Home Remedies for Coughs and Colds

Get Rid of Your Cough the Way Grandma Did—or Not

tray of cold remedies and supplies
There's a good chance your grandmother had it right when it comes to fighting a cold.. Janine Lamontagne / Getty Images

Pharmaceutical companies don't have the market cornered on all cures for that which ails you. Grandma did her part long before dextromethorphan was supposedly stopping coughs. What we didn't understand until now was that Granny was getting it right more often than we thought. Doctors are expensive, and Grandma's cures are back en vogue.

Grandma didn't always get it right, though. Here are some favorite home remedies for cough and cold, along with whatever we've learned about them since Granny first gave honey (or brandy) to dear old Dad.

Honey for Coughs

spoonful of honey
A spoonful of honey might make the medicine go down, but it could also be the medicine.. Naho Yoshizawa/Aflo/Getty Images

First point goes to Granny. Honey turns out to be better than cough medicine for quelling the hack of winter (or summer). Of course, since the cough medicines don't actually do anything, the bar wasn't set too high. Still, honey helps a little. Just don't give it to the littlest coughers or you might give them more than a cough. Honey might lead to botulism in infants.

Vitamin C to Beat the Common Cold

woman with juice
Vitamin C might (or might not) shorten your cold.. Luka / Getty Images

This one's hard to pin down. Grandma was right in one sense: you should take your vitamins every day. Taking vitamin C every day seems to reduce the length of a cold once you get it; however, taking big doses of vitamin C after you already have a cold gets mixed results. It wasn't studied in kids, and it worked sometimes in adults. Moral of the story: try it. One thing's for sure, taking a daily vitamin C helped, so listen to your Granny and chew your orange-flavored cold-beater (or drink plenty of OJ).

Steam to Treat Croup

Steam is widely known to be the best option for croup...too bad we've all been wrong.. Patti McConville / Getty Images

Ask almost any emergency department nurse or ambulance paramedic how to treat croup and I'll put up a hefty bet they'll tell you to take your tyke into the bathroom and run a hot shower. We've all been under the impression that humidity from the steam -- or even the cool night air -- will fix Junior's barking croup faster than Sea Biscuit ran the Belmont. Of course, we have all been wrong. Humidity doesn't do a darn thing for croup.

Hot Peppers for Stuffy Noses

chili peppers
Peppers bring the heat, and maybe the cure.. David Murray / Getty Images

Sniff ... hold on, I'm eating chili ... sniff ... sure makes my nose run ... sniff ... may be good for a stuffy schnozz. As it turns out, capsaicin (the stuff in red chile peppers) is indeed good for opening up the sniffer and clearing out the gunk. Now if I can only manage to mix honey and chile peppers in an edible dish...

Echinacea for Colds

echinacea in mortar and pestle
The evidence is weak for this one, but hey, if it makes you feel better.... Cristina Cassinelli / Getty Images

It's not a home remedy as much as an herbal remedy, but Echinacea has gotten lots of press for being the way to truly beat a cold. As is often the case with herbal cures, the evidence is weak at best and nonexistent most of the time. It's one of those recommendations that basically says, "If it makes you feel better...."

Brandy (Whiskey, Scotch, Rum, etc.) for Cough

brandy bottle and aperitif glass
There is a belief that distilled spirits might help suppress coughs--or make them worse.. Wittelsbach bernd / Getty Images

Sometimes Grandma liked to have a little fun. All the better to have a bottle or two tucked away in the cabinet for emergencies. I'm not sure there is too much benefit in using liquor as a cough suppressant, but that's basically what all the nighttime, sniffling, coughing medicines are.

A few years ago (more than a decade now), my then 5 year old daughter got a whopper of a cough at her grandmother's mountain cabin. The only cough suppressant available was a bottle of halfway decent brandy. We tried a little shot and she didn't make a peep the rest of the night. I don't know if it helped her cough, but she slept fine.

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