Honey for Cough - Does It Work?
What do medical studies say?
Clinical studies support the use of honey for treating coughs. In a 2007 study, 105 children were given honey, cough syrup or nothing before bedtime. Honey ranked first for reducing cough frequency and severity. In a 2010 study involving 138 children, honey again ranked best for reducing cough frequency and severity, and honey also improved sleep quality. And in a 2012 study, children with a diagnosed respiratory infection were given honey or a honey-like placebo. The children taking the honey all fared better than the children in the placebo group.
In 2013, based on these and similar studies, two pediatricians recommended honey as the best treatment for young children (ages 1 to 5) with upper respiratory infections. According to these doctors, honey produces superior results as compared to over-the-counter cough syrups. ("A Spoonful of Honey Helps a Coughing Child Sleep," by Dr. Ashkin and Dr. Mounsey. The Journal of Family Practice, March 2013.)
How does honey work on a cough?
Mucous membranes are thin layers of skin in your nose and throat. These membranes secrete a thick fluid (mucus) that collects and traps dust, dirt, bacteria and viruses, and then removes them from your body. But when these defenses are breached, and germs pass through to the membranes, they become inflamed and irritated. This is what causes you to cough. To make matters worse, your mucus production is compromised too.
To provide relief, you need a mucus substitute and honey is ideal. Honey is sticky and thick, providing a protective membrane over the mucous membranes. Honey has natural anti-bacterial properties and contains an enzyme that converts into hydrogen peroxide when combined with salt and water. Honey is also hydroscopic (attracts water) and actually pulls the water out of bacteria cells - essentially killing them through dehydration. Raw honey contains small amounts of propolis (a sticky substance made by bees from tree resins) which has anti-septic properties. Finally, raw honey contains a number of beneficial plant chemicals (phytochemicals) that help support the body's immune system.
Given that raw honey is naturally anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-septic and immune system boosting, it's no wonder why honey out performs many brands of cough syrup and cough drops.
Which type of honey is best for treating a cough?
There is not a lot of research on this question, but there is some anecdotal evidence that darker and thicker honey is better for cough suppression. The most important factor is that the honey must be raw and unfiltered.
Raw honey has not been pasteurized (heated to over 160 degrees Fahrenheit). And when honey is unfiltered, the beneficial "tag-alongs" such as pollen, propolis, and enzymes remain in the honey.
If we were asked to select one particular honey variety, it would be linden honey. This honey comes from the nectar of linden tree flowers. Linden trees as also known as basswood or lime trees. For centuries, herbalists have made tea from dried linden flowers to treat respiratory ailments. Since linden honey will contain some of the same beneficial pollen found in the flowers, we believe it is a good choice for a natural cough syrup.
An Even Better All-Natural Cough Remedy
For many generations, raw honey and elderberry juice have been used (separately) as a cough and cold remedy. At Smiley Honey, we figured that combining these two power foods together would make an even better product. So we did it.
For our all-natural cough syrup, we have combined dark linden honey, delicious tupelo honey and elderberry powder. The elderberry powder is made from pure juice and is 10 times more potent than juice itself. Our customers have been sending us great reviews for this product:
"This syrup has not only calmed my cold's cough but I have the satisfaction of knowing exactly what ingredients I'm ingesting - dark honey and elderberry and that's it! No mysterious sounding names of chemicals you're not sure of. This winter's cough has been whipped!"
“A wonderful surprise to find this natural cough medicine! I sing professionally in my spare time so having a nagging cough or throat tickle is not a good thing! This product not only has a wonderful taste, it coats the throat and actually controls the cough or tickle. I even slept soundly all night!"
“It is the best cough syrup I have ever found."
Final Words of Caution
Raw honey should never be given to children under 1 year old. While raw honey can provide effective relief for common coughs and colds, it will not do much against more aggressive bacterial infections such as strep throat. For these conditions, consult a doctor.
The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care professional if you have any questions about a medical condition or illness.