Home Remedies for Cough and Congestion

Written by: Katarina Subotich

In the previous article we learned about dry cough and the herbs we can use to sooth irritated mucous membranes. Now we are going to look into coughs that are followed by over-production of mucous.

What is mucous? It is a slippery substance produced by mucous membranes which cover all organs in the body. The adult produces about 1 liter of mucous a day. Very important role of the mucous membranes is the production of antibodies. Since they are highly permeable, and things can relatively easy go through them, it is so important we pay attention to their health. We do that by having sufficient vitamin A and water intake.

When we have the flu, production of mucous increases In order to protect the membranes. As long as the mucous is clear and flowing, this excess mucous production is a good sign and immune system is working well.

Looking at the energetics of mucous can help us figure out how to treat the condition we have. The colored mucous is indicator of imbalance and possible stagnation of certain condition, and it can be guidance for type of herbs we will use.

White mucous - symptom of coldness (use warming herbs, spicy foods…)

Yellow and green mucous- signs of heat (use cooling herbs and food)

Dry mucous - indicates dryness (use  moistening and demulcent herbs, stimulating expectorants).

Besides dry, cough can be productive and unproductive. Productive cough is attempt of the body to expel excess mucous: when we cough, we  actually cough out something - mucous. Coughing in this situation is very important, and we DO NOT want to stop it by any means. If excess mucous stays too long in the lungs, it can cause infection and pneumonia.   

In this case, for purpose of thinning and moving the mucous, we use stimulating expectorant herbs: ginger, cayenne, hyssop, elecampane, horseradish, horehound, thyme, mustard, onions, garlic. Using heat and steam is also helpful with congestion.

The third type of cough is unproductive cough. It is usually dry, but there is a mucus stuck in the lungs. That kind of mucous is very stagnant and dried up that coughing reflex is not able to get it out. Usually there is a sense in the chest that something wants to come out, but it is not able to. There might be some expectoration present, but far from sufficient. The tongue has dry, yellow coating indicating on dry stagnation. Another symptom is difficulty to take deep breath. The way to support the body to expel the mucous is to moisten and thin the mucous so it can start flowing. In order to do that, we can use moistening expectorant and demulcent herbs, like: violet, marshmallow, linden, licorice.

When having flu, we basically have infection. Antimicrobial herbs and substances can be used throughout the time of flu. Some of them are: usnea, propolis, honey, oregano.


Cough oxymel

1/8 cup dried hyssop 

1/8 cup dried sage 

1/8 cup dried thyme 

Good quality honey 

apple cider vinegar 

Fill a jar half way with dried herbs. Then fill the jar about 1/3 of the way with honey. The rest of the space in the jar fill with apple cider vinegar.
Place a label on it and let it sit for 2 to 4 weeks. Strain it well.
Oxymels will keep for a long time (you can keep this in the fridge for longer preservation).
Oxymels can be taken in teaspoon to tablespoon amounts. If dealing with an acute issue, it is generally better to take smaller amounts more frequently rather than larger doses only a few times a day. If you have a congested cough,  take 1 to 2 teaspoons of oxymel  at least every hour.


Homemade Mustard

1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds (use just yellow if you want milder taste)

1/4 cup brown mustard seeds (use black seeds if you want stronger taste) 

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar 

1/2 cup water 

1 teaspoon honey 

1 teaspoon turmeric powder 

1 teaspoon salt 

Place the mustard seeds, apple cider vinegar, and water in a glass container. Cover and let sit for about 2 days. Than, place the seeds with liquid in the blender. Add the honey, turmeric, and salt and blend until the mustard is ground into a paste. It will keep in the fridge for about 6 months. It is stimulating expectorant, and it will help move congestion in the lungs, as well as in the sinuses. You can also spread this paste on the linen cloth and wrap it around your chest. 


Ginger Candy

I know, I said in the beginning of this series, don’t eat sugar. This recipe contains sugar, and probably this is the only instance I forgive myself and use it. You cannot eat a lot of candies, since ginger is hot. Those candies are very handy when traveling. Here is a recipe for your homemade ginger candy.

1 pound fresh ginger 



Kitchen scale 

Wax paper 

Ginger root can be peeled or well washed (not necessary to peel when using organic), slice it relatively thin.
Place the sliced ginger into a saucepan and cover it with water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes. It’s done when the ginger has become more translucent.
Drain off the ginger tea and reserve 1/4 cup of liquid. (The rest you can drink but you may want to dilute it a little since it’s very strong).
To determine how much sugar you will use, weigh the strained ginger. you’ll use the same amount of sugar by weight. So, if your ginger weighs 8 ounces, then measure out 8 ounces of sugar by weight.
Return the ginger to the saucepan along with the sugar and the 1/4 cup of ginger tea. Turn the stove to medium-high heat and stir the ginger frequently. The sugar will quickly dissolve and what will remain is the ginger and the sugar liquid. Once this starts to simmer, turn the heat down to medium and continue to stir very frequently.

Total stirring time will be around 20 minutes. during this time, the liquid will continue to reduce and will finally crystalize. Remove the pan from heat once the mixture looks fairly dry.

Warning: If you don’t stir often enough, the mixture will easily scorch.
Lay the ginger out on the prepared wax paper and allow to cool.
Once cool keep the ginger candy in a covered container in a cool place. They should keep for at least a couple of weeks.


Garlic Oil

few fresh garlic cloves 

olive oil 

Finely mince a few cloves of garlic and let it sit for 10 minutes. Place the garlic in a small jar and just cover with olive oil.
Let it infuse for a minimum of 30 minutes, up to 12 hours. Strain really well.
Just before bedtime, rub the oil onto the feet. Immediately cover the feet with an old pair of socks. And then another pair of socks.
It’s best to make this up fresh every day. If you wonder why putting on feet something that is supposed to decongest the lungs or sinuses, just wait for half an hour: you might have the garlic breath. Body have its own intelligence that is far superior than our minds. Just do it and see the results for yourself.