Coughs come in many shapes and forms – wet, dry, chesty, hacking, tickly, deep, productive – which is perhaps why herbal medicines work so well to treat them. Coughs can be shape-shifters and tend not to stay still for long; a dry cough can become chesty overnight, a tickly cough can turn deep and congested. A single herb often has multiple actions which target a cough in different ways, and when a few key herbs are added together into a formula, voila! you have a multi-faceted approach to suit a variety of different coughs.
A good herbal cough medicine not only eases the symptoms of a cough, it addresses the underlying causes and speeds healing and recovery.
Medical herbalists talk about the therapeutic actions of a herb. This means the way a herb acts in the body. Key actions for coughs are:
Anti-Spasmodic-relaxes the spasm of a cough that won’t stop, and eases the tightness in the chest. Herbs such as White Horehound, Elecampane, Hyssop and Thyme are all anti-spasmodic.
Anti-Inflammatory & Soothing-reduces inflammation and swelling in the bronchial tissue in the lungs, as well as soothing this tissue that has been irritated by the presence of a respiratory virus, and aiding in its healing. Herbs such as Marshmallow and Mullein do this, as does Thyme honey.
Anti-Microbial- attacks bacteria, viruses and fungi, in other words, gets to the cause of the cough! Elecampane, Thyme, and Manuka and Thyme honeys all have this capacity.
Anti-Catarrhal & Decongestant-catarrh is an old-fashioned name for mucus or phlegm, so this action describes herbs which reduce the production of excessive mucus and help it break down, such as Mullein and Thyme.
You will notice from this list that many herbs have multiple ways of working in the body. Nature is truly amazing. We hear all the time from people that it is wonderful to have a cough syrup in the cupboard which can be used for any kind of cough, and something for all ages too. This makes dosing the family up brilliantly simple!