7 Natural Expectorants to Help Relieve Cough

We all are familiar with the term “cough.”

Coughing is perhaps one of the most common health problems that frequently affects both children and adults.

A cough is basically a voluntary or involuntary act, which helps your breathing passage and throat get rid of foreign particles, mucus, irritants, microbes, etc. It involves rapid air expulsion from the lungs.[1]

You start coughing when there is a blockage or irritant in your throat or upper air passages and the brain tells your body to cough out the foreign element.


natural expectorants to relieve cough

Basically, there are two types of coughs: productive and nonproductive.

Productive cough: A productive cough produces phlegm or mucus, clearing it from the lungs.
Nonproductive cough: In a nonproductive cough (dry cough), there is no sign of phlegm or mucus.

Causes of a Cough

A cough can be caused by a number of reasons. According to a 2015 study published in Lung India, coughing can be a warning sign of several respiratory and nonrespiratory diseases and is one of the most common reasons for adults seeking medical treatment.[2]


Generally, coughing can be caused by:

  • Viral infection
  • Common cold
  • Allergies
  • Flu
  • Smoking
  • Health issues such as tuberculosis, asthma, and even lung cancer.
  • Environmental causes
  • In some cases, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also cause a cough[2]

Symptoms of a Cough

Few common symptoms associated with a cough are:


  • Itchy throat
  • Chest pain
  • Congestion

Prolonged, vigorous coughing is exhausting and can cause:

  • Sleeplessness
  • Headaches
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Broken ribs (in extreme cases)


A cough is a way for the body to rid itself of unwanted substances such as phlegm and other irritants. Sometimes, it can be symptomatic of some other problem such as an allergy, asthma, and GERD as well as bacterial or viral infections. Thus, however debilitating a cough may be, it’s not a health condition itself and should not be treated as such. Nevertheless, here are a few preventive tips to save you from a coughing spell:

  • Have a healthy and nutritious diet to help your body fight diseases and infections.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Stay away from irritants and asthma/allergy triggers.
  • Maintain proper hygiene and wash your hands regularly to prevent transmission of germs.
  • Take proper measure when coming in contact with people suffering from an infection.
  • Keep your house and work area well ventilated.

When to See a Doctor

Since cough often manifests itself as a symptom of some underlying health issue, which may or may not be serious, it’s best to seek medical help if you experience sustained cough for over 3 weeks without any improvement. Your doctor will subsequently help you get to the root of the problem and offer the appropriate treatment strategy. This is especially important since, in rare cases, a persistent cough can be a sign of a serious underlying ailment.

Additionally, the following symptoms should also alert you to seek professional medical assistance:


  • Lumps or swelling in the neck area
  • Severe coughing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain in the chest
  • Coughing up blood
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever that doesn’t go away

There are a number of effective home remedies that can be used to treat cough naturally.

An expectorant can be useful to relieve cough as it helps in thinning and loosening the mucus by increasing its water content. As a result, your cough becomes more productive.

A number of ingredients that can easily be found in your kitchen cabinet boast of expectorant properties and can help you get rid of this condition.

Note: An expectorant won’t treat the infection that may be causing the problem.

natural expectorants to help relieve cough

Here are the top 7 natural expectorants to help treat a cough.


1. Salt Water

Gargling with salt water helps in thinning the mucus and making it easier for you to get rid of it while coughing.[3]

Saline water works as an expectorant and helps alleviate irritation in the throat that accompanies constant coughing. It even helps dislodge any phlegm that may be hanging out and allows you to expel it easily.

Moreover, warm salt water promotes healing of inflamed airways.

  1. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of warm water.
  2. Stir it until the salt mixes in properly.
  3. Gargle with this water 2 or 3 times a day.

2. Honey

Honey is another natural expectorant that can provide quick relief from a cough.

It has highly effective antibacterial, antioxidant, and immune-boosting properties that help ease coughing and its associated symptoms.

A 2007 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine reports that honey is more effective for cough and sleep difficulty associated with childhood upper respiratory tract infections than over-the-counter medicines that contain dextromethorphan (DM), a cough suppressant.[4]

Another 2014 study published in the Canadian Family Physician recommends honey for the treatment of cough in children. Honey can be recommended as a single dose of 2.5 ml before bedtime for children (older than 1 year of age) suffering from this condition.[5]

  • Add 1 tablespoon of raw honey to a glass of warm water and drink it slowly. Repeat this remedy a few times a day. This solution will have a soothing effect on the throat.
  • Mix 2 teaspoons of raw honey and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. Consume the mixture every few hours for symptom relief.
  • Before going to bed, consume 1 teaspoon of raw honey with ½ teaspoon of cinnamon powder. This will help you sleep better.
Note: Never give honey to babies younger than 1 year as it contains bacteria that can cause infantile botulism.[6]

3. Ginger

Ginger is another popular natural expectorant that you can easily find in your kitchen.

It is packed with anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and antitussive (cough-suppressant) properties that can help you in getting rid of cough. In addition, it boosts the immune system to help speed up the recovery.

A 2013 study published in Ancient Science of Life reports that ginger has expectorant as well as stimulant, revulsive, carminative, stomachic, disinfectant, bronchodilator, antifungal, febrifuge, and anti-inflammatory properties.[7]

  • Cut some fresh ginger into small pieces. Slightly crush the pieces. Put them in a cup of water and bring to a boil. Drink this herbal remedy about 3-4 times a day.
  • Mix together 1 tablespoon of freshly extracted ginger juice and 1 tablespoon of raw honey. Drink this mixture twice daily for a few days.
  • Another option is to mix equal amounts of ginger juice, lemon juice, and onion juice and take 1 tablespoon of this mixture 2-3 times a day.

4. Licorice

Licorice root comes with amazing expectorant qualities. It can also help soothe an irritated and inflamed throat as well as suppress coughing.

A 2018 study published in Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry highlights the antitussive and expectorant activities of licorice and its major compounds.[8]

  • The best way to take licorice for cough is in the form of a tea. To make licorice tea, simply add ½ teaspoon of licorice root to a cup of hot water, let it steep for ten minutes, and then drink it. Have this tea 2-3 times a day.
  • You can also mix about ½ teaspoon of licorice powder with a little honey and consume this mixture two times a day for a few days.
  • To soothe throat irritation, suck on some licorice candies.
Note: This ingredient should not be used by people with high blood pressure.[9]

5. Holy Basil

Holy basil, also known as tulsi, is a key ingredient in cough syrups and expectorants.[10]

Tulsi aqueous extracts are traditionally used for the treatment of various ailments such as stomachache, headaches, inflammation, malaria, cold, various types of poisoning, and even heart disease.

It has been claimed that the oils extracted from the leaves and the inflorescence of this plant possess analgesic, expectorant, antipyretic, antiemetic, and antiasthmatic properties. It also boasts of stress-reducing and inflammation-relieving benefits. It also acts as a hepatoprotective, hypotensive, hypoglycemic, immunomodulatory, and hypolipidemic agent.

  • Add 8-10 holy basil leaves and 5 cloves to a cup of water and boil it for 10 minutes. Allow the solution to cool, and then drink it 2-3 times daily to relieve coughing.
  • Boil a pot of water and put a few drops of basil oil in it. Drape a towel over your head and inhale the steam for 10 minutes. Do this 1-2 times a day.

6. Garlic

Garlic is an efficient cough remedy as it works as a natural expectorant. It can be useful in clearing respiratory issues and curing coughs.[11]

A 2010 study published in Pharmacognosy Review highlights the expectorant as well as other medicinal properties of garlic.[12]

Garlic also offers antibacterial and antiviral benefits that make it effective for clearing infection, which can be the reason behind the cough.

Garlic can be used as a steam inhalant or a chest rub. It can also be taken internally.

  • Consume a clove of crushed garlic mixed with a little honey about 2 or 3 times daily.
  • Boil two to three cloves of garlic in a cup of water and add 1 teaspoon oregano to it. Allow it to cool to room temperature, add some honey, and drink the solution twice daily.
  • Alternatively, add 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic to a pot of boiling water. Cover your head with a towel and inhale the vapor. This remedy is not suitable for very small children.
  • You can also mix garlic oil with some warm olive oil and use the mixture as a chest rub.

7. Peppermint

Peppermint encourages the body to eliminate mucus from the airways, which in turn aids in the treatment of a cough.[13]

Peppermint contains a compound known as menthol that helps in thinning the mucus and loosening the phlegm.

In addition, this ingredient has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties that take care of the infection responsible for the cough.

  • Add a drop of peppermint oil to a pot of hot water and inhale the steam.
  • Mix a few drops of peppermint oil with coconut oil. Rub it on your chest, neck, and nose to unclog your sinuses and enjoy relaxed breathing.
  • You can also enjoy a few cups of peppermint tea daily to get rid of cough symptoms.


  1. Canning BJ, Chang AB, Bolser DC, et al. Anatomy and neurophysiology of cough: CHEST Guideline and Expert Panel report. Chest. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25188530. Published December 2014.
  2. Mahashur A. Chronic dry cough: Diagnostic and management approaches. Lung India. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4298918/. Published 2015.
  3. Elkins MR, Bye PTP. Mechanisms and applications of hypertonic saline. Journal of Royal Society of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3128163/. Published July 2011.
  4. Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, Shaffer ML, Duda L, Berlin Jr. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescents. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18056558. Published December 2007.
  5. Goldman RD. Honey for treatment of cough in children. Canadian Family Physician. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4264806/. Published December 2014.
  6. Samarghandian S, Farkhondeh T, Samini F. Honey and Health: A Review of Recent Clinical Research. Pharmacognosy Review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28539734. Published 2017.
  7. Significance of gingers (Zingiberaceae) in Indian System … Paediatrics Child Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4078479/. Published November 2011.
  8. Kuang Y, Li B, Fan J, Qiao X, Ye M. Antitussive and expectorant activities of licorice and its major compounds. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29224994. Published January 1, 2018.
  9. Varma, Ross. Liquorice: a root cause of secondary hypertension. Addiction & health. https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/28210494. Published January 2017.
  10. Cohen MM. Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum : A herb for all reasons. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4296439/. Published 2014.
  11. Rivlin, S. R. Historical Perspective on the Use of Garlic. The Journal of Nutrition. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/131/3/951S/4687053. Published April 1, 2001.
  12. Petrovska BB. Extracts from the history and medical properties of garlic. Pharmacognosy Review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249897/. Published January 2010.
  13. Meamarbashi A. Instant effects of peppermint essential oil on the … Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103722/. Published 2014.