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Our original homemade cough syrup is one of the remedies we make most in our home when we get sick (partially due to its simplicity), and while *I* quite like it and it's very effective, it's not always our kids' favorite remedy.
So, when I ran across two preliminary studies which each found that theobromine, a chemical constituent largely present in chocolate, effectively calms coughs AND is more effective at calming coughs than codeine, one of the leading ingredients in most cough syrups, my interest was definitely piqued and my creative wheels began to whir. (Source 1, Source 2)
What I finally settled on was quite simple: I used the honey and cayenne from our original cough syrup recipe and simply added cocoa powder and cinnamon.
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And what are these ingredients reminiscent of? Mexican chocolate! Oh, yeah, baby.
And it's a TOTAL hit with our kids. In fact, we all have to be careful not to take double or triple doses each time we need to use it, just so we're not overloading on the amount of sugar we're eating via the honey.
Now, why do we include these ingredients in this cough syrup for kids? Let's take a look so we know exactly why we're using each one.
Honey: 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. Buckwheat honey is known to be particularly effective for cough relief, such as shown in this study from members of the faculty at the College of Medicine, Pennsylvania State University at Hershey, but other studies simply state that “honey” is recommended for cough relief.
One study I find particularly interesting was published in the pediatric journal, Pediatrics, in 2012 and recommends that honey should be given RATHER THAN leading over-the-counter medications for children to relieve upper respiratory infections (URI). (source)
The opening paragraphs of the study from Pennsylvania State University sum it up well:
Cough is the reason for nearly 3% of all outpatient visits in the United States, more than any other symptom, and it most commonly occurs in conjunction with an upper respiratory tract infection (URI).
At night, it is particularly bothersome because it disrupts sleep. Despite the common occurrence of URIs and cough, there are no accepted therapies for this annoying symptom. The use of dextromethorphan (DM), the most common over-the-counter (OTC) antitussive, for treatment of cough in childhood is not supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics or the American College of Chest Physicians.
Nonetheless, consumers spend billions of dollars per year on OTC medications for cough.
[Yet] …in paired comparisons, honey was significantly superior to no treatment for cough frequency and the combined score, but DM was not better than no treatment for any outcome.
Cayenne: 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.
Cinnamon: Not only is the addition of cinnamon what makes this “Mexican Chocolate,” but cinnamon has plenty of antiviral, antibacterial, and antispasmodic properties on its own, as has been noted for centuries in folk medicine, as well as heavily documented in modern scientific literature and medical patents. The inclusion of cinnamon is especially helpful for tickly coughs.
Cacao Powder: As noted above, chocolate is what makes this cough syrup so incredibly yummy, as well as a feel-good demulcent and cough suppressant. However, we're using raw cacao powder or cocoa powder in this syrup because we want just plain chocolate – no milk solids, no lecithins, no sugars – so that we have the highest amount of theobromine possible. And that's exactly what cocoa powder is – plain and simple cacao, nothing more.
This recipe is from my new book, The Thinking Parent's Guide to Natural Remedies. Grab free sample pages and download the book here.
Find Quality Ingredients
Of course, as always when I mention chocolate, I must stress the importance of sourcing fair trade chocolate whenever possible, as well as just plain using the best ingredients you can find or afford.
Here are my recommendations:
- Find fair trade raw cacao powder here.
- Find fair trade cocoa powder here.
- Find raw honey from your local beekeeper (preferable) or buy it here.
- Find organic, ethically sourced cinnamon here.
- Find organic cayenne here.
Mexican Hot Chocolate Cough Syrup for Kids
- 1 cup raw honey
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ cup raw cacao powder or cocoa powder
- 2 pinches cayenne
- Place honey in a bowl with enough room to stir vigorously. If the honey is particularly stiff, warm just slightly to soften and mix the mixture in the saucepan.
- Add cinnamon, cocoa powder, and cayenne, then whisk or stir until the mixture is completely homogenous and smooth. It will be thick and will fall in smooth ribbons.
- Pour into a clean jar or bottle and store at room temperature for up to six months. If the mixture crystallizes, simply reheat by setting the jar in warm water.
- For adults, take 1 tablespoon and for children, take 1 teaspoon as often as needed.
- The syrup can be quite thick, so it's sometimes helpful to tilt your head back as you lick it off the spoon. You want all the honey and cayenne goodness to be coating your throat, not your tongue, as much as possible.
- Also, if children are absolutely averse to taking this off the spoon, it may be stirred into a small amount of hot milk and served as hot chocolate. It's not as effective, but if that's the only way your child will take it, it's definitely acceptable.