DIY Cough Syrup

What a crazy winter we've been having. Last week it was 15C degrees and I was hot in a fall jacket and today it's a crisp -38C. With these extreme temperature fluctuations it seems almost everyone I know has fallen ill with a cold, fever or flu, including myself. Herbal magic to the rescue! If you've got a cough, cold, sore throat or flu, try this tasty and effective DIY Cough Syrup!


Herbs for Coughs, Colds and Flu

One of the main stars in preventing and recovering from a cold or flu is elderberry. This local superfood is a great source of antioxidants and minerals to help the immune system do its job and it's highly effective in preventing and treating illness. One study found it prevented and reduced the symptoms of several strains of the flu. Another study gave either elderberry syrup or a placebo to patients with a flu and found that those taking elderberry felt better 4 days earlier and had fewer symptoms.

Slippery elm is an incredible herb for helping to relieve a dry cough or sore throat. This healing and soothing herb is a demulcent, meaning it has a gel-like consistency which can coat and protect an irritated throat and reduce coughing.

Licorice root is a warming herb that's naturally sweet, reduces inflammation and is a soothing demulcent. It helps to increase energy, heal a sore throat and is effective in reducing bronchial inflammation. 

Cinnamon, ginger and lemon are all high in antioxidants and nutrients for immune health and are also potent antimicrobials. Cinnamon is a warming spice with an amazing aroma that is also a highly effective antiviral for fighting infection. Ginger helps to increase circulation which is helpful in healing but also warms a chilled body. Ginger is also a potent diaphoretic, meaning it helps us to sweat, which helps speed recovery. Lemon peel is a good source of antimicrobial nutrients and it adds a lovely flavour. If you prefer the taste you could swap it for orange or lime peels as well. 

Fennel seeds are amazing for relieving indigestion and reducing inflammation. A fennel tea or even chewing a few seeds after a meal can do digestive magic! In our syrup, they add a wonderful sweet aroma along with their anti-inflammatory benefit.

Buckwheat honey is amazing for coughs! In one study that had over 100 parents compare honey to DM cough syrups in relieving cold symptoms and upper respiratory tract infections, honey was the preferred treatment. Several other studies have found that dark honey, and in particular buckwheat honey, is one of the most effective home remedies for relieving a cough and sore throat.

DIY Cough Syrup

2/3 cup dried whole elderberries
2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger root
4-6 inch piece licorice root
2-3 inch piece cinnamon bark
2 Tbsp slippery elm bark
2 Tbsp fennel seeds
peel of 1/2 organic lemon
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup buckwheat honey

Herbs can be found at herbal apothecaries, online, or at most health food stores. 

Add elderberries, ginger, licorice, cinnamon, slippery elm, fennel, lemon peel and water to a medium pot. Heat to just before boiling, then reduce heat to low and allow to simmer until liquid is reduced to less than half (about 1 cup of water remaining). 

At the start of cooking, notice how thin the water is

At the start of cooking, notice how thin the water is

After cooking and reducing the liquid, notice how thickened the water is and how dark in colour

After cooking and reducing the liquid, notice how thickened the water is and how dark in colour

Remove from heat and allow to cool until you can comfortably handle it.
Remove cinnamon bark and licorice root and then strain remaining herbs using a nut milk bag, several layers of cheesecloth or old thin fabric (pantyhose or a thin sheet work well). Squeeze the bag until most of the liquid is released. It will feel a little slimy, that's the demulcent herbs!
Add the liquid back to the pot and whisk buckwheat honey into it to combine. It should be about 1 cup of liquid per 1/2 cup of honey. (Although some recipes call for more, I find this is enough to get the soothing and cough-suppressing effect of the honey without adding too much sugar which can impair the immune system.
Pour into glass bottle or jar to store. 
Store cough syrup in the fridge. Will keep for several weeks.


For use: For children over 2, take 1/2 tsp up to 4 times per day. For adults, take 1-2 tsp every 2 hours or whenever a cough flares up. You can also use it preventively. If you feel like you're fighting something off, taking a few teaspoons each day until you're feeling better. 

Wishing you wellness this winter! 

-Recipe adapted from herbalist Rosemary Gladstar