Homemade Cough and Cold Syrup

It takes only 20 minutes to make this amazing homemade cough and cold syrup! It helps decongest the sinuses, ease sore throats, and keep coughing to a minimum!

Since mentioning and tweeting about this syrup I made, I’ve had many requests to share the recipe, so here it is!

10 essential herbsIt comes from a book I mentioned briefly before called 10 Essential Herbs by Lalitha Thomas. This is a rare (I believe because it’s out of print) book from 1996 that my mother-in-law stumbled upon somewhere. It’s very interesting because Lalitha is not a “certified” anything when it comes to herbs, but it’s clear as you read through the book that they are very much a part of her daily life and that her own personal study and use of herbs is extensive.

Personally, I’m very happy to read a book by someone who doesn’t have letters after her name but has devoted much of her life to learning a craft, and Lalitha is incredibly skilled at communicating how to use herbs in a down-to-earth way for anyone who is just learning. I love this book in particular because it focuses on 10 easily acquired herbs (cloves, chaparral, cayenne, comfrey, ginger, garlic, onion, peppermint, slippery elm and yarrow) and shows you how to treat almost anything with only these 10 herbs. Amazing!

This recipe I’m sharing comes from her chapter on Onion, which I confess I had sort of skipped over at first to read the other chapters on more “interesting and useful” herbs.

The laugh is on me, because when I finally got around to reading about the humble onion, I was astounded at how useful it is!

I made this recipe in 20 minutes yesterday while puttering around the kitchen making other things and Abbie and I have been using it since then. It seems to be keeping her coughing to a minimum, as well as helping to ease my sore throat and minimizing my stuffiness. I feel like it’s helping to decongest my sinuses, which is such a relief, even if it means I’m going through tissue by the boatload.

Homemade Cough and Cold Syrup
  • 1 cup freshly chopped onion
  • About ½ cup raw honey*
Plus any of the following (optional):
  • 1 tsp. Cloves (whole or powdered)- specifically good for pain relief
  • 1-2 Tbsp. Slippery Elm (dried or powdered)- Slippery Elm has more of a reputation for soothing and coating the throat
  • 1-2 Tbsp. fresh chopped Ginger root OR 1 tsp. Ginger powder- Ginger increases warmth, circulation (important for healing) and the overall effectiveness of the syrup
  • 1-2 Tbsp. dried Mullein and/or Marshmallow Root. Marshmallow is very helpful for soothing throat irritations and calming coughs, and Mullein is an expectorant, good at clearing up hacking coughs and congestion.
Edit: I've removed Comfrey from the list of herbs that I would use in this, since I've come across more and more information suggesting that ,while comfrey is fantastic to be used externally, it may or may not be safe to use internally.
**You can include all of these optional herbs, but at a maximum of 2 Tbsp. extra herbs total

  1. Put chopped onions and any herbs of choice into a small stainless steel or glass pot (not alumnimum). Add enough honey to cover the onions ( for me, this seemed to be about ½ a cup, though I didn't measure exactly).
  2. Turn the pot on low heat and slowly simmer. The honey will soften and become liquidy, and you want to keep the temperature very low while allowing the herbs to steep in the honey. It's best to keep a lid on to help keep all of the medicinal properties of the herbs in the syrup, and just take the lid off to give it a quick stir every few minutes to ensure it doesn't burn at all (though the temp. should be low enough to prevent this).
  3. Give it 20 minutes of simmering, then remove it from the heat. Strain the onions and herbs out and store the remaining honey (which might have flecks of herb in it and this is fine) in a small glass jar with a lid and keep it in the fridge.
The syrup can be used as often as needed, up to every half hour. Here are the dosages:
1 tsp. for a younger child*
1 Tbsp. for anyone 10 years and older


Image by thenss

While we’re on the topic of using onions medicinally, I thought I should mention another use I learned yesterday. A commenter said that when her children are sick, she puts chopped onions in a small bag around their neck when they go to bed and in the morning, they wake up well. First I had ever heard of it, but I’ve heard stranger things. Wouldn’t you know it that later yesterday, as I was reading about onion in the book, I read that breathing the fumes of an onion will help with congestion from a cold or other illness!

Since both Johanna and I have been plugged up lately (her more at night, me all the time) I decided to chop a large onion into chunks and put it in a bowl on the night table near where we both sleep. I couldn’t quite bring myself to actually put it in bed with me, but I could still smell it, for sure! Well, last night was the best sleep I have had in a few nights and the first time that I woke up without feeling all plugged up! Three cheers for the onion!

Has anyone else been using onion as a herbal remedy? How do you use it and do you find it effective?

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links.
* – Do not feed honey to children under 1 year old.

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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  1. Hephzibah says:

    Last winter I made a simple onion cough syrup, I put sliced onions in a jar of brown sugar and kept it in the fridge, I let it make its own syrup and gave it to my family by the 1/2 tab. whenever someone felt a cold coming, We had fewer days being sick; it worked great.

  2. How can you keep your eyes from watering like a river around a cut onion? I would love to try this, but not sure I could deal with stinging, watering eyes.

  3. If you want to stay healthy, place a whole unpeeled onion in a small glass dish close to your bed. It will last for a couple of months. Replace the onion when it starts to look bad and soft. I’ve been doing this for over 3 years, and haven’t had the flu or a cold in all this time. I’m 77, and have been around sick people, and it hasn’t bothered me.

  4. Regarding raw onion, I have been told several times by friends here in Germany that I should have my child sleep on an onion sachet for her ear infections/ear pain. Although we have yet to try it (can’t quite get past the smell part of it), it seems to be a well known folk remedy!

    • Don’t like tears when peeling or chopping onions? When I am using onions I always peel it and leave the root end on the onion as I slice it. I never have tears or painful eyes. I learned this from my mom.

  5. I like this option because one of my biggest pet peeves is the way they make cough syrup taste like candy for kids. It should be palatable, but not so palatable that my kid begs for it when she’s not sick like she does. I doubt she’ll be going for the onion honey like that… but it is comforting to know that even if she did sneak into it, she couldn’t OD on it! :)

  6. My 2 year-old has come down with a nasty cough today. I’m going to pick up some more honey while we’re in town today and give this a try. Poor little guy. :( We have three and our oldest is 4 and this is the first bad cough we’ve dealt with.

  7. Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe! I’m looking forward to using this in my own home. I am curious though, does cooking the honey cause it to lose any of the nutrients that make raw honey so wonderful? I know it’s on low heat, but thought it may still get up above the temperature limit to where things are still considered ‘raw.’

  8. Melanie Brownsberger says:

    I think I am going to try to put onion in th kids room tonight. I am also running the humidifier. I hope that helps!!

  9. Trying your recipes very soon. Thanks for sharing

  10. Does it have to be raw honey? Would just store bought honey work?

  11. Do you really haft to wait 2 to 4 weeks for it to make?? I need it now.

  12. Mommyof4Kelleys says:

    Is the end result a liquid even after it cools? I made this today and wanted to make sure I didn’t cook it too long! Thanks!

  13. Hi,
    What brand of raw honey do you use? Is this safe to give to a 13-month old baby? Thank you.

  14. My mother used to make a cough remedy on the spot. It was onion, brown sugar, and butter. She put the onion in a pan and cooked it very slowly in the butter, then added the brown sugar. She let this simmer together for a short while. I have no idea what the measurements were, but I’m thinking it was equal parts of each. It worked when I was a child and would get what we called “coughing jags.”

  15. Check out Rosemary Gladstar she is amazing. Her recepie only calls for the honey/onion with optional garlic, but I’m sure we can’t go wrong with MORE herbs. Herbs are awesome! She also has a “gypsy cold care tea” using herbs, which has helped me kick a cold before it starts. Also, Learningherbs.com is a great resource for learning herbal remedies.

  16. Have you ever heard of Steven Buhner? He has an AMAZING book out that I am reading, it really goes in depth with herbs. Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Love this recipe! :)

  17. I just had to stop by and tell you that this recipe rocks.. I’ve been giving this to my daughter lately and it is such a blessing.. I was earlier doing the honey-cinnamon mix that Katie K. of Kitchen Stewardship had recommended and while it still is great for dry coughs, this one is a miracle for the congestion coughs.. THANK YOU!

  18. I heard about putting a cut onion in a bowl by a sick person, & it would draw impurities from the air, ie bacteria, viruses) Supposedly, that’s why you should never eat onion unless it’s freshly cut, b/c it starts absorbing the minute it’s cut, & over time can become quite toxic. Well, I was skeptical, but I was suffering a bad case of strep throat & cold, so I tried it. The next morning the pain was GONE!!!! Overnite, …. I was amazed!! My throat was so painful before. Now I am a believer!!

  19. Great recipe!

    Can I add garlic? What about ALL the herbs listed? How long does it last and where do you store it?

  20. I made this when you posted it before and it works great! I made my 2nd batch with slippery elm…I didn’t like that addition, as it was thick and sticky, hard to spoon out. Thanks for sharing!

  21. What ages would you recommend? We have a 8, 5, 3 and 17 mos. :o)

    Thanks for sharing!

  22. I’ll have to try the syrup! Thanks! As far as onions go, they’re great for helping ear infections too! Slice an onion in half, wrap it in a paper towel, place it in the microwave and cook it about a minute. Wait until it’s cool enough to place over the ear (without the paper towel.) There’s something in the onion that draws out the infection.

  23. Thanks for sharing this recipe! I can’t wait to make it tomorrow. My daughter has had a persistent cough for weeks and I hate using OTC medicines. What are your thoughts on adding slices of organic lemon?