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.

Read Newer Post
Read Older Post


  1. I just made a link in my blog to this article. Is that okay? I am fairly new to blogging (writing them anyway) and I have never linked another site to my blog and wanted to make sure I was doing something that was allowed! :) I LOVE this post of yours and am so thankful for all the blessings you provide through your blog!

  2. I know this is an old post, but I had to mention a remedy that worked for my 3 yr old recently. She came down with what I assume was an ear infection- she was crying unconsolably with ear pain. Some natural drops I had weren’t working very well. I had heard onion oil or onion juice works well for ear infections. I simmered chopped onion in olive oil, then put a few drops of the warm oil in her ear. After doing this several times over the course of the day, she said her ear did not hurt. She woke up the next day with no ear pain. I continued onion oil drops for a couple more days to make sure the infection went away. Amazing! So much better than running for antibiotics! :)
    I have some of this cough syrup on the stove right now- going to try it on my son who is coughing with a runny nose. Thanks!

  3. Monique D'Alimonte says:

    the reason for the onion working is probably because it contains quercetin, a flavinoid. Last year I developed a severe breathing problem at night. Not wanting to go to the doctor and be diagnosed with allergies and or asthma and be told I must take a pharmaceutical for the rest of my life which would have very bad side effects I searched on line for something natural. One night I was up very late searching on line and found something about quercetin. That night I could hardly breath and was almost going to go to the hospital but I dedided to wait and get some the next day. I took 3 a day at intervals of about 6 to 8 hours. Long story short, after months of no sleep, getting up numerous times having to cought up mucus before I could go back to sleep…. by the end of the first bottle and the end of one month I was 99% symptom free and remained so as long as I kept the level up. Natural means take a while to work because it needs to build up in your body. As long as I kept taking 3 a day it worked until the late fall and then I was able to stop, but now spring is here again and I just started taking them again. I hope this helps anyone who suffers from allergies. Here is the science behind it. Quercetin is a flavinoid related to vitamin c that was discovered in the 1800’s. In your body there are mast cells that leak histamines into your bloodstream when you encounter something you are alergic to, and you get a reaction. Quercetin inhibits the mast cells from leaking those histamines. I tried over the counter anti histamines but they didn’t work well and they are also chemicals are not good for you. Besides quercetin is cheaper it cost me around $15 for a bottle that lasted me a month.

  4. Yes. We have used steamed onions for pneumonia in my oldest son when he was less than a year. He was very lethargic and my midwife suggested it. We steamed them and lay them between some tea towels on his chest. He just soaked it up and yes it helped draw the yuck out. Recently, the same son, who is now twelve had a nasty cough that would not let go so we used it again. He wasn’t too fond of the smell but he asked for it again the next night. I asked him if he thought it helped and he said that he slept very well and that he did feel better. Also, that the warmth on his chest was very soothing. I saved them in a baggy and reused them for the second night and still got the results. Highly recommend it. Also, can’t wait to use the cough syrup recipe. Thank you.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe on my blog hop. I hope to hear from you again. Send your friends over for next Monday’s feature in the series. Happy blogging!

  6. This is also a Mexican home remedy that we our school’s grandma taught her!!

  7. michelleb says:

    Growing up in Philly in the 70’s, anytime my siblings or I had a fever, my dad would cut an onion in half and put them in the bottom of socks whenever we had a fever. Of course we’d be laying in bed, the socks would just hold the cut side against the soles of our feet. He swore this reduced our fever every time. Today I will be making the cough syrup for my youngest and I am going to make a batch of the Cold Kicker from Keeper Of The Home.
    Thanks for what you do!

  8. I’ve used a cut onion on a painful burn before and it is just amazing how the pain dissapears instantly when nothing else would ease the discomfort. After a few minutes when the onion juice started to dry I would just slice a little more off the vegetable and reapply!

  9. Just made up a batch of the syrup. My little 1 year old has a horrible cough. Was very worried about what it would taste like, because of the onion, but it actually tastes really good. I have a bit of an onion taste in my mouth now, 15 mins later but thats ok. My little girl has gone down for a nap now & I have yet to hear her coughing so it looks like it’s working. Thanks so much for posting this.

    Very interesting onion facts here. Love the comment about putting half an onion around the house to ward off illness. We are having very cold weather at the moment which is very unusual for here. It’s snowing & we rarely, if ever, get snow and it never snows in November (usually February/March time) so illness is flying around. Must give the onion trick a go:)

  10. Thank you so much for the wonderful info! My girls are recovering from a virus but can’t seem to shake their cough and I am all plugged up! Going to chop an onion now to put by their bed and definitely making the syrup tomorrow!!!!

  11. Susie wankerl says:

    This is my favorite herb book! One of the main reasons is that most of the herbs are easily acquired, which is important when I’m trying to help my kids who live in other states and need to find immediate relief from some ailment. I have used an onion poultice when we have had bronchial/chest congestion. It is very effective. Onions are wonderful things!

  12. My grandmother used to eat onions like apples. Now I know why she never had so much as a cold! I wish I’d read this info a week ago. A dear friend has been suffering all week long with the worst cold/cough that I’ve ever known her to have. I’m going to call her and tell her to put a dish of onion on her bedside table pronto!

  13. j. debra halsmith says:

    Read more . . .

    FORGOT TO ADD… crushed garlic in the mix of my mom’s “Family Recipe” for fighting colds, body aches, etc., etc.

    ; )

  14. j. debra halsmith says:

    My late husband and I were in full-time church music ministry all of or life and, being vocalists, it was very important for us to fight off a cold, sore throats, laryngitis, that achy body feeling, etc.
    My mom’s “family recipe” of sautéeing several onions in vegetable oil and a little bit of salted butter [for flavor], sprinkling pepper and vegetable or sea salt and keeping them a’cookin’ until the onions were past the clear stage and almost toward crunchy, but not quite there. She [and I] would serve as much as could be placed on dry toast and have the patient eat it just before bed. Dress up warm and sweat it out during the night.
    AMAZING that, by morning, all the symptoms would be gone or almost gone depending the severity of the condition.

  15. When I was a child, whenever we had a cough, Mom would chop up an onion and put it in a bowl right beside our beds. To this day, the smell of raw, chopped onion makes me think of having a cold.
    .-= Mrs. Gryphon´s last blog ..Hello world! =-.

  16. I remember my grandmother putting cut onion halves in her socks at night when she had a fever. The next morning, her fever would be gone completely and the onions cooked!
    .-= heather harris´s last blog ..Winston Churchill-review =-.

  17. I really do think that onions in the room help. I have read that onions absorb things, and they can absorb the virus even. I don’t know. I just know that I seem to get better quicker when I have onions in the room, and when I eat them.

  18. Would frozen onion work???


  19. I am assuming that frozen onion I have would NOT be recommended for the recipe? That’s all I have right now and I’d love to try it on my son today. Not feeling brave enough to get out to the store with him recovering still from a cold…


  20. Mom to 2 Boys says:

    Can’t wait to try this on my coughing 5 yr old. Thanks for sharing.

    Another use for the onion that I have used in the past is on insect stings. If you take a slice of fresh onion and lay it on a bee or wasp sting it will stop the pain and reduce the swelling completely. My 5 yr ols son was stung by a wasp this summer and was screaming about how bad it hurt. I remembered the onion and grabbed a slice and put it on. He almost immediately said it felt better and stopped screaming. Had him hold it on for a few minutes and you could barely see the little red dot from where the wasp stung him.

    I also heard a herbalist speak about onions once and she recommended onion juice for just about everything. Onions are so awesome!!

    Thanks again!

  21. Thanks for a great recipe and suggestions. Will definately be trying the onion by the bed trick and a natural remedy during this cold season is great as I am 9 months pregnant. I’ll be concocting a batch this week with cloves and ginger.

    I did want to point out that as one of the suggested ingredients is Comfrey, I’ve found that there is very conflicting information on the safety of taking Comfrey internally. While it is a very effective healer (is part of a natural remedy I’ve used for my eczema – works fabulously) so much information points to Comfrey causing issues with the liver. I don’t know if you’ve received the same information but I worry about including it in an internal remedy, especially if given to children. Your thoughts?

    • @Margaret, Yes, I have come across a few conflicting things about using Comfrey internally. So far, though, most of what I’ve read suggests that Comfrey is ok to take internally so I’ve been using it that way. The other things I’d read didn’t give me any substantial reasons why it might not be a good idea, but I hadn’t read anything about the liver. I’ll look into that more. Thanks for the comment!

  22. What a wonderful find. My daughter woke up a few days ago with a chesty cough & no other remedies have worked. Honey doesn’t do a darn thing. So, today has been a smelly day around our house with onions everywhere. I even had her tote around a baggie full of big chunks of onions to the farmers market and grocery story today. Poor thing reeked but I’m willing to try anything. She’s sleeping with a bowl next to her bed (& the baggie under her pillow, open) so we’ll see what happens when she wakes. Thank you for sharing. I’m going to look into the book now!
    .-= Gina´s last blog ..So Much To Be Thankful For =-.

  23. Hi just wondering, how long would this last for do you think? Like if you were using it over a week or two would it last that long?

    • @Melissa V, Ours has lasted for about 5 days, but that’s with two of us having it multiple times each day (and I take the full Tbsp, compared to only a tsp. for my daughter, plus my son wants in on the fun so I give him a very small spoonful just because :)). But I’m sure it would be fine if you had it over the course of a week or two. It’s primarily still honey, just with the medicinal components from the herbs steeped into it, so there’s not really much in it to go bad. Just be sure to keep it in the fridge.

  24. Great recipe. Thanks!
    .-= Patrice Farmer´s last blog ..Got Leftover Jeans and Clothes, make a quilt! =-.

  25. My sister-in-law gave me a copy of this book last year but for whatever reason I never did more than flip through it. Then just the other week she was telling me about the homemade cough syrup she made with onions and honey. I guess it’s time for me to pull out my copy and do a little reading!