or do they cover your entire throat?

      I am not a health professional, but I’ve never heard of cayenne causing sores. In fact, in the natural remedy world, I’ve usually seen cayenne listed as a remedy for such sores, as it sort of numbs the pain.

      If the sores don’t improve in another day or two, I would definitely try to get an appointment with a naturopath or doctor you trust, as that’s just misery to live with day after day! I hope you feel better soon. πŸ™‚

  4. I was interested in reading this post because I’ve been keeping my eye out for the recipe my mother used. I’ve never seen it anywhere. I don’t remember the proportions, but she would mix molasses and baking soda for us when we had coughs. I’m 71, so this must be a very old remedy. An experienced cook will know that this mixture gets very frothy, and it’s not terribly unpleasant to taste. I also don’t remember how well it worked, LOL. I very rarely get a cough, thank goodness, so I haven’t had the opportunity to test it.

  5. Hello, sorry this is kinda long:)
    I was looking at your site (it’s wonderful by the way) when I noticed your recipe for cough syrup. After reading the ingredients I decided to share mine here for you and anyone who wishes to try it. Last winter was the first time I made it. And it’s medicinal properties are evidently very curative. It helped two friends who couldn’t shake their coughs from colds. It also helped me with a cough, cold and sore throat, and it helped my mother who is 82 and had just been released from the hospital because of a cold and the flu. Her doctor gave her nothing to help her cough at all, this syrup broke up her congestion pretty well overnight and helped her as an expectorant. I hope you can get the ingredients this summer to have on hand for next winter when cold season hits. You can freeze the berries now and make the syrup when needed or make the syrup ahead of time and store it for months in the refrigerator. The remainder of the second batch I made in January is still in the frig and it smells great, and looks great. No mold or anything on it. Honey is a preservative, and usually where it is added mold will not grow.
    Here’s my recipe, it is very tasty. The kids will love it.

    1-2 quarts blackberries/ or some call them black raspberries, we have them wild on our property. Simmer these with a small amount of water to extract all the medicinal juices.
    Strain and to the juice I simmer one Traditional Medicinals Herbal Nighty Night Tea Bag, to help with rest.
    Add honey to taste.
    Plus 1/2 dropperful of Valerian Tincture (for pain and discomfort).
    Valerian is all natural, non addictive, and you cannot OD on it. Too much might make you feel rubbery, that is all. But it will help you rest. You can make your own Valerian Tincture with the dry root (it’s very cheap) from any Natural Living Center using your own alcohol (more economical) or purchase the Tincture already made at any Natural Living center/ or Co-Op., not economical. For children you can make a tincture using vegetable glycerin or vinegar, though it doesn’t pull out all of the roots medicines. Valerian is safe for children also. To use your homemade alcohol based tincture dilute with 1/3 water. A half a dropperful in this syrup is a very small amount, but it does seem to help. I usually get about a 16oz canning jar full when everything is added together. Make sure your syrup is warm when you incorporate the honey and it will never separate. Also beware that valerian has a very strong taste and stinky sock odor so do not be alarmed by the smell. Please take this into consideration when adding to the syrup, you do not want to ruin the taste of the blackberries and honey. Enjoy and thank you for your site.
    God Bless and take care:)

  6. I made some ginger and honey, without the other ingredients, to use as a ginger tea like they do in Korea. It’s been a week, and when I opened my jar today, there was mold all through it. I thought honey was not supposed to get moldy. Has anyone else ever had this experience? What did I do wrong?

  7. Roughly 31 years ago a chiropractor I was seeing when I had some crud that was going around town had me make a strong tea out of Black Cohosh and take a tablespoon every two hours as an expectorant. For my cough he gave me a recipe using 1 Tablespoon Honey, 1/4 Teaspoon White Pepper and 1/4 Teaspoon Curry Powder. Stir it up really well then take 1/4 teaspoon as needed. It is hot, but it slides down the back of your throat and numbs the area in your throat that is sending the signal to your brain that tells you to cough. I make it in a small glass jar and it never goes bad, so I always have it and just stir it up to use it. It works really well!! It’s the only thing I use if I ever have a cough. For a sore throat that is not cough related, he told me to make a cup of strong tea out of dried leaf sage and then once it’s cooled, gargle with half the cup, then drink the rest. Works like a charm!

    1. That’s fabulous! Thanks for sharing. Those sound like great recipes and effective expectorants are so helpful!

      A STRONG WORD OF CAUTION, HOWEVER. Black Cohosh should not any under any circumstances be used if you are pregnant or trying to be, as it can easily cause miscarriage or premature labor. It is indeed a strong expectorant. πŸ™‚

  8. I have had a horrible, choking cough for about a week now. My congestion is gone from my sinuses but it’s laying on chest. The drainage is unbearable and it keeps me up at night. I have been desperate for something natural that works. I use a tbsp of molasses and juice of a small lemon. It works instantly for me but has not gotten rid of the cough altogether. The taste of your cough syrup is really good, no burning at all. I used 3 tbsp raw honey and no water. I’m hoping all those herbs work to clear out whatever this is. Thanks for posting!

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  10. Is it me, or is it suppose to be this HOT? I made this for my daughter but ended up NOT giving it to her, it was just too SPICY because of the cayenne. Am I doing something wrong? Help πŸ™

    1. You’re doing it exactly right! The heat is part of what soothes the throat, as the cayenne will slightly numb it. It’s definitely easiest to take if you swallow it quickly, and of course, if it’s just too much to handle, you can just leave the cayenne out.

      I hope your daughter feels better soon!

  11. This looks like a great recipe…I use something similar with honey, cayenne and orange juice with the pulp to help my son who is susceptible to strep throat and seems to battle it each year. Cayenne really seems to help fight it.

  12. Unfortunately I do not have any of the apple cider vinegar but I do have loads of lemons (picked off the trees in my village – therefore free!). I think lemons with the honey would be a good and simple remedy as well.

  13. All of these receipts sounds great. I would love to know where can I get my hands on a Recipe Book with all of the home remedys. Like the one mentioned an a whole lot more. Thanks an it’s good to know that there is still some loving people left in the world. May God Bless Each an everyone of you

  14. After many visits to my GP without any relief, he even gave an asthma pump. I then decided to google natural remedies and found these recipe. For the first time in three months, i slept peacefully. i even passed it on to my colleagues at work and to friends and relatives on whatsapp.
    It works wonders.

  15. Excellent post. I’ve recently become interested in alternative medicine/home remedies soon after being misdiagnosed by my GP for a potentially life-threatening situation. I think more and mor individuals are starting to wake up and understand that the healthcare establishment doesn’t have our best interests at heart, and they have to take responsibility for their own wellness, because no one else is going to. Unfortunately, mainstream media continues to label anyone who talks about natural therapy/alternative medicine as a “quack” or even a “charlatan” like this article from NBC news: http://www.nbcnews.club/cancer-patients-turning-alternative-remedies/178 . It’s nothing more than a hit-piece. We need to have some sincere reporting concerning the success rate of alternative medicine, it is about time.

  16. Hi my children have dry cough and sneezing I been trying to find natural remedies to help Is this recipe safe for a 2 year old and 4 year old?

    1. Yes! Due to the honey, it shouldn’t be given to any children under the age of 12 months, but other than that, it should be fine for any age. Some children balk at the cayenne (like my 8-year-old daughter), while others don’t even bat an eye (like my 2-year-old son), so use it as you see best for your children.

      I hope everyone feels better soon!

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  19. Thank you so very much for this! I googled natural cough remedies and this came up with no essential oils (I don’t have many yet). Sadly my little 2 year old was coughing so much and crying that it wasn’t very fun to get in her, but right after I could hear her cough get “better”. Then little bit later it was jist a tiny cough. Coupled with a favorite movie, she is now asleep. I altered by just using pure local honey and no water. So greatful!!!

  20. Wanna thank for the insight. I will be making home.made cough syrup and tablets henceforth and it’s so easy to make.
    Thank you

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  23. Thank you so much for this post. I don’t like garlic so I threw in a spoon of horseradish. It tastes so good, I had to stop myself from drinking the whole glass. I did add the water so its thin. I sure hope it works to reduce the lung congestion . It has eased the cough after 5 min. So good so far!!!

    1. Due to the honey, this cough syrup should not be given to any child under 12 months. Other than that it should be fine, although you might want to adjust the spiciness according to what your child is used to according to your regular diet.

      I will put in a caveat, however, that if your child is dealing with a chronically suppressed immune system or an auto-immune disease, consult your doctor as to when it’s okay to feed your child honey.

      I hope your child feels better soon!!!

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    1. Yes, absolutely, although I’m not sure the garlic and cinnamon together would have a desirable flavor. But yes, definitely, it certainly can be substituted!

    2. My family doesn’t do cayenne so we use the cinnamon and leave out the garlic. Works really good, so good that my college aged kid called home and asked for the recipe to help his roommate get over the cough that was keeping everyone else up at night.

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