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. I was wondering if the book had a recipe for nauseousness.

    I live in a foreign country and when I get nauseous, I drink a little medicine bottle they sell here. It’s a miracle and I feel better within minutes every single time! The locals tell me it’s peppermint oil, but you can’t always trust the translations here.

    Does this book have anything for it? b/c I’d really like to make it on my own. Thank you!

    • katie sparks says:

      I have had chronic stomach problems for most of my life. I now use peppermint for nausea and stomach aches. It is the best thing I have found anywhwere, and I make my own. I fill a mason jar up with dried peppermint, and cover it with 80 proof vodka; let it sit for four weeks, shaking it everyday, then strain and squeeze. I take a tsp of it when needed and i love it. I have also used olive oil instead of the vodka, but i prefer the vodka personally!

      • Hi Katie,
        Do you have any suggestions to speed up the process? I am sick now! I have in the last few years take Jack Daniels, 5 peppermints, 2 aspirin, and the juice of one lemon. Mixed all in a small jar, shaking until the peppermints melt and used as a cough medicine. It works for us, but we aren’t drinkers so I think any alcohol would probably work. :)

  2. I have just learned great tips so i wanted to share. So if you have a cough using garlic oil on your feet can really help. I have been told you can use on yourchest also. Making it is really easy. You need 6 cloves of garlic, in a glass jar top with olive oil, enough to cover the garluc. Let sit one hour min. The longer the stronger. Garlic can be hot so puton slowly. Put on socks and go to bed. Garlic is antibacterial,, antimicrobial and good for the lungs.

  3. Melodya says:

    Thank you for this. I have had great success with a recipe from a book called, “Do it Gorgeously,” I believe. It also has raw honey, and the rest are herbs. It is a fantastic decongestant and tastes like bitter tea with honey. Much better than store bought cough syrup and no side effects! If it’s a dry cough I have a recipe from the same book that calls for marshmellow root.

    I love that we can bring true relief to our bodies without wondering about the chemicals’ effects.

  4. I have recently gained a desire to make more home made products. I am glad to have stumbled across your site. My father-in-law has a persisting cough. I am hoping that this will help sooth and heal him. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Keith Kirkland says:

    Oinion, sugar,.and water….. This is s mixture my grandmother used to help suppress my uncontrollable coughing when nothing else seemed to help. It doesn’t taste good, but it sure helped.

  6. Pat Rockwell says:

    When I was a young child Many years ago—my grandmother used onions for my sisters and I for cough syrup. I have told my grown children of it and they too have put it to good use. It does work and it works well. Thank you for sharing. Pat

  7. Awesome recipe! How long will the syrup keep. In fridge or cool dark cupboard?

    • I keep it in a cupboard, rather than the fridge, so the honey doesn’t get too hard to pour easily. It keeps at least several weeks, although we often go through a jar in the course of a sickness, especially if more than one person in the house is sick.

  8. This is an excellent recipe – it reminds me of one my mother-in-law used to give us when we were first married. I’ve often regretted not getting the recipe from her before she passed away.

    It also made me think of our trip to the dentist a couple of weeks ago – I mentioned that we seemed to be having more coughs and colds than usual this year, despite all our best efforts, and he suggested we start using a natural toothpaste – he said to try Dr. Nate’s Naturals, because it has xylitol. Apparently the xylitol is better at removing bacteria from the mouth and keeping it out, which can reduce the amount of colds you get. It’s too early to tell if it’s working, but it seemed to make sense to me…

  9. Thanks for sharing. I think it helped and it certainly tasted good!

  10. Rashmi Ashok says:

    Hi, My son has cough more or less every week cropping back, I donot want to medicate him much, just read your blog, will try it today, thx.

    Rashmi R

  11. Stephanie L says:

    Thanks for this recipe! We used it for my daughter a few weeks ago and it totally got all the gunk up!

    I am wondering – can I use it for my 18 month old?


    • Remember it’s not safe to give children under honey, esp raw honey.

      • It’s children under 1 that shouldn’t have honey for risk of botulism (which is actually extremely rare).

        I too have an 18 month old and wonder if this is ok. I would imagine it is since it’s all natural, but I might run it by a dr. or check the herbs first.

        • Yes, this is fine to use for young children over the age of 1. For children under 1, you can use food grade vegetable glycerin. Not quite as good as raw honey, but still effective and not at all dangerous. Also, if the kids don’t like the taste, just use the honey or glycerin with the other herbs and add a bit of cinnamon. Out rates great and really works! My 2 and 3 year old boys love it and it’s healthy anytime, not just during colds. We sometimes spread it on toast!

          • Oops…I meant to say “if the kids don’t like the taste [of the onion]” and “[it tastes great] and really works”.

  12. I use onions to break up a tight cough or congestion overnight. This is my remedy: cut an onion in thick slices and cover the sole of the feet with the raw slices. Wrap with plastic wrap and put socks over it to help keep it on. The kids sleep with the onions on all night and by morning the cough is loose and breaks up easily. When removed the onions look cooked. A few night’s application and it will be gone. Warning: this stinks up a whole room, bedding etc! :)

  13. I’ve used onion to make a salve before. It stinks like crazy but worked and it was really soothing.

  14. I haven’t read anyone else’s posts, so this may have been mentioned already. You can put a sliver of onion in the ear cavity (not in the ear hole) for ear infections. The fumes go right into the ear and heal the infection, as well as relieve pain pretty quickly. We do this with garlic all the time, but I know you can do it with a small cut of onion also, cut- side facing the ear hole. Works every time :) God’s blessings to you all!

    • I might mention again that you sit the onion or clove of garlic in the ear like a hearing aid, not in the actual ear hole. :)

    • Victoria says:

      This is actually really popular to do too: heat up coconut oil with fresh chopped onion and ginger, let simmer, strain, and then put a few drops into each ear.

  15. jaimelynn says:

    I would add apple cider vinegar!

  16. Do you have a recipe without honey?

    The suggar even natural decrease your immune system so when you’re sick I think isn’t the best idéa … any other suggestio?

    • The sugar that is naturally found in the honey does not decrease your immune system. The amazing benefits of honey cannot be completely understood or even accounted for, but what we do know is enough to take it! Scientists can go only so far as to understand the benefits of raw honey (raw honey: has not been cooked at all, some say above 105 degrees, but I would say not at all, which is how we buy it, and most importantly, local honey). :-)

      • I meant to mention that if you wanted another suggestion, you can do this same mixture in 100% natural vegetable glycerin. It is used in most children’s glycerite mixtures. We use glycerin to make children’s herbal syrups over honey because it is more effective. It is naturally sweet, and you can heat it higher than honey, thereby getting more of the herbal properties out of the herbs.
        Hope this is helpful!

        • Victoria says:

          Actually, if you use MANUKA honey instead of, say, clover honey, the effects should be tenfold because of how much bacteria manuka is known to kill.

  17. Jamie Meinecke says:


    I think that this is a lovely recipe and I look forward to creating it soon, however, in all of my studies about herbs and their usefulness (only 3 years, so I’m not even close to the author of the book in experience) I have always found warning when dealing with Comfrey, that it shouldn’t be used internally due to the fact that it has been known to cause VOD which leads to liver toxicity (USDA also offers this warning along with a more detailed explanation). Did the author offer any comments about this in her book? I suppose 2 tablespoons doesn’t seem like much but when it comes to herbs that can sometimes be a very large amount.

    Still, I’d like to try making this with slippery elm and ginger!

  18. I am so thankful that I found your blog! I have a 4 year old who had tonsils and adenoids removed a week ago, and had since gotten a terrible cough. I am uneasy about giving him the pain meds the doctor perscribed and he plainly refuses them as well. So I am searching for ideas to ease his cough and just now went and put that onion next to him. I hope that we can all sleep tonight :)
    I am looking forward to your future blogs! Thanks a million!

  19. do you think adding a little lemon juice would help at all? I know we have used honey for coughs and I’ve heard adding a little honey is suppose to help. Wondering if it would effect any of the other herbs in this?

  20. Have you ever considered canning your cough syrup and making it shelf-stable? Just curious. :) Would high heat from pressure canning render the ingredient ineffective or would it be okay?

    • @Oney, I haven’t thought of canning it, actually. I like the idea of being able to store it for a long time, but I do think that it would reduce the effectiveness. Mainly because it’s supposed to be simmered at a low temperature, which helps to keep the active ingredients in the raw honey and the onions, well, active.

      • @Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home, Thanks for the reply Stephanie. I wondered about canning and keeping the integrity of the ingredients’ effectiveness. I’m going to make the syrup (not can it) and at least have it ready for our winter heath needs. Love your blog.

  21. I just made this last night for a cough that won’t seem to go away, especially at night. The gelatinous texture is really strange! The onion smell wasn’t very pleasant either, but I’m open to weird experiences. :) For the first few hours of the night it didn’t seem to be working. I put a tiny cup of it by the bed and would take a little sip whenever I had a coughing fit. I was up coughing for several hours. But by 2 AM or so, I was sleeping soundly. Not sure if it was chance, or the syrup! I also put a cut up onion by the bed. So hopefully whatever I have will be gone soon!! Thanks for the recipe. :)

  22. Riki L. Evans says:

    Great recipe, I use the honey and ginger syrup here, have never tried to add onion. If you wish for something stronger, try Grapefruit Seed extract. Read more about it here http://www.pureliquidgold.com. Kills over 800 microbes! Love to share this mommy’s treasure. :)

  23. I have been in bed with fle for the 10 days and still have to deal with the coughing and i am ready to try the recipe with the onion. Thank you so much for sharing with others.

  24. You dont have to wear them around your neck. Onions work very well in bowls around your house because they absorb toxins, bacteria and viruses and you dont even have to cut them. That is why you should not put a cut onion in your fridge to use later though because it absorbs all that stuff from the fridge too!!! They are good for keeping away bugs too just like garlic but the smell doesn’t come through your skin like garlic does. I love my onions!!!

    • This is very interesting. So, I store my onions just out in the open. Does that mean if you store them in a bowl in the open, and they are sucking in a bunch of toxins and stuff from the air, that then I shouldn’t use them in meal prep later? Or are they still food worthy?

      • RG I think if they still have the skin on they should be fine. I believe it’s the gases that help and I think you probably do have to cut them to get the best benefit, as that releases the gas and opens up the pores/cells of the onion much more. :)

  25. Hi Stephanie!

    This is an amazing home remedy! Would you mind sharing it on Wildcrafting Wednesday? I’m sure my readers would love it!

    ~ Kathy