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21 Sep 2021

Soothing Herbal Cough Syrup with Elderberry, Elecampane, & Licorice

This herbal cough syrup recipe features a lovely and effective blend of elder (Sambucus spp.) berry, elecampane (Inula helenium) root, and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root, among other herbs. This recipe is a particularly good fit for dry coughs that need soothing or that contain stuck mucus that needs to be expelled without further irritation.  

fresh elderberries in a bowl

Elder (Sambucus spp.) berries

Elder (Sambucus spp.) berres can be used to make a delicious herbal cough syrup that is perfect for the winter months when the flu virus and other viruses abound. 

Elder is referred to time and again as “the medicine chest for the country people,” alluding to its wide-ranging medicinal actions and ready availability. Elderflower and elderberry are both exceptional allies during colds, flu, and respiratory infections due to their diaphoretic and antiviral actions. Taken at onset, elderberry can reduce the duration of cold/flu because it interferes with virus replication, and strengthens cell walls to inhibit viral penetration (Hoffmann, 2003). 

(Herbal Academy, n.d.a.)

elecampane growing outside

Elecampane (Inula helenium) Root

The roots of elecampane, a warming, expectorant herb, have long been used to support the respiratory system, which makes them a fabulous addition to an herbal cough syrup. 

Elecampane is warming and clearing to the lower respiratory system, effectively expelling congestion and stuck energy. In addition to being an excellent expectorant, it also soothes the tissue irritation and inflammation that results from coughing. Elecampane’s ability to move congestion is also helpful in the digestive system. The bitter principle associated with its volatile oils stimulates digestion and appetite (Hoffmann, 2003), helping to clear damp congestion and resolve poor digestion.

(Herbal Academy, n.d.b.)

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) Root

Licorice is included in this herbal cough syrup recipe for more than its sweet flavor!

Licorice is a sweet, neutral, and moist root that restores, relaxes, and softens. Licorice contains polysaccharides that contribute to its soothing, demulcent quality, and is ideal for afflictions that are hot and dry such as sore throats related to bronchitis, dry coughs, and gastric irritation (e.g. ulcers). In Ayurveda, licorice is considered specific for any inflammation in the mucous membranes throughout the body (Buhner, 2013). As an antispasmodic, licorice relieves painful, unproductive coughing, while its relaxing expectorant action helps to express viscous, congestive mucus from the lungs.

(Herbal Academy, n.d.c.)

Soothing Herbal Cough Syrup

cough syrup dripping on a spoon

Soothing Herbal Cough Syrup

Mixing a decoction with honey or sugar helps to thicken and preserve the decoction. This increases the shelf life of the decoction and often creates a soothing application that benefits situations such as sore throat, cough, dry irritated tissues, and digestive issues. The added sweetener can also help to increase the palatability of some herbs. Many folks, including children, find syrups to be delicious! Yield: 8 ounces.

  • 2 tablespoons elecampane (Inula helenium) for a cough or 2 tablespoons echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) for a sore throat. Both can be used to help with a cough and sore throat.
  • 2 tablespoons licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root
  • 2 tablespoons elderberries (Sambucus spp.)
  • 1 tablespoon ginger (Zingiber officinale) rhizome
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) chips or 2 cinnamon sticks
  • The peel from one organic orange
  • 1-quart cool water
  • 1 to 2 cups honey (or sugar)
  • ¼ cup brandy or rose petal tincture, optional

  • Syrup making begins with a decoction! Combine the herbs with the water in a medium-sized stock pot. 
  • Bring to a simmer over medium heat and partially cover the pot with a lid.
  • Let simmer until the liquid inside is reduced by half.
  • Remove from the heat and strain out the herbs – you have now created a strong decoction for your syrup base!
  • Return the liquid to the pan and add your honey or sugar.
  • If using honey, very gently heat until the honey just dissolves being careful not to boil the syrup. This helps to preserve the beneficial, naturally occurring enzymes in the honey.
  • If using sugar you have the option of bringing the syrup up to a gentle boil and simmering for up to an additional 30 minutes to thicken the syrup further. Or you can simply reheat the syrup enough to easily dissolve the sugar.
  • Remove the syrup from the heat and add any brandy or tinctures you wish to include using up to ¼ cup of brandy or tincture total for each cup of syrup you have.
  • Finish up by placing your syrup in clean, sterile bottles. Add a label including the ingredients and the date you created your syrup.
  • Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. If you used higher quantities of honey/sugar or included alcohol your syrup may last even longer!
  • The dosage will depend on the herbs used in the syrup, the situation being addressed as well as the age of the recipient. A general dosage is a ½ teaspoon to 1 tablespoon taken 1 to 3 times a day with increased frequency during an acute phase of symptoms (Groves, 2016, p. 298).

In Closing,

Once you have the basic herbal cough syrup recipe under your belt, you can begin to experiment with flavor and herb combinations to best suit your needs. Here are some additional simple herbal syrup recipes for you to try:

Elderberry Cough Syrup
Ginger Syrup
Grape Syrup

Soothing Herbal Cough Syrup with Elderberry, Elecampane, & Licorice | Herbal Academy | This herbal cough syrup recipe is a good fit for dry coughs or that stuck mucus that needs to be expelled without further irritation.


Groves, Maria. (2016). Body into balance, an herbal guide to holistic self-care. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

Herbal Academy. (n.d.). Elder monograph. The Herbarium. Retrieved from https://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/monographs/#/monograph/1005

Herbal Academy. (n.d.). Elecampane monograph. The Herbarium. Retrieved from https://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/monographs/#/monograph/3039

Herbal Academy. (n.d.). Licorice monograph. The Herbarium. Retrieved from https://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/monographs/#/monograph/1015 

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts. 

Justis, A. (2016). How to make a simple syrup [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://theherbalacademy.com/herbal-syrup/