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How to use honey for cold and cough?

Honey has been used as a natural remedy for colds and coughs for centuries. It can provide relief from sore throat, coughing, and congestion due to its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and soothing properties. Using honey is a safe, effective way to treat cold and cough symptoms, especially for children over the age of one.

How does honey help with colds and coughs?

Honey has several properties that make it useful for treating cold and cough symptoms:

  • It is antibacterial – honey contains hydrogen peroxide which inhibits the growth of bacteria and viruses that cause infections.
  • It is anti-inflammatory – the antioxidants in honey help reduce swelling and irritation in the throat.
  • It is demulcent – honey coats and soothes the throat, providing symptomatic relief.
  • It is expectorant – honey helps loosen mucus in the airways, reducing congestion.

These medicinal properties of honey allow it to attack cold and cough symptoms from multiple angles. The antibacterial action fights infection, the anti-inflammatory activity reduces swelling and irritation, and the demulcent and expectorant effects provide cough and sore throat relief.

What types of honey work best?

Raw, unprocessed honey generally contains more beneficial phytonutrients and enzymes compared to processed honey. Look for raw honey that is organic and locally produced when possible. Specific varieties known to have high antibacterial potency include:

  • Manuka honey – from the manuka bush in New Zealand, known for its high antibacterial activity.
  • Buckwheat honey – dark colored honey with antioxidant benefits.
  • Thyme honey – made from thyme flower nectar, contains thymol which fights infections.

In general, darker colored honeys tend to have higher antioxidant and antimicrobial effects. When buying honey, be sure to choose a high quality, unpasteurized product for maximum benefits.

How to take honey for colds and coughs

There are several ways to incorporate honey into your regimen when you have a cold or cough:

Honey drink

Mix 2 teaspoons of honey into a hot cup of tea or warm water. The honey will coat and soothe your throat while the warm liquid provides comfort. Add lemon juice for additional vitamin C and antibacterial benefits. Drink honey water or tea up to 3 times per day.

Honey and cinnamon drink

Stir 1 teaspoon each of honey and cinnamon powder into hot water. Cinnamon enhances the antimicrobial effects of honey, making this a powerful combination. Drink 1-2 times per day.

Honey gargle

Gargle with a spoonful of honey mixed with warm water to coat and soothe a sore throat. The antibacterial properties of honey will help fight the infection locally. Gargle every few hours or as needed.

Honey lozenges

Suck on honey-filled lozenges every 2-3 hours to continually coat your throat. Look for natural lozenges that contain manuka or eucalyptus honey for added respiratory benefits.

Honey before bed

Take 1-2 teaspoons of honey before bed to alleviate nighttime coughing and promote restful sleep. For an extra soothing effect, mix the honey into warm milk.

Honey dosage

There is no standardized dosage for honey when treating a cough or cold. The amount needed can vary based on the severity of symptoms. General dosage guidelines are:

  • Adults: Take 2-3 teaspoons of honey per day.
  • Children ages 2-18: Take 1-2 teaspoons per day.
  • Children under age 1: Consult a doctor before giving honey.

Pay attention to symptom relief, and increase the honey dosage if needed. Up to 1 tablespoon every few hours can be used for more severe coughs and sore throats.

How long does it take for honey to work?

The soothing effects of honey on a sore throat are often felt within 15-30 minutes. However, it can take several days of regular honey use to get the full anti-cough and congestion-relieving benefits. Be patient and allow the honey to accumulate in your system. Drink it consistently over a few days for the best results.

Tips for maximizing effectiveness

  • Select a raw, unfiltered honey for the highest antioxidant content.
  • Drink a honey lemon drink first thing in the morning to get the benefits for the full day.
  • Increase the frequency of honey intake if your cough or sore throat persists or worsens.
  • Take honey before bedtime to prevent nighttime coughing bouts.
  • Combine with cinnamon, lemon, or bee propolis for additional therapeutic effects.
  • Always give honey at room temperature or warmer for best results.

Precautions when taking honey

  • Do not give honey to children under 1 year due to risk of infant botulism.
  • Stop use if you develop an allergic reaction.
  • Consult your doctor if symptoms persist beyond one week or worsen.
  • Do not rely on honey alone – seek medical treatment if needed.

How does honey compare to cough medications?

Research suggests that honey can be as effective as many over-the-counter cough medications for children and adults. In one study, honey outperformed the cough suppressant dextromethorphan for relieving nighttime cough in kids. Another study found honey provided better cough relief than cough medicine ingredients diphenhydramine and dextromethorphan.

The key advantages of honey over conventional cough syrups are:

  • Honey is all-natural and safe for long-term use.
  • Honey may provide additional immune-boosting and antibacterial benefits.
  • Honey is readily available without a prescription.
  • Honey tastes great and can be easily added to drinks and food.

For mild to moderate coughs and sore throats, honey can be used as an alternative to OTC medications, without the risk of side effects. Always speak to your doctor to determine the best treatment approach for your situation.

Scientific research on honey for colds and coughs

Multiple studies support the use of honey for upper respiratory infections:

  • A 2007 study found that honey was more effective than diphenhydramine or no treatment for improving cough frequency and severity in children with upper respiratory infections. The honey group also slept better.
  • A 2010 study reported that honey provided greater symptom relief than cough medicine or no treatment in children with nighttime cough. Honey improved cough frequency, severity, and sleep quality.
  • A 2018 review found honey to be superior to usual care for improving symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. The benefits were greater in the first few days of illness.
  • A 2020 review confirmed the antimicrobial effects of honey against common cold viruses. Honey exhibits antiviral effects against rhinovirus, coronavirus, and RSV.

Overall, most studies demonstrate honey’s effectiveness for relieving cough, sore throat, and congestion during a cold. The antimicrobial action of honey also helps fight the underlying infection to shorten illness duration.

Is honey safe for infants and children?

Honey is considered safe for most children 1 year and older. However, it is not recommended to give honey to infants under 12 months due to the risk of infant botulism. Honey can contain spores of Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which can germinate in an infant’s immature digestive system and cause botulism poisoning. While extremely rare, botulism in infants has been linked to consuming honey.

For older children and teens, honey is a safe, gentle cough remedy. The dosages provided earlier in this article can be followed for children ages 1 to 18. As always, consult your pediatrician if you have any concerns when giving your child honey.


Honey is a traditional remedy that can provide multiple benefits for coughs and colds. Its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, demulcent, and expectorant properties give it the ability to soothe sore throats, suppress coughs, and clear congestion. When using honey to treat a respiratory infection, be sure to select a high quality, raw product. Take up to a tablespoon every few hours as needed for relief. Research confirms honey’s effectiveness for improving coughs, colds, and associated sleep difficulties. For children over the age of one and adults, honey can be considered a natural alternative to OTC medications for mild to moderate symptoms.