The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
December 28, 2009

Homemade Cough Syrup & Other Meds

Nyquil and Codeine Cough SyrupsDo you have a cough right now or know someone who does? Then I want to talk to you.

Earlier this month, I caught a cold and towards the end of it was hacking pretty badly. Now, I realize that you don’t want to suppress a productive cough. But this cough was bad enough to keep me up at night, robbing me of much needed rest. So I polished off two plastic bottles of cough/cold medicine: the remainder of a bottle of Nyquil that I bought years ago (yeah, it still worked) as well as the last couple of doses of yummy Prometh cough syrup with Codeine. And by yummy, I mean I held my hose and chugged it down, trying to bypass my taste buds as much as possible.

Not only do these two products come in plastic bottles, but they contain nasty ingredients: alcohol (which I am trying to avoid for personal reasons); artificial dyes; high fructose corn syrup; polyethylene glycol and propylene glycol (petroleum derived products also used in anti-freeze); methylparaben and propylparaben (a class of preservatives called parabens which have been linked to various health problems); saccharine sodium (linked to cancer); and sodium benzoate (also linked to cancer). Holy cow! This is not medicine; it’s toxic soup.

So I went in search of a homemade cough suppressant recipe to use at night so I could sleep. And I found one on Except I don’t have a cough anymore, so I can’t really try it out. That’s where you come in. I certainly don’t wish for you to be sick, but if any of you are, why not give this a shot and let me know what you think. Here are the ingredients, all of which I can buy plastic-free except for the vinegar, which comes in a glass bottle with a plastic cap.

Homemade Cough Syrup Ingredients

Here’s the nearly plastic-free recipe:

  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (purchased from Whole Foods bulk bin in my own jar)
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger (purchased from Whole Foods bulk bin in my own jar)
  • 1 T honey (local honey from farmers market)
  • 1 T apple cider vinegar (Trader Joe’s in glass bottle)
  • 2 T water (my tap, of course)
  • small jar (a reused spice jar)

I also contacted Tracey TieF from Anarres Natural Health, whom I profiled on this blog back in March of last year. Tracey is my go-to gal for natural remedies. She suggested that the syrup could be sweetened/thickened with “agave, maple syrup, fair trade demerara or evaporated cane juice.” And Tracey also recommended a combination of ginger, lemon and slippery elm.

What do you think? Do you have a favorite cough remedy?

RolaidsAnd speaking of over the counter medicines, here is another plastic bottle of tablets I’ve emptied this week, purchased long before I began reducing my plastic consumption.  Like the drugs mentioned above, it not only contains the active ingredients calcium and magnesium, but also artificial flavorings and polyethylene glycol.

I’ve been suffering from heartburn a lot lately.  Sometimes I take care of it quickly with Rolaids.  When I remember, I take Zantac before the heartburn starts.  Not sure what’s going on.  There are a number of foods that contribute to heartburn:  alcohol and caffeine, which I’ve cut out; chocolate; spicy foods; tomato sauce; citrus fruits; peppermint; fatty foods; eating too late at night and eating too much; and smoking (I don’t.).  I’m working on changing my diet, but sometimes I need quick relief.  It’s not that I can’t stand pain but that acid reflux is actually damaging to the esophagus, so I want to make it stop as quickly as possible.

Now that this plastic bottle is used up, I’d like to find a natural, plastic-free alternative. suggests:

  • Baking soda (but it’s high in sodium)
  • Bananas
  • Chamomile tea
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Aloe Vera Juice

Others online suggest eating apples.

Reading online forums in which participants discuss their real life experiences using natural heartburn treatments reveals a confusing number of recommendations.  Some say apples or apple cider vinegar work.  Others say they don’t.  Some say vinegar is bad because it adds more acid.  Others say heartburn is not caused by too much acid and that those other people are stupid jerks.  (In so many words.)  Some say raw potato works.  Others say raw potatoes are toxic.  One says to avoid too much meat, carbs, and mushrooms.  And the list goes on.  I find I don’t really believe any of them, and that probably the truth is that everyone’s body is different and the only way to find out what will work for me is to experiment.

Still, I’d like to know if any of you have found a great natural alternative to traditional heartburn medication.  And keep in mind that heartburn, officially know as acid reflux, is not the same as having an upset stomach.  While peppermint is often used to settle the stomach, it actually contributes to heartburn.

Now that I’ve revealed some of my health issues (TMI?) I’d like to also know what kinds of health problems you deal with and what natural remedies you have found, or not found, to relieve them.

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51 Comments on "Homemade Cough Syrup & Other Meds"

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4 months 11 days ago

Lemme buy that codiene cough syrup off you

5 months 5 days ago

Apple sause helped for a while just took a tablespoon of white vin. Now feeling nauseous.

7 months 26 days ago

Isn’t baking soda and many items at home amazing? Here is a link on the Dr Oz blog explaining how to ease acid reflux and one item is baking soda, as well as a few other suggestions.
As to the person asking about a remedy to induce vomiting, why?
If you really need to do that, then simply stick your finger down your throat a few times! That’ll do it.

1 year 9 months ago

Mu husband and I used to have stuff like Pepcid and ranitidine, all those meds for heartburn stashed in our cars, wallets, kitchen, bathrooms, really everywhere. We were eating low fat for ages. Then I decided to go on the Atkins diet in 2003.  We stuck with that for several years because we felt better and had lost a significant amount of weight, and also because we began to quickly notice that we didn’t have the raging heartburn problems we used to have.  After a while we started cleaning out all the little stashes of heartburn meds.  We eventually got tired of the dietary restrictions of… Read more »

1 year 9 months ago

I hear you. I rarely eat baked goods (with the exception of the occasional whole wheat tortilla) and I rarely get heartburn anymore.

2 years 1 month ago

Does anyone know a remedy to make that will induce vomiting

2 years 1 month ago

I am going to be straightforward, and say that I am really impressed with DrJoel Fuhrman who recommends a certain balance of a plant-based diet, but I do have some differences of opinion with him about specifics, and don’t necessarily follow everything he says. 
However, I want to mention that while I was at the peak of trying to follow his advice, the heartburn etc that I’d been having at school (when I was eating a lot of ravioli, sweets, french fries, white rice, more meat than usual) went totally away, and I felt great.  I don’t want to prescribe what… Read more »

4 years 4 months ago

Slippery Elm is awesome for acid reflux- you can get it in chewable tablets and powdered form- take after meals and you will get no more reflux- worked for me and I had it very bad.

Cori@Alternative Health Product
4 years 9 months ago

To get rid of a cough, I usually drink a cup of turmeric milk 3 times daily. It’s easy to make: just boil in a cup of milk a teaspoon of turmeric powder. Sip it when it’s still warm. And you can use the same home remedy to cure heartburn too.. :)
That’s killing two birds with one stone.

5 years 8 months ago

My husband’s family taught me a ‘cough’ recipe add almost 1tbsp (depends on how sweet the honey is- we use organic as BIL has hives) and mix with warm orange juice (fanta even works if you don’t have any..) and there is also one that you make a tea out of lemon and honey.

Oh and bee hives not hives hives LOL

5 years 10 months ago

For coughs I find a strong tea brewed from fresh! ginger is great, with lots and lots and lots of honey added to it, also helps great against a sore throat. I also like things infused with thyme for coughs (a thick sugar syrup with like thyme steeped in it for quite long time is really nice on the throat)

as for stomach acid, my mom, my grandma, and my dad all suffer from stomach acid, both my grandma, my dad and I have had stomach ulcers.

Stomach acid, if its not caused by food, can also be caused by stress, or… Read more »

5 years 10 months ago

I never use cough syrup anymore, I just grab my fifth of Jack Daniels and start sipping, in an hour the cough is gone, and for some reason it doesent return the next day when I sober up either.
another plus is that if you have a cold you will forget about it and be able to sleep!

Kim from Milwaukee
5 years 10 months ago

Dry coughing – honey and coconut oil, to coat the throat so I can sleep
Coughs w/phlegm – stop dairy products and sugars, drink honey and lemon tea throughout the day (or honey/ACV), vaporizer at night
Heartburn – tells me I’m dehydrated, drink lots of water with ACV
Support for immune system – olive leaf extract and no overeating (overeating taxes the liver, which taxes the immune system)

5 years 10 months ago

Not sure about the cough remedies, but my hubby uses dried papaya for heartburn–he east maybe a quarter cup with some water and it takes care of it almost instantly for him. The only problem we have right now is that Whole foods does not have it in the bulk bins, so we are buying it in plastic containers, though the overall waste is likely less then with traditional medicines, it would be nice to find a plastic free-solution. Maybe I could dry it myself, but I have yet to see a dryer that does not involve plastic–do you know… Read more »

5 years 10 months ago

Sure fire remedy for coughing when you’re trying to sleep. Rub your feet with Vicks vapor rub and put a pair of socks on. No clue why it works but it does.

I just came across your website and I’ve been cutting back on my plastic consumption too. Perhaps with not quite so much documentation. Kudos to you!

As for heart burn I used to get it a lot. Then I did Peace Corps and lived with out electricity and pizza delivery and I had no heart burn the entire time. Now back in the states I have had a couple evenings of indigestion. I started making all our food from scratch again and I haven’t had heart burn in a while. For me, at least,… Read more »

[…] Terry presents Homemade Cough Syrup & Other Meds: Looking for Beta Testers posted at Fake Plastic […]

5 years 10 months ago

A friend in Ireland gave me a very similar cough remedy a few years ago–it worked pretty well. My mom has struggled with acid reflux for the past few years, and recently found a book called “Great Taste No Pain” that she swears by. It advocates low-alkaline diets, but it talks about combining foods in ways to help even more.

5 years 10 months ago

I have asthma so I shouldn’t take cough meds. I only have twice in my life. Once when I was little and my coughing was so bad no one in the house could sleep and once a year or so ago when again I couldn’t sleep, I will never take it again as it raised my heart rate way to much (I have a high heart rate to start with).

I just sip on hot tea or eat honey to stop my cough. I also find sucking on peppermints to help.

And for acid reflex first off diet changes! I have had… Read more »

kathy connors
5 years 10 months ago

I recently read a story about a man in a foreign prison that had heartburn a lot. He had nothing to treat it with and had to eat what they gave him. The only thing he could get was water. So anytime he had heartburn he would drink a glass of water. He would have some relief for a while. When his hearburn returned he would drink another glass of water. Soon he stopped having heartburn at all. I can’t remember where I read this but it seemed to work for him. Might be worth a try. I don’t have… Read more »

Kristie Evans
5 years 10 months ago

Beth, I’ve suffered from acid and non-acid reflux for over a year. I was on Nexium, but it didn’t really help (and it was expensive), so I stopped taking it. A few months later, my son was diagnosed with a list of food allergies. I stopped eating the foods on his list, and my reflux went away and I felt very good. When I reintroduced the foods, my reflux returned. I plan to get food-allergy testing this winter, but I am suspecting corn is a problem. When I eliminated corn products this fall, my… Read more »

5 years 10 months ago

You inspired me to add a post to my herbal blog about remedies for those holiday bugs and health challenges.

A brief overview: fennel seed and meadowsweet for tummy troubles; slippery elm and homemade elderberry cordial for sore throats and colds (recipes included), and some herbal herbal remedies (in glass bottles) available at health food stores and Asian markets.

Be well!
.-= Eleanor Sommer´s last blog ..Winter Colds and Christmas Tummies =-.

5 years 10 months ago

I find honey works quite well for coughs. It helps coat my throat and make it hurt less. I get “honey drops” at the Farmer’s Market which is basically like solidified honey which I suck on when I have a sore throat.

I second that the key with acid reflux is figuring out is it too much acid or too little? Many people it is too little acid, so your stomach can’t digest well, so you get reflux. You can either do the trial and error method or get an acid test. My naturopath helped me… Read more »

Lara S.
5 years 10 months ago

I forgot to mention Ayurveda! Ayurvedic doctors heal their patients using mostly changes in their diets. They’ll adjust the diet as a way to solve most of the health issues. So you if you’re interested you may want to consult one. My mom’s ayurvedic doctor gave her a list of the most alkaline and stomach-healing foods so she could stay away from reflux (some of them were oat, carrots and pumpkins).

It seems my throat wanted to be your beta tester, because I started coughing a LOT a while ago. Now I’m drinking a ginger tea with honey. I have no… Read more »

5 years 10 months ago

Check out this study sent by my friend Mea showing that honey actually works better than over-the-counter cough medicine:

Honey Works Better Than Cough Medicine | LiveScience

5 years 10 months ago

My pediatrician recommends honey for children as they no longer want kids to take the over the counter cough syrup if they get sick. He says it works just as well and I give it to the kids when they have sore throats, cough etc. I had a terrible cough the other night, cough drops didn’t work, so I got up and got a big spoonful of honey. Coughing stopped and I could sleep :)

My brother taught me this tea recipe when I was pregnant and didn’t feel comfortable taking anything –

get a teapot and fill full of boiling… Read more »

5 years 10 months ago

Here’s the link to an article about a 2007 peer-reviewed study. It didn’t meet the highest double-blind standards and was not placebo-controlled, but it did show that plain old honey worked better at suppressing coughs in children than cough syrup containing dextromethorphan.

5 years 10 months ago

I drink hot tea with honey and lemon when I have a cough or inhale steam (either in the shower or over a pot on the stove.) My mom used to use a mixture of brandy, lemon juice, honey and cayenne pepper.

I used to get sick constantly until I started using a neti pot daily (you can buy ceramic or stainless ones.) I also take elderberry tincture if I start to feel any symptoms coming on. The nurse practitioner I go to (she’s a certified herbalist too) says that elderberry is much better for the immune system… Read more »

[…] Read Full Article: Homemade Cough Syrup & Other Meds: Looking for Beta Testers | Fake Plastic Fish. […]

5 years 10 months ago

When my daughter was little, she had alot of upset stomaches. We bought papaya pills at our health food store. It’s just papaya that has been dried & pressed into chewable tablets. It tastes good, which helps when you’re trying to get a little girl to eat them, and they really work! Only problem is it’s hard to find them in a glass bottle.

We use them now and love them!!

5 years 10 months ago

One more thing, on the other natural remedies for illnesses front,–one of my kids has impetigo right now. I’m trying olive oil (metal can) with grapefruit seed extract (plastic bottle) and a paste of turmeric (glass bottle, though I probably refilled it from bulk using plastic bag) and water (kitchen sink). It works really well at night, but during the day, he rubs it off, sucks his fingers, gets dirty, etc. and the spots flare up.
.-= Andrea´s last blog ..Handmade Holiday Part 2: Child Labor =-.

5 years 10 months ago

My mom always gave us warm whiskey, honey and lemon juice for a cough (I still use it today, if I have the ingredients). My friend, who is a Dr. says the only thing that works for kids’ coughs is honey, and codeine for adults. When I was pregnant and got heartburn in the middle of the night, I’d get up and eat a bowl of rice krispies (the organic version) and milk. My sister got rid of her reflux by eliminating wheat/gluten.
.-= Andrea´s last blog ..Handmade Holiday Part 2: Child Labor =-.

Lara S.
5 years 10 months ago

My mom suffered from heartburn for years (even though she doesn’t eat meat/poultry/fish and not much dairies) and tried practically everything. Here’s what finally worked for her: drink the juice of half a lemon 10-15 minutes before breakfast. She does it every day and now never has a heartburn.

I have a cough right now but it’s a “productive” one so I shouldn’t try to stop it. My mom’s a singer and she drinks ginger tea a lot to help clear her throat when she’s about to sing. Chewing on a little piece of ginger root also helps her (but it’s… Read more »

Elizabeth B
5 years 10 months ago

Rina, most stores that carry bulk items will weigh your empty container and give you a tare weight so that you’re not paying for your container.

Darris B. Nelson
5 years 10 months ago

Heartburn/acid reflux, is a symptom of too much acid in the body. Simply stop eating acid producing foods. Drink lots of lemon water (lemons are alkaline in the body) and raw, green veggies. Add the following to your list of the worst offenders; all dairy products-they are highly acidic; all meat, poultry and fish, they are dense protein that are taxing on the body to digest and in turn produce tons of acid in the gut; all sugars, yep, even fruit, except lemons. I used to have horrendous heartburn until I switched to a vegan, mostly alkaline diet. Besides no… Read more »

5 years 10 months ago

Hi Rina. Good question. I thought I wrote a post covering this issue, but now I can’t find it so I’ll just write it here.

Whole Foods in Berkeley (which is where I shop) and other stores like it (Rainbow Grocery in SF) do not give any complaint at all about us bringing our own containers. I have had problems at other stores.

At Whole Foods, you take your empty containers to the customer service desk, where they weigh them and write the weight, which is then deducted by the cashier when you check out. So you don’t… Read more »

5 years 10 months ago

Have you tried homeopathic remedies? These work very well and sometimes you can buy them in glass jars – when I lived in the UK, they came in glass jars, haven’t found this type since, but maybe in your area? If you wanted to mail order you could order via Helios Pharmacy in the UK. You do need to know aht you are looking for though, since there are different types of remedies for the type of cough you may have, like for example, drosera works well if you have a dry cough that is worse at night, or… Read more »

5 years 10 months ago

You may have addressed this before but I’m just curious if you’ve had any issues with using your own jar to purchase bulk? Does the store give you a problem with sanitary issues or anything of the like? Also – don’t you find that you pay more for the product because the glass jar is quite a bit heavier than the plastic baggie provided by the bulk items?

I’m totally bookmarking your homemade cough syrup – great idea!
.-= Rina´s last blog ..Party Snacks – Candied Peanuts =-.

5 years 10 months ago

I used to get lots and lots of sinus infections and bad coughing related to these. I added 3 simple things that have helped big time! 1. Very hot water with cider vinegar and honey all thru the day– especially in the am and pm. 2. oregano oil under my tongue a few times a day. 3. Netty pot or just snorting warm salty water. Doing these things when I feel vulnerable means that I only get truly ill once every year or so. Yeah!!

5 years 10 months ago

I like to also consult with since he is a good mix of traditional and ‘alternative’ medicine. You can search his site for ideas and old Q&As. I’ll have to try the cough remedy next time. I took some Mucinex last time and I guess it helps some.

5 years 10 months ago

Erika, really? Mountain Dew? Can’t imagine what chemicals are in that stuff to turn it so unnaturally yellow. Plus, it has a lot of caffeine, so I couldn’t take it anyway.

I guess I have a negative association with the stuff because it was my ex-husband’s favorite drink. He would get it in Big Gulps from 7-Eleven, along with one hot dog and an ice cream sandwich. And he burped all the time, so I’m not convinced.

I’m loving all the suggestions. I may have to try slippery elm. I had heard about it before… Read more »

5 years 11 months ago

Since we can’t give cough syrup to kids anymore, I read that honey is a good natural cough suppressant. Should work for adults too!

I’m totally impressed with surviving and thriving on pennies’ answer – I’m taking notes for my next illness.
.-= Erin aka Conscious Shopper´s last blog ..My New Year’s Resolutions =-.

5 years 11 months ago

I get gastric reflux fairly often – although much less now than I used to. I find that once something triggers it, suddenly EVERYTHING will. My personal triggers are eating too late (leading to a middle-of-the-night wake-up call that a friend charmingly dubbed “puke burp”), and eating things that are too greasy.

This is going to sound totally barmy, but I swear it’s true, and I’ve heard it’s practically a known off-label use: Mountain Dew. Not diet, unfortunately. But in a pinch, a few sips of Mountain Dew will settle the acid in a snap.
.-= Erika´s… Read more »

5 years 11 months ago

I wondered about the very same thing earlier this year:

5 years 11 months ago

Dark chocolate always helps me when I get a cough. Very tasty, too :D

Christy B.
5 years 11 months ago

For heartburn, I HIGHLY recommend a Hazelwood necklace. I got my last one from Hazelaid.

For coughs, I also HIGHLY recommend Manuka Honey, with a UMF of at least 10. This is wonderful to take when you are starting to feel “off” as well as when you know you are going to be in a confined area (flying, conference, etc…).

If you are inclined to do some research you will learn that it can be used internally as well as externally and is now being used in hospitals as it appears to be highly effective against… Read more »

5 years 11 months ago

For stomach upset I learned what my triggers were and avoid eating large quantities of them/often. For example I used to take cream and sugar with my coffee and got a tip from a friend who’s a doctor that it was the reason why I stomach was killing me most days after drinking my coffee. I learned to drink it black – no stomach upset. I also stopped eating deep fried and greasy foods. Stir frys are OK, I’m talking about farm country fried foods w/ breading, etc. I prefer to deal with those annoying medical issues like acid reflux… Read more »

5 years 11 months ago

Hi Beth!

For coughing, a few years ago, I tried this goldenseal / echinacia (sp?) mix I found sitting on a shelf beside all the chemical tussins. The echinacia I can’t say if it helped, but the goldenseal is now my go-to stuff for any sore throat / cough issues. Nyquil never did anything for me, neither did any of the prescription narcotic cough supressants. Goldenseal felt like a little bit of heaven sliding down my throat, soothing on it’s way. The original purchase was a tincture, but I’ve moved to tea since then (bulk bin at… Read more »

5 years 11 months ago

Alternative to anti acid tablets:
KUDZU root.
as is.
Bummer is that it most often comes in an ziplock plastic bag.

I find those forums to be a confusing snakepit of helpful through to deadly advice.

People get heartburn for different reasons, so different remedies work for different people.

Kudzu is really handy.
so is avoiding triggers!

Blessings, Tracey
.-= Tracey´s last blog ..Natural Baking Soda for Health? What do you think? =-.

5 years 11 months ago

I second the slippery elm. That stuff rocks for coughing and sore throats.
.-= Tiffany´s last blog ..2009 – A Very Good Year =-.

surviving and thriving on pennies
5 years 11 months ago

We usually stick to the same thing each time we get sick. I will not take any medicines full of who knows what nor will I give them to my family. Here is what we do when we get sick. All my family was sick the week prior to Christmas. With all this, it took only a few days for everyone to get better.

Lots and lots of water

double up on our multi daily vitamin

3-6 Echinacea pills a day

2 tbsp of OACV-Organic Apple Cider Vinegar. Anti-bacterial properties

Cough-1 tsp of honey when needed

Hot Chamomile tea or children’s tea for cough

Congestion-Hot… Read more »