dry, productive & unproductive

 by Tatum Andrews RHN, RHP(HANB)

Medical Disclaimer: The information provided throughout this site is for educational purposes only and is not to be regarded as substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. The information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the guidance of your qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.



If your cough is non-productive with dryness and irritation but no mucous you have a dry cough. There are two categories of herbs that we can use to help stop a dry cough and each of these categories have a few specific herbs that work well at eliminating your dry cough.

DEMULCENT herbs bring moisture to dry irritated tissues and soothes inflammation in the lungs. These herbs also help to stop coughing by relieving dryness.

Marshmallow roots, leaves, and flowers can be used to make a thick, soothing tea mixture. This should be made as a cold infusion.

Linden is an astringent, antiviral and demulcent. Soothes a sore throat when made into a tea or infused honey.

Licorice will prevent further infection. Use small amounts with other herbs to make a soothing tea blend. Long term excessive use can raise blood pressure.

Plantain is anti-inflammatory, astringent and demulcent. Great soother when made as a warm tea.

Honey soothes sore throats and supresses coughing. Use local, raw honey or look for untreated. Should not be used in children under 2.

ANTISPASMODIAC herbs relax tense muscles, stops coughing reflex. This is the one time we want to stop the symptoms we are experiencing so we can bring relief and aid rest & sleep.

Valerian can powerfully relax tense muscles and stop coughing reflex. It is a sedative, but a small number of people have the opposite effect. Take in a tincture form by starting with a small dose (2-5 drops) & slowly increase.

Crampbark is used for muscle spasms, menstrual cramps and to stop cough reflex. It can be taken as a tea or tincture.

California Poppy is a relaxing nervine that promotes sleep & stops coughing. It is good for kids and is much milder than valerian. Can be taken as a tea or tincture, if using tincture start with 30 drops for an adult & 8 drops for kids.

Infusion Blend Example:
2 parts Linden, 1 part Marshmallow Leaves, 1 Part Marshmallow Root, 1 part plantain

*Any of the antispasmodic herbs should be taken as a tincture for a more immediate effect.


Are you feeling super stuffed up or coughing up mucous? There is one herbal category that has a variety of herbs to use.

Mucous is a slippery substance that is produced by the mucous membranes. It is a beneficial immune system response that prevents pathogens from invading the mucous membranes. Ideally mucous is clear and free flowing. A quote from Paul Bergner explains more: “Because it contains antibodies to each organism that has ever attacked the body, mucus is a personally tailored, genetically engineered antibiotic paste that will wash away or kill infectious organisms. As long as it is flowing freely as a thin liquid, it is signs of health, healing and the defeat of invading organisms or other irritants, the mucous membranes.”

Quite often people will turn to decongestants to deal with excess mucous but this actually causes the membranes to stop producing mucous altogether.
A productive cough will have clear, white, yellow or green mucous present and can be supported with stimulating expectorant herbs. It is important to note that coughing is important to expel mucous in the lungs. The same herbs are also used for congestion.


CLEAR TO WHITE– this is a healthy immune system response. It indicates more coldness so use warming herbs such as ginger or cayenne. Avoid decongestants.
YELLOW TO GREEN– keep mucous flowing with stimulating expectorants. You can also combine stimulating expectorants with antimicrobials.
DRY OR IRRITATED– demulcent herbs should be used as well as steams to moisten and loosen mucous.

STIMULATING EXPECTORANT herbs are often spicy foods and herbs that create a reaction to get mucous flowing when there is stuck white, green or yellow mucous and congestion. They are used for both stuck congestion in the sinuses and in the lungs when coughing with mucous is present.

Elecampane promotes mucous flow especially in the lungs and relieves coughing by expelling mucous from the lungs. It has a pungent taste but works great as a syrup or infused honey.

Hyssop is a warming, pungent herb that relieves bronchial congestion. It makes a great tea, oxymel or syrup.

Mustard seeds are the strongest part especially the brown seeds. You can use or make prepared mustard especially with brown seeds to relieve congestion by eating or making a poultice.

Horseradish really gets things moving especially the sinuses. It is rich in vitamins & minerals, including vitamin C.

Onion is a strong, pungent onions are traditionally used to relieve congestion. Can make an onion syrup or poultice.

Garlic is a bit more potent than onions. Eat liberally or apply externally.

-Ginger -Cayenne -Bee Balm -Cottonwood buds -Horehound -Thyme

Infusion Blend Example:
1 part hyssop, 1 part thyme, 1 part bee balm, 1 part dried ginger

*Fire Cider is a great remedy for congestion as it typically contains horseradish, onion, garlic & ginger.

*Steams are great to relive congestion using dried or fresh herbs.


An unproductive cough is a cough that just won’t go away and you aren’t able to cough up any mucous. There are two herbal categories that can help with unproductive coughs. An unproductive cough is a dry cough with no mucous or there is mucous stuck in the lungs so there is occasional expectoration. Sometimes the tongue will have a dried yellow coating and it may be hard to take full breaths because the chest feels full.

MOISTENING HERBS are basically demulcent herbs. They moisten dry tissues to support regular mucous flow. They may be combined with stimulating expectorants if you have mucous but if there is no mucous involved than do no use stimulating expectorants.

Marshmallow roots, leaves, and flowers can be used to make a thick, soothing tea mixture. This should be made as a cold infusion.

Linden is an astringent, antiviral and demulcent. Can be made into a tea or infused honey.

Licorice will prevent further infection. Use small amounts to add to other herbs to make a soothing tea blend. Long term excessive use can raise blood pressure.

Violet is a nourishing, demulcent herb that relieves dryness. Use 1 ounces of dried herb to a quart of boiling water, let steep for at least 4 hours.

ANTIMICROBIAL herbs directly inhibit pathogens through a variety of factors and are especially indicated if mucous is yellow/green.

Usnea is commonly used for upper respiratory infections. Use when mucous is yellow/green. Heat extraction in alcohol is recommended.

Oregano is a spicy herb that is both a stimulating expectorant and strongly antimicrobial. Wonderful as a tea, syrup or oxymel. Oil of oregano can be harsh on the bacteria in the gut.

Propolis is another product from the bees! It is highly resinous so can be taken as an alcohol extract.

Infusion Blend Example:
2 parts Linden, 1 part Violet, 1 part Marshmallow Leaf & Root, 1 part Licorice


Bellebuono, H. (2012). The Authentic Herbal Healer. Bloomington: Balboa Press, A Division of Hay House.
Bennett, R. R. (2014). The Gift of Healing Herbs. Berkley: Atlantic Books.
Edwards, G. F. (2020). Opening our Hearts to the Healing Herbs. Bertha Canterbury Rosina Press.
Gray, B. (2011). The Boreal Herbal . Whitehorse: Aroma Borealis Press.
Tierra, L., & Tierra, M. (2003). Healing with the Herbs of Life. Berkeley: Crossing Press.
Wood, M. (2008). The Earthwise Herbal, A complete guide to old world medicinal plants. Berkley: North
Atlantic Books.