Natural Remedies for Whooping Cough

By Jahwei Chen-Graf, herbalist and naturopath at HAALo


What is Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough is a highly contagious childhood disease caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria and unfortunately, vaccination with the pertussis vaccine does not guarantee immunity. As an example, the 2014 California whooping cough outbreak occurred and spread through Elk Grove in a highly vaccinated community. In short, whether your child is fully vaccinated or not, there is still a chance that they can catch and transmit whooping cough.

Many parents want to know how to support their child during this trying illness, which can last as long as three months. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to kill the bacteria and prevent the spread of the disease but don’t actually help with the symptoms. Coughing is the body’s attempt to expel the toxins shed in the lungs by the dying bacteria. Outlined in this article are 5 natural treatment strategies for whooping cough. For best results it is recommended that you work with your natural healthcare practitioner. Infants under the age of 12 months and those who have compromised immunity should seek medical attention as whooping cough can be potentially life-threatening.

Stages of Whooping Cough

Infectious Phase

The first stage lasts about 2 weeks and the child suffers only a mild to moderate runny nose, usually with clear mucus. Usually there is little or no fever and the child is only mildly ill. This is the infectious phase. Unfortunately most people don’t even know they have whooping cough when they are infectious. On exposure to the bacteria, the incubation period is usually 14 days but can be up to 21 days.

Coughing Phase

About two weeks after the first symptoms appear, the coughing phase begins. The Bordetella pertussis bacteria die off and leave a toxin in lining of the lungs that causes the fits of coughing that characterizes whooping cough.

These fits can often be dramatic, especially in young children. The coughing fits usually occur at night and end with a deep “whooping” in-breath as the child gasps for air. Very young children and infants might need to be hospitalized to assist with breathing. This can go on for anytime between two and ten weeks. The usual time is about 2-6 weeks.

Recovery Phase

The final stage is the recovery stage, the runny nose might return as the coughing gradually goes away and the child slowly recovers. This lasts a further 2-3 weeks. Because of its long duration, Traditional Chinese Medicine calls it the 100-day cough.

Support the immune system

In any infection, it is imperative to support your body’s immune system. Proper diet, rest and hydration are key. A simple diet of whole grains, steamed vegetables, warm drinks, soups, broths and porridges is recommended. Nutrient dense foods high in vitamin C, beta-carotene (precursor of Vitamin A), vitamin D and zinc will be supportive. Small amounts of protein such as legumes, chicken and fish will help to restore vitality and strength. It is also important to reduce sugar consumption as sugar suppresses the immune response.


Supplements For Children Aged 3-12


Vitamin C (with bioflavonoids).

250-500mg four times a day.



10-15 milligrams daily.


Cod Liver Oil

Rich in vitamins A and D.

1-2 teaspoons a day



When the symptoms of a cold and runny nose first appear in the infant or child, use immune-supporting herbs such as Astragalus, Echinacea and Linden flowers.

Echinacea tincture

Give 20-60 drops every few hours during the acute phase of the illness and 10-30 drops during the recovery period.


Expectorant herbs such as elecampane, hyssop, mullein, and thyme can help loosen the mucous whilst antiseptic herbs for the respiratory system such as aniseed, garlic, hyssop, grindelia, oregano, and thyme mixed with warming herbs like cinnamon, cloves, garlic, ginger and cayenne can help fight the infection.

Demulcent herbs such as marshmallow root, slippery elm, plantain and mullein help soothe the inflamed respiratory tract. Once the cough becomes more pronounced and spastic, use antispasmodic herbs like catnip, cramp bark, lobelia and valerian root.


Calm Cough Syrup


I made this cough syrup when my children had whooping cough.


In an 8 oz bottle, mix the following:

15 mL each of Anise seed, Cramp Bark, Thyme, Elecampane and Marshmallow tinctures

10mL each of: Wild Cherry Bark, Echinacea, Grindelia.

7.5 mL each of Lobelia and Turmeric.


Add 50 mL of honey and 70mL of Elderberry Syrup[i] made with ginger and cinnamon to make a total 240 mL.


Shake well and give 1 tablespoon in a little water up to three times a day.


If you wish to avoid alcohol from the tinctures, or for very young children, a strong tea with honey (or maple syrup for those under one) may be useful.


Whoop-Ease Tea (by Aviva Romm[ii])


½ ounce dried thyme

½ ounce dried red clover blossoms

½ ounce marshmallow root

1 quart boiling water

¼ cup honey (use maple syrup for infants under one)


To prepare: Combine the herbs in a glass jar. Add the boiling water, cover, and steep for 2 hours. Strain and add the honey.


To use: Give in doses of 1 tablespoon to ½ cup, up to 1 quart daily.



The main homeopathic remedies for whooping cough are Antimonium Tartaricum, Arnica, Bryonia, Belladonna, Carbo vegetabilis, Cuprum, Drosera, Pertussin and Ipecacuanha.

Many cases of whooping cough respond to Drosera 30C. Give 3 pellets under the tongue 1-2 times a day to relieve symptoms. If no improvement is noticed after a few doses, a different remedy may be needed.

Homeopathic Pertussin nosode can be given to help prevent whooping cough or ameliorate symptoms. Give 3 pellets under the tongue from the time of exposure once daily for 14 days. Since the matching of a homeopathic remedy is highly individualized to the patient and their symptoms it is best to seek guidance from your local homeopathic practitioner for best results.

Topical Chest Rubs

Plantain Beeswax Cough Relief Ointment from Uriel Pharmacy (or a similar chest rub) can be rubbed on the child’s chest and back 4 times per day as long as the coughing persists. I also rubbed the Plantain Ointment on my children’s feet before bed.

Herbal Steam

An aromatic herbal steam can be made by placing 1 teaspoon each of chamomile flowers, yarrow flowers, and lavender flowers in a bowl of hot water[iii]. Have the child (over 6 years) cover their head with a towel to form a tent over the bowl and inhale the steam. Be careful of burning!

Alternatively, 2-3 drops of eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender or thyme essential oils can be added to a bowl of hot water for steam inhalation. For younger children 2-3 drops in the bath is a safer option and they will still get some of the benefits of the aromatic steam.

A final thought.

When my girls contracted whooping cough they were aged 3 and 11. I was surprised at how, apart from the severe coughing fits, they seemed to be quite well. My 3 year olds’ coughing fits often ended with the characteristic “whoop” sound and sometimes she vomited. It can be very frightening to witness the violent and dramatic paroxysms of coughing and it takes great resolve and nerves of steel to not panic. My acupuncturist friend once told me that in China they call whooping cough “the cough of enlightenment” and that it serves as a kind of spiritual trial; from which the child emerges more peaceful and patient. This view of a common childhood disease helped me to remain calm and increased my resolve to help my daughters’ to recover using natural and supportive remedies.

[i] For an Elderberry Syrup Recipe see My Article “Herbal Winter Wellness” www.

[ii] Romm, Aviva, J, “Naturally Healthy Babies and Children”( 2003) p411 Celestial Arts, Berkeley, California.

[iii] Bove, Mary, “An Encyclopedia Of Natural Healing For Children and Infants” (2001), McGraw Hill.

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