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The Secret to Curing Sniffles & Sneezes

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Tina Smith. Tina is a freelance writer and blogs at Smashed Picket Fences. Most recently she published a short story in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: New Moms.”


Issac and LoganA year ago, my son had a terrible dry cough for almost two weeks. In the daytime it was fine, but at night he would cough and cough all through the night. He would wake up tired and cranky. The doctor gave us some prescription cough medicine to try and the pharmacy listed all the dangerous side effects.

We gave him the medicine, because that is what loving parents do right? No change. He still coughed through the night and on top of it, couldn’t sleep and in turn we didn’t sleep. The next day I was reading up on natural cures just to see what else was out there. I read over the suggestions, one of which was honey. I thought: “well it cant hurt.”

He began his nightly hacking and I came in with a spoonful of honey. He liked it better than the cough medicine, so I got points for that. Even better, the cough subsided. Silence filled our hallway and everyone got to sleep. The cough medicine sits in the cupboard; one dose used. I have since been through several honey jars.

When sniffles and sneezes surround us it’s tempting to reach for over the counter drugs for relief. There are a number of natural remedies that work well and here’s a secret: some work better or just as well as over-the-counter medications, especially for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents avoid using over-the-counter cold and cough medicine for children under 6. Some flat out don’t work for children under 12 and others are suspected to do more harm than good.

So let’s dust off those old home remedies. Below are some of the less known and highly effective remedies for the common cold and flu.


Kick the Vicks habit. We all know Petroleum is bad and synthetic camphor is worse. Vicks has both. Follow this easy recipe to make your own vapor rub: How to Make Your Own Petroleum-Free Vapor Rub.

Impress your friends; give it as a gift with some chicken soup for an ailing friend. If you miss the menthol scent of Vicks then- pssst… I have a secret for you – you can get camphor essential oil to add to your homemade vapor rub. It’s the real thing and not harmful. You’ll never want to pick up the toxic overpriced crud again.

Added bonus: this vapor rub can be used as a diaper rash cream and a bug repellent. Don’t believe me? I dare you to give it a try.


Honey is a natural antibacterial, and more than just a natural sweet tooth’s wet dream. Take one teaspoon for cough. Honey will smooth out a dry throat. Cough medicine has nothing on this remedy, especially for children. Mary Poppins was on to something with the “spoonful of sugar” rant. (Warning: do not use honey on children under 1 year).

Sore Throat

Gargle salt water for sore throat relief. Try adding 1/4 teaspoon of salt to a 1/2 cup water and gargle for a minute. Afterwards drink a cup of tea with lemon balm in it. Lemon balm has been shown to be a powerful anti-viral and promotes relaxation.

Achy Muscles

Epsom salt is by far the best-kept secret of natural healing. Ease achy muscles by taking a bath sprinkled with a 1/2 cup of Epsom salt. If you have essential oils, try a splash of eucalyptus, lavender or rosemary. Don’t like baths? You can get the same benefits of Epsom salt by just soaking your feet. Read more about the benefits of Epsom salt baths.

I will finally throw out that old cough medicine. My simple remedies work well and I would rather buy one item that has several uses. I have been working on cleaning out our cupboards of medicines we don’t use, trinkets that I forgot how to use, and measuring cups that have no use- when I own a set of teaspoons for cooking already. Some things I will hang on to until I find an alternative, but I am happy with my homemade remedies that I don’t have to run off to the store to buy at the first signs of a sniffle.


Attention Portland peeps . . .

Come hang out with me and my fellow blogging buddies!

Tyler Tervooren, Sean Ogle, Jonathan Mead, and little old me are hosting a get together this week. I’d love to connect with you in-person.

Here are the details:

Where: We’ll be at The Lucky Lab on NW Quimby in Portland.

When: Thursday, February 17th at 7pm.

Hope to see you there! :)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • sf mom February 14, 2011, 7:24 am

    Perfect timing! My little one has the hacking cough and the over-the-counter med isn’t working.

    Thank you!

  • Dorota February 14, 2011, 10:24 am

    My father used to make the following concoction for coughs:
    warm milk with honey and butter – I imagine it has similar logic behind it as using honey. The butter should probably calm the throat. Warm milk with honey is said to help sleep and is supposed to calm you down.
    Worked like a charm.

  • Corvallis mom February 14, 2011, 11:07 am

    We use homemade black elderberry syrup (elderberries boiled in water until reduced by half, then add honey). Seems to help shake off coughs at our house. Even if it’s a placebo, it’s tasty and I figure it has trace nutrients that are healthy.

    • tina February 14, 2011, 2:23 pm

      I dont think it is a placebo. There are a number of research articles that support elderberries as a great anti viral for the cold virus.


  • Paige of Redefining Wealth February 14, 2011, 12:14 pm

    I’m always searching for the “non-consumer” way to address health issues, so I love this posting. I’m going to print it out and keep it for future reference. I suffer from allergies which often give me a bad cough. My brother recently told me to try some local honey and then my dad mentioned the same thing. And now I read this! I think the universe is telling me it’s time to go and get some honey!

  • Sue February 14, 2011, 12:34 pm

    I gave up on most over the counter medicines for coughs and colds ages ago. Eucalyptus oil is one of the best decongestants I know and is great in an aromatherapy diffuser. If you don’t have a diffuser, just find an old dish pour some boiling water in it, add a few drops of eucalyptus and you’ll soon be breathing much easier. My favourite beverage for a cold/cough is hot water with lemon, a small amount of unsweetened apple juice, a generous amount of chopped fresh ginger root, with a cinnamon “stir” stick.

    I hope when you “threw out” the cough medicine you took it back to the pharmacy and asked them to dispose of it. I don’t know if it’s the same in the U.S., but here in Canada, we can take outdated, or partially used medications–whether prescription or over the counter–to most pharmacies and the pharmacist will dispose of them safely, and they won’t end up harming the environment or fresh water sources.

    • tina February 14, 2011, 2:18 pm

      Hi Sue,

      Thanks for your comments. We have drop off places here in the US for medications. It is not recommended to throw them out or flush them in the toilet either.


  • Jill Wolfe February 14, 2011, 12:49 pm

    Please add to your natural cough remedy of honey… to not give it to young ones under a year old.

    • tina February 14, 2011, 2:20 pm

      Hi Jill,

      In the article I have a warning already and a link to a scientific article of why you cant give honey to children under one year old. Thanks for reading!


  • Dave February 14, 2011, 2:17 pm

    Honey is also easy to digest, since it has already been digested by the bees who produced it, and raw honey has many helpful enzymes in it, as well as often containing bits of pollen that can help ease the severity of hayfever for allergy sufferers (much in the same way a vaccine for a virus allows the body to build an immunity to the virus).

    Any tips on a natural expectorant for helping loosen and cough up all that chest phlegm?

    • tina February 14, 2011, 6:43 pm

      I have heard that about honey regarding allergies. I’ve been meaning to research it further, but haven’t gotten around to it. I like to read scientific studies, if you know of any I would love to read about it.

      I don’t have any suggestions yet on expectorant. I like to recommend/write about things I have 1. throughly researched, through science articles and studies as well as word of mouth, if I think it has a good base then I will 2. Try it on myself and family- then, 3. I get a few friends to try it and if we all get good results then I share it. I haven’t gotten to that point with an expectorant yet.

    • Vanessa February 15, 2011, 12:12 am

      Dave, licorice root is supposed to be a terrific expectorant: I bought some licorice root tea for that purpose. It tastes lovely and sweet, but I haven’t been able to test out the expectorant claims yet – I haven’t had a cough!

      • Dave February 15, 2011, 7:52 am

        Vanessa: Thanks for the tip! Luckily, I also love licorice, and we have a tea shop just around the corner from our apartment, and happen to know they have several teas with licorice root in them 🙂 I’ll have to try it out.

        • Christina February 22, 2011, 12:18 pm

          Licorice tea is my go-to remedy for a sore throat. It works much better than an lozenge or cough syrup. Yogi Tea makes a couple of nice licorice teas.

  • sgl February 14, 2011, 2:34 pm

    you should add elderberry syrup for flu:
    Standardized Elderberry Syrup Shortens the Severity and Duration of Influenza in Adults

    you can of course buy it (Sambucol is one brand). Or you can make it yourself: buy some dried elderberries and some vodka, and start a tincture. (google for various recipes). four ounces of sambucol costs about $14. i bought a pound of dried elderberries for $10, and quart of vodka for $14. used about 1/4 pound of berries for a mason jar full of elderberry tincture.


  • Gena S February 14, 2011, 3:25 pm

    Interesting timing, I’ll pass this along to a twitter friend who was looking for natural/frugal remedies for her cold. I shared with her a tip passed on along from an aunt who swears by it and gets rid of cold super quick: a neti pot. Frugal, natural, reusable. Karol Gajda swears by it too, by the way, you can find one in almost any pharmacy or drugstore where we live and Wholefoods or any healthfood store should have them as well. Thanks for the tips!

    • marianney | A Life Set Free February 14, 2011, 5:31 pm

      Gena, I use a neti pot because my sinuses are kind of a mess, but I couldn’t use it when i was really congested, because it hurt my ears. Usually it will work for minor stuffiness though.

    • tina February 14, 2011, 6:46 pm

      I know a lot of people who love the netti pot. They are amazing contraptions. A great way to clean out the sinus. I like to do the little bit of salt mixed with water and sniff a few drops. Havent gotten brave enough to do the netti pot yet!!

  • Jen February 14, 2011, 4:41 pm

    Thats interesting, the medical community is starting to experiment with honey for the treatment of burns and so far they are having very promising results. My son really appreciates home made popsicles when hes sick and I think I will put some honey in them next time and give it a try. I juice the fruit and make them that way so I’m not feeding him artificial refined sugar and who knows what else. Also as an fyi I got an email from a relative recently warning that a bunch of the cough syrups for adults, chidren and infants are being recalled because they have caused sudden onsets of hemorragic stroke.

  • marianney February 14, 2011, 5:30 pm

    these are great tips! i am always on the look out for natural remedies. i know petroleum is bad for us, but it never dawned on me that Vick’s is made of it, duh! i love the alternative you present, i will be bookmarking this page and trying that at home!

  • Domestic Kate February 14, 2011, 6:59 pm

    Great post! When I was in my teens and early 20s, I always reached for the OTC remedies for my colds, and I had some success, but mostly, I just learned to ride it out because medicine always turns my stomach (even pills). Now, for several years, I’ve found that the OTC remedies do nothing. And I mean nothing. I do take Airborne and I swear by it, but it’s essentially just vitamins to help boost your immune system–something that could be done with careful attention to diet. Beyond that, it’s peppermint tea, my neti pot, and eucalyptus baths all the way.

  • Holli February 14, 2011, 7:19 pm

    Wow. Timing is amazing for this post. We (4 and 2 year old and myself) all have colds. We’ve been drinking honey in warm water with some lemon, and today I just started using fresh ginger slices in my glasses of water.

    I truly appreciate this post, and the insightful comments with additional remedies!

    One to add:
    Ear aches – I used to get them a lot as a kid. I keep a small tincture of Garlic, Mullein and Olive Oil in my cupboard – anytime I feel my ear start to ache, I put a few drops (like 5) in my ear, go to sleep and wake up all better. I buy it at my local food co-op, but I know you can make your own version with just some slices of garlic and extra virgin Olive Oil.

    Thank you, Tina and Tammy for spreading the helpful information to my nook.

  • Kimmoy February 15, 2011, 7:11 am

    If you grew up in the Caribbean, it’s all about natural medicines so these are not new to me lol We also use plenty of natural teas plucked right from the tree to cure a ton of ailments. Cool article.

  • Karen February 15, 2011, 11:18 am

    All of these are good tips, and I have heard that using local honey is especially good because of the pollen it contains that may help allergy sufferers build immunity.

    May I just add one caution? Do make sure that a chronic cough is not asthma. Asthma is a potentially life-threatening condition that can be helped by reducing exposure to allergens, but cold remedies (natural or not) will not prevent an attack.

    • tina February 15, 2011, 2:09 pm

      That is a good warning. Any cough that last more than three weeks needs to be checked out by a doctor!


  • Katherine February 15, 2011, 11:39 am

    Maybe everyone already knows this one, but we also elevate the head of the mattress in my daughter’s crib when she has a cough. This seems to help a lot!

    • tina February 15, 2011, 2:11 pm

      We use this one too. We also use it for another purpose – Both of my children have GERD (Reflux disease) this is a great one for digestion issues too- Elevate the crib to help fussy babies sleep better.

  • Marc at Minimalist Freak February 15, 2011, 1:09 pm

    What a great post. I hate it how quickly people run to the drug store to solve problems. I use local raw honey everyday with tea. I never thought to use it strait for coughs.

  • Pamela February 15, 2011, 5:33 pm

    We use honey also – usually warmed with a drop of lemon. It’s wonderful. However, I did have the same thought as Karen regarding asthma. My daughter’s dry, hacking cough that only showed up at night turned out to be just that.

  • Timaree (freebird) February 15, 2011, 6:23 pm

    Your suggestion is a good one it seems except for those who could be allergic to honey. My granddaughter started out okay with most foods but now at almost 10 years, she is allergic to most fruits and honey. Her allergy seems to be getting worse not better. If you truly have an allergy and not just a sensitivity, trying honey to get over it could be harmful. As far as honey for coughs, my grandmother made hot toddies of water, a tablespoon of whiskey, a good squeeze of lemon and a spoonful of sugar. My sister swears it’s great for a cold.

  • jackie February 15, 2011, 8:08 pm

    thanks for cool article! i ALMOST wish i had a cough so i can try out the honey remedy. haha 🙂
    keep up the great work!

  • Brenda February 16, 2011, 12:24 am

    Whoa, I had no idea Vicks vapor rub was bad for you! I grew up on that stuff! Jeesh! Well know I know and I’ll let my mother know too! Honey is key when dealing with coughs and all around general malaise.

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