How To Manage Unproductive Coughs Naturally With Herbs

How To Manage Unproductive Coughs Naturally With Herbs | Growing Up Herbal | My kids are coughing again which is making my whooping cough PTSD flare up. Here's what I'm doing to manage this illness naturally.

It’s unfortunate, but it happens.

All four of my kids have come down with snotty noses and coughs. Yes, it’s the same illness that all the cousins have been passing around for weeks, and I’m assuming its a virus that’s caused it.

So far, it hasn’t been much of an event, but it’s starting to trigger my “whooping cough PTSD” which means somethings got to go. It’s me or the cough. And no, I’m not joking. My sanity is on the verge. If you’ve gone through whooping cough with four young children all at the same time, you know exactly where I’m coming from.

Natural Treatment Protocol for Coughing

How To Manage Unproductive Coughs Naturally With Herbs | Growing Up Herbal | My kids are coughing again which is making my whooping cough PTSD flare up. Here's what I'm doing to manage this illness naturally.

So, as always, I have some herbal remedies that I’ve pulled out of my closet to help my boys with their cough. Not just the cough, though. What we’re doing is to really help the whole illness seeing how the cough is just a symptom of the illness.

Echinacea & Elderberry

So, of course, as soon as snot and coughing started I broke out the elderberry syrup and the echinacea root tincture. We do 24 hours of echinacea tincture and then put it away while we continue the elderberry syrup. Elderberry is antiviral and is thought to prevent viruses from penetrating healthy cells. (Learn more about elderberry here.)


Next up, I made some elecampane syrup because the good Lord knows these boys needed some help getting the junk out of their airways. Elecampane is often thought of as an herb for coughs, and that’s true… only it’s better for certain kinds of coughs. Elecampane is a stimulating expectorant that’s warming and drying and it really helps to thin mucous and so it can be coughed up and out of the airways. It’s mainly used for coughs that are productive, and seeing how my kids were saying they were coughing stuff up, I thought it was a great fit.

This isn’t the best tasting syrup out there. It most certainly doesn’t hold a candle to the elderberry syrup so I mix it with a wee bit of straight organic juice in a shot glass, and they all down it every 1-2 hours throughout the day. 

Usnea, Licorice, & Garlic

A week or so later, we started using some usnea and licorice tinctures because my baby, #4, woke up feeling warmer than normal with thick green boogies, a nasty diaper, and a serious attitude. It wasn’t pretty. (Yes, he’s the one in the first photo. Isn’t he the handsomest? Of course I know you think your kid is cuter, but just humor me and say yes!)

Normally I wouldn’t think much of it, but one of the cousins was diagnosed with pneumonia during this little coughing virus they’ve all been passing around and had to go on antibiotics. I’ve also heard from several other moms on Facebook that they’ve had kids come down with pneumonia after catching a similar cold. Seeing how the overuse of antibiotics these days has made some strains of bacteria and viruses more virulent, I’ve decided that when I think there’s a chance that one of my kids could be getting something worse than a snotty nose and a cough, it’s worth breaking out the herbal antibiotics and hitting it hard and heavy.

Plus, the kids coughs didn’t really sound all loose and mucous-like. I mean, they said they were coughing stuff up, but then it turned into, “Well, sometimes I’m coughing stuff up. Mostly my throat just hurts from coughing too much.” So in my RN, herbalist mind I was thinking that a fever can be a sign of infection, other kids have come down with pneumonia from this illness because they can’t get the junk out of their airways, and I’ve been giving my kid an herb that’s probably drying them out too much which is causing them to cough more instead of thinning the mucous so they can cough it up. Just great!

It was time for a change in this herbal protocol! Enter, antimicrobial herbs and demulcent herbs.

Usnea is a perfect herb for our situation. Not only is it an antibacterial and antiviral herb, but it has an affinity for the respiratory system. It’s just what the herb mama ordered! (You can learn more about usnea and its uses in this great post over at Deep Roots Herbal Medicine.)

How To Manage Unproductive Coughs Naturally With Herbs | Growing Up Herbal | My kids are coughing again which is making my whooping cough PTSD flare up. Here's what I'm doing to manage this illness naturally.

Thankfully I found some usnea tincture leftovers from an Herb Pharm (man, I love that company) order I got a while ago and started giving it to my little guy right away. (I should also mention that I’m working on making my own, very first, never-done-this-by-myself-before, usnea tincture. And yes, I‘ll definitely be sharing how I’m doing it right here on the blog soon.)

I also added in some licorice tincture with the usnea. Licorice is a great antiviral herb, it’s safe for the little ones, and it’s a demulcent so it helps to add moisture and to soothe the mucous membranes. All things they needed with this dry, spasm-like cough. Plus, licorice and usnea work great together. They have some sort of synergistic bond that when mixed they work even better than they would on their own. Perfect!

Lastly, I started slathering him with some handcrafted GOOT all over his chest and back as well. It too works amazingly well for preventing and managing active infections, and I always keep it on hand in my medicine cabinet. You can get my recipe for it right here in my Ultimate Guide to Herbal Ointments, Salves, & Balms ebook!

Anti-Spasmodic Herbs

The last thing I did was to give my littles a bit of an antispasmodic tincture I had made for myself when I was pregnant with #4.

I originally used it to help with postpartum uterine contractions, but it would work in this situation too. In fact, I used it when the kids had whooping cough to help cut down on the coughing so they could sleep better at night. I would simply give them the tincture before bed, and they would sleep much better at night. I slept much better too since I wasn’t woken up by coughing constantly!

I honestly can’t remember what all is in this tincture. Bad me for not writing it down! I know there’s lobelia, cramp bark, skullcap, chamomile, and valerian in it, but I can’t remember what else I used. It actually tastes pretty good so maybe I added in something yummy too. This is why you should really label your tinctures well, mama! So you can remember what’s in them later.

The End Is In Sight

So far things are going great. Three of the four kids are still coughing, but, thankfully, it’s all loosening up and coming on out. The on again, off again fevers have subsided, and all the kids have energy and good attitudes back. I think we’re in the clear as far as infection goes. 

I sure hope the coughing portion of this illness ends soon, though. I’m not sure how much more of this I can take. Yes, yes… I’m back on the whooping cough PTSD thing again. It’s serious business, I tell ya. 

And as always, thanks for letting me share my “woe is me” moments of sick kids and what I’m doing to get them through it naturally with you! I love connecting with you in this space, and I hope this helps you if your kid ever comes down with a similar illness!

  1. Jill@JillsHomeRemedies says:

    A couple of my kiddos have had something similar in recent weeks. I find the expectorant and antispasmodic herbs to be very effective also!

  2. Rebekah says:

    Which, if any, of these are safe for children under 1 year?

  3. Maria S says:

    Hello from New York City!

    Megan , How much licorice and usnea would you recommend for a two year old? Would like to start right away …my little guy has a bad cold . Thank you

    • Meagan says:

      Herbalist David Hoffman recommends adults take 1-3 ml of a 1:5 licorice tincture that uses 40% alcohol 3 times a day. Then herbalist Stephen Buhner recommends adults take 1 tsp. of a 1:5 usnea tincture in 50% alcohol 6 times a day. Of course, these are adult doses so you’ll need to find your child’s dose based on their weight. You can find how to do that here. Hope this helps Maria!

  4. Lisa says:


    I ordered the Usnea tincture using the link you provided. Thank you. My son is coughing all night, he was no nasal discharge and I can feel that the cough unproductive. My question is, this product contains alcohol. So, is it ok to give it to a 4 year old?

  5. Lisa says:

    No worries 🙂 I just the answer to my question here https://growingupherbal.com/are-alcohol-tinctures-bad-for-children/

    However, I do have a question on applying topically. For chest congestion, where should I apply it topically on my child for a quicker relief? Thank you.

  6. Lisa says:

    Thank you, Meagan. That’s a great suggestion.

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