Natural Treatments And Remedies For:

Natural Treatments for Cough

By Dr. Mao Shing Ni


COUGHING IS YOUR BODY’S NATURAL RESPONSE to foreign substances in the airways or the throat. It is triggered by the nervous system, which produces a spasm of the muscles in the chest, pushing the air out of the lungs at an incredible speed (measured at 300 miles per hour). Anything from a common cold to respiratory infections, chronic obstructive disorders, and smoking can cause a cough. Most of the time when the underlying condition is removed, coughing resolves itself. In some chronic cases, prolonged coughing can strain the chest muscles, causing pain, injuring the rib cage, or even causing spontaneous pneumothorax, a condition in which a portion of the tissue separating the lungs collapses.


In Chinese medicine, a cough, like nausea and vomiting, is considered a rebellious upsurge of energy. It’s often a result of pathogens in the lungs, and sometimes it can be due to emotional turmoil aggravating the liver-gallbladder network, whose energy surges upward and injures the lungs. Most of the cough cases I treat are the result of common colds, allergies, or respiratory infections. As I mentioned in the bronchitis section, many are also due to acid reflux. I see the best results when I use acupuncture and cupping therapies to quickly relieve the cough, followed by fast acting herbal therapy to soothe the bronchial tubes, redirect the energy downward, open the lungs to promote respiration, and remove the underlying condition.


Mucus or phlegm is often a culprit in a chronic cough. In Chinese medicine, the saying “The spleen creates dampness and mucus and the lungs are the storehouse” explains how diet and digestive weakness cause a buildup of dampness and phlegm that accumulates in the lungs, leading to a rebellion of the lung energy. In many cases, reducing and clearing out the mucus will ease the cough. I have worked with many pulmonary specialists over the years, and I tell my patients that if a cough persists beyond a month without improvement, they should immediately see a lung specialist for further examination.


Related Conditions: Sore Throat, Cold and Flu


Follow the simple recommendations below to help with your cough.






For dietary advice for a cough associated with a common cold, refer to the section on common colds.

I recommend a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, low in fat, and moderate in protein. Eat green vegetables, cabbage (both green and red), celery, daikon radish, garlic, green beans, button mushrooms, mustard greens, onions, leeks, parsnips, seaweed, turnips, water chestnuts, watercress, apples, bananas, apricots, figs, grapefruits, mulberries, oranges, pear apples, persimmons, almonds, chestnuts, walnuts, olives, and honey.


Eliminate foods that promote mucus, including all dairy products (especially ice cream), cold and raw foods, sweet foods containing simple processed sugars, processed flour, and soft drinks.





For a dry cough, finely chop 2 cups each of green and red cabbage, add 1 sliced pear apple (Asian pear), and boil in 6 cups of water for 30 minutes. Strain, and drink this broth 3 times a day.


For a dry cough with thick yellow phlegm that is difficult to expectorate, juice 1 daikon radish and 1/2 cup water chestnuts. Warm the juice and drink with 1 teaspoon honey. Drink 3 cups a day until the mucus returns to a clear color and the cough subsides.


For a chronic cough with excess mucus, boil 20 grapefruit seeds, 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, and 1 teaspoon parsnip seeds in 1 1/2 cups water for 10 minutes. Strain. Add 1 teaspoon honey and drink 3 times a day. Take until the cough subsides.


For a cough with excess mucus, boil 2 oranges, including the peels, in 4 cups of water for 30 minutes. Drink 3 cups daily and eat the oranges.


For all kinds of coughs, boil a pot of water and turn off the stove. Add 10 drops of Tonic Oil (available at, which consists of oils of camphor, peppermint, eucalyptus, fennel, and wintergreen. Inhale the fumes deeply for 10 minutes, covering your head and the pot with a towel. This is traditionally used for opening passageways and relieving joint pain.





Supplementing with vitamins C (1,000 milligrams), E (800 IU), and B complex, bromelain (450 milligrams), garlic (900 milligrams), zinc (50 milligrams), and iron (25 milligrams) can help treat cough.


Taking MSM (1,000 milligrams) and pycnogenol (200 milligrams), a bioflavonoid found in grape seeds, can help protect the lungs and prevent infections.


Taking quercetin (250 milligrams) is useful for its antihistamine properties in allergic bronchitis.





Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation. To learn more about the herbs listed here, go to


Linden, marshmallow, and peppermint are traditionally used to suppress cough.


Lily bulb, apricot kernel, stemona root, fritillaria, mulberry, Chinese basil, mustard seed, daikon seed, ginger, and schizandra berry are among the many herbs used in Chinese medicine to calm coughs and ventilate the lungs.


For chronic bronchitis accompanied by kidney weakness, I recommend tonic herbs such as ginkgo seed, goji berry, comus berry, astragalus, and ginseng.





Don’t exercise strenuously during acute stages of coughing bouts, as exercise can worsen the condition. Calm and restful walks in fresh air can help. During remission, moderate physical exercise is appropriate.

I recommend daily qi gong exercises to strengthen the body, open the lungs, and redirect the flow of qi downward.


Eight Treasures Qi Gong is a wonderful set of qi gong movements that, when performed daily for 30 minutes, can be of great benefit to the mind and body. The fifth movement of the practice, called Water and Fire Meet, is targeted to bring the cooling and calming energy of the kidneys to the chest, to redirect the qi downward, and to calm a cough.


The Eight Treasures Qi Gong exercises can be of great benefit to the mind and body, when performed daily for 30 minutes. In particular, the fifth movement of the practice, called Water and Fire Meet, is targeted to bring the cooling energy of the kidneys to the chest, redirect the qi downward, and calm a cough.

  1. Perform this exercise twice daily. The time corresponding to the lung energy is around 5 A.11., so between 5 and 7 A.M. is the best time to practice tai chi or qi gong exercises targeted to the lungs. In a quiet, comfortable environment, preferably outdoors, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, spine erect, tailbone tucked in, and head tilted slightly forward.
  2. Place your arms palms down on your lower abdomen just below the navel, one hand overlapping the other. Begin with rhythmic, slow, and relaxed breathing. Inhale deeply but softly, and imagine the breath extending all the way down to your lower abdomen, about two finger-widths below the navel. Exhale gently and softly.
  3. Stay in this position for 7 breath cycles, relaxing and calming your mind. Then begin the exercise: Exhale, bending down from your waist. Begin a gentle massage of your inner legs, starting at the inner ankles by rubbing rhythmically in a circular motion.
  4. Inhale as you continue the massage, slowly coming up the inner legs to your inner thighs. Raise your arms slowly to your chest with the backs of your palms touching each other and your elbows bent.
  5. When you reach your chest, make small circles by moving your hands from the middle to the outside of the chest with palms facing down, expanding your chest.
  6. Then move from the outer to the middle of your chest with your palms facing up. Inhale, and in alternating fashion make circles with the bent elbows, moving from front to back and bending at the hips to exaggerate the motion slightly.
  7. Alternate between your left and right arms 3 times.
  8. Repeat the circles now in the reverse direction from the back to the front, inhaling and exhaling with each circle. Repeat with each arm 3 times.
  9. Bring the arms back to the center of the chest, with the backs of the palms facing each other, elbows bent. Inhale and open the chest with both arms stretching back and to the sides, again with elbows bent and palms relaxed.
  10. Exhale and stretch both arms out to the sides, palms facing out, pushing out to the left and right. As you exhale, push your hands out 3 times.
  11. To complete the exercise, return to the initial standing posture. Place your hands on the lower abdomen, palms down, one hand overlapping the other.
  12. Rub your lower abdomen 7 times in small clockwise circles just below the navel.





Locate the acupoint Cubit Marsh (LU-5) by bending your right arm at the elbow and finding the point in the elbow crease, on the outer side of the large tendon in the middle of the crease. Apply moderate pressure with your left thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 2 minutes. Repeat on the left arm.

Locate the acupoint Upward Thrust (REN-22), on the chest, level with the clavicle and shoulders, in the depression at the center of the sternum just below the V of the neck. Apply steady pressure with your index fingers until you feel soreness. Hold for 3 minutes.

These points are used to soothe breathing, redirect lung energy downward, and stop cough.





Exposure to airborne irritants, which can aggravate a cough.

Alcohol, smoking, and caffeine, stimulants that can worsen the condition.

Exposure to cold weather, which can trigger bronchial constriction and worsen a cough.

Stress, anxiety, and emotional turmoil, which can aggravate a cough.

This website is meant to educate, but it should not be used as a substitute for personal medical advice. The website user should consult his or her physician or clinician for specific information concerning specific medical conditions. While all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that all information presented is accurate, as research and development in the medical field is ongoing, it is possible that new findings may supersede some data presented. The names of organizations, products and alternative therapies appearing in the content are again given for informational purposes only and not necessarily as an endorsement.

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