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16 Ayurvedic home remedies for cough and congestion

The key to figuring out home remedies for cough and congestion with Ayurveda is determining which dosha(s) are involved and which qualities are present.


We'll start with a quick review of the doshas, elements, qualities, and what all of these have to do with cough and congestion. But you can skip ahead to the remedies if you like.


16 Ayurvedic home remedies for cough and congestion: sick woman wearing and orange scarf

Image by 4330009 from Pixabay


Understanding the doshas


Doshas


Ayurveda tells us that there are 3 doshas:

  1. vata

  2. pitta

  3. kapha




Elements


Each of these 3 doshas is composed of a combination of the 5 elements.

  1. ether or space

  2. air

  3. fire

  4. water

  5. earth


Each dosha contains all 5 elements but has a predominance of 2 of the elements.

  1. vata = air and ether/space

  2. pitta = fire and water

  3. kapha = water and earth



Qualities (Gunas)


And each of the doshas contains specific qualities. Some of these qualities show up in more than one dosha, and some do not. For example, vata and pitta are both light; pitta and kapha are both oily; and vata and kapha are both cold.


Here is the list of qualities according to the Ashtanga Hridayam, a traditional Ayurvedic text (AH, Sū, 1/11&18).



Vata

Pitta

Kapha

dry

oily

heavy

light

sharp

slow/dull

rough

hot

cold

cold

light

oily

subtle

fleshy smelling

smooth

mobile

spreading

dense

clear (not included in AH)

liquid

soft



stable



gross



cloudy/sticky




How to tell if you have an imbalance using the qualities (gunas)


Vata is most likely out of balance if you are feeling any of the following qualities in excess within yourself:

  • dry

  • light

  • rough

  • cold

  • subtle

  • mobile

  • clear



16 Ayurvedic home remedies for cough and congestion: a desert depicting the dry quality of vata
Vata can be dry like a desert

Photo by Keith Hardy on Unsplash



Pitta is most likely out of balance if you are feeling any of the following qualities in excess within yourself:

  • oily

  • sharp

  • hot

  • light

  • fleshy smelling

  • spreading (think of skin rashes spreading)

  • liquid


Kapha is most likely out of balance if you are feeling any of the following qualities in excess within yourself:

  • heavy

  • slow/dull

  • cold

  • oily

  • smooth

  • dense

  • soft

  • stable

  • gross

  • cloudy/sticky



The general rule of these qualities according to Ayurveda


The general rule of these qualities is that like increases like and opposites decrease (AH, Sū, 1/14).


So, if vata is out of balance and you are feeling some of these qualities in excess:

  • dry

  • light

  • rough

  • cold

  • subtle

  • mobile

  • clear

and you continue to consume foods and do activities that have these qualities, then vata will continue to go further out of balance.


If you apply the opposite qualities to your body with foods and activities that are inherently composed of the opposite qualities, then vata will come back to balance.


For example, if you are feeling dry and you eat foods that are dry, like chips, crackers, pretzels, white potatoes, popcorn, green tea, coffee, corn flour, raw vegetables, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, millet, chickpeas, navy beans, turmeric, black pepper, and cinnamon (Lad, 562-566) in excess, then you will increase the dryness in your body. This will lead to vata going further out of balance.


However, if you are feeling dry, and you eat oily foods, like avocado, sweet berries, papaya, coconut, olives, rutabaga, turbinado sugar, wheat, ghee, butter, sour cream, good oils, salmon, shrimp, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, good oils, and garlic (Lad 562-566), then you will reduce the dryness in your body and balance the body.


16 Ayurvedic home remedies for cough and congestion: one halved avocado and two whole avocado

Photo by Gil Ndjouwou on Unsplash


This can be done with each of the qualities.


Usually, more than one quality is increased in a person. Often it will be several of the vata qualities that will be out of balance, or several of the pitta qualities will be out of balance, or several of the kapha qualities will be out of balance.


Of course, there is the possibility that qualities from two or all of the doshas are out of balance at the same time.



Cravings


Generally, when one of your doshas goes out of balance and there is an increase in one or more of the qualities mentioned above, the body will crave foods that will bring those qualities and that dosha back into balance (Lad, 250).


Those cravings should be acknowledged and those foods should be consumed (Lad, 250).


However, sometimes a dosha goes so far out of balance, that you will begin to crave the qualities that will take you further and further out of balance (Lad, 250).


Let's look at vata and that "dry" quality again.


If the oily quality of kapha goes out of balance, there is a natural craving for dry foods to help balance the excess oil. Dry foods will balance out the oiliness and kapah dosha will come back into balance.


But, if the dry quality of vata goes out of balance, you may begin to have cravings for dry foods like those mentioned above. This will take vata further out of balance creating more dryness in your body. These dry foods should then be avoided and oily foods should be used in more abundance.



Activities and lifestyle

Just a reminder that activities and lifestyle practices also contribute to pushing the doshas and qualities out of balance.


For example, when you have too much of the "dry" quality and you sit in a sauna for long periods, you will become drier and vata will increase. Being in a desert environment will have the same effect. However, self-massage with warm oil will help to pacify vata dosha dry quality due to the "oily" quality of a self-massage with warm oil.



What does all of this have to do with cough and congestion????


Okay, I realize that you may think that I've gotten off base with the above information, but understanding the qualities is critical to understanding cough and congestion through an Ayurvedic lens.



16 Ayurvedic home remedies for cough and congestion: woman blowing her nose on a tissue

Image by Mojca-Peter from Pixabay



If you have a dry cough, you should treat it differently than if you have a wet cough. A dry cough is more likely vata (and maybe pitta) dosha and a wet cough is more likely kapha (and sometimes pitta) dosha (Lad, 158).


If you have clear mucus that is caused by dryness, it is more likely related to vata or pitta dosha (the heat of pitta can dry out the mucus membranes aggravating vata dosha). The body in its unbelievable wisdom will create clear mucus (kapha dosha if you will) to soothe the mucus membranes creating excess clear, thin mucus.


Pitta can also produce a greenish, yellowish mucus due to an infection (Lad, 159).

But, if you have thick, sticky congestion, it is more likely due to kapha dosha. Look at those qualities of kapha dosha again--heavy, dense, gross, oily, cloudy/sticky--all of the qualities associated with thick, sticky congestion (Lad, 158).



 

Home remedies for vata dosha related cough and congestion


If you have a cough and congestion with vata dosha out of balance, the cough will be dry and the mucus will be thin, unless you get an infection.


You can have this dry cough and congestion no matter your particular constitution when vata dosha is out of balance.


Dry cough and congestion are more likely to happen in the fall and early winter (the vata time of year), when using heat in the winter, when using air conditioning in the summer, or when you have been in a dry or windy climate.


16 Ayurvedic home remedies for cough and congestion: sick woman drinking a mug of tea

Image by Martine from Pixabay


If you try to use remedies that will dry out your sinuses, the cough and mucus may get worse because the "dry" quality increases vata dosha.


In this case, you want to add the qualities that are opposite to the list of qualities for vata dosha. For example, instead of dry, you will want to add oily. Instead of cold, you will want to add hot or warm.


Here is the list of the rest of the opposite qualities that will help to pacify vata dosha:

  • oily

  • heavy

  • smooth

  • hot/warm

  • gross

  • static

  • cloudy/sticky


Some home remedies for vata dosha cough and congestion


1.Banana recipe


  • 1 ripe banana

  • 2 pinches of ground black pepper

Eat this 2-3 times a day (Lad, 158).



2. Ajwain recipe


  • 1/4 teaspoon ajwain

  • 1 teaspoon natural, organic sugar

Mix into warm water and drink 2-3 times per day (Lad 158).



3. Talisadi tea


Boil in 2 cups of water until 1 cup is remaining. Drink 2-3 times per day (Lad, 158).




16 Ayurvedic home remedies for cough and congestion: Turmeric milk in a mug with a cinnamon stick

Photo by Purvi shah on Unsplash



Yes, I know you typically shouldn't drink milk when you have congestion because it can create more mucus, but adding turmeric to the milk changes the properties of the milk and clears congestion. I often use this formula when I feel a cold coming on. Take this at night before bed,





This yummy Ayurvedic jam is excellent for the lungs, reduces cough and congestion, nourishes vata, and is particularly good at increasing immunity (Pole, 296). The best way to take it is with milk (nut milk can be used if you are not consuming dairy), or you could take it with warm water. Chyavanprash is considered to be good for all of the doshas (Pole, 296).


Chyavanprash is one of my must-haves when I get sick. It boosts the immunity and soothes a dry, irritated throat.


Athreya is a company that I trust for Chyavanprash.


16 Ayurvedic home remedies for cough and congestion: Chyavanprash by Athreya Herbs



6. Nasya oil or ghee


Put 3-5 drops of nasya oil (an oil specially prepared for use in the sinuses) or ghee in your nose in the morning and the evening to help soothe the mucus membranes (Lad, 152). (Do not do this when there is an infection or greenish-yellowish mucus.)


Athreya Herbs is a company that I trust that offers nasya oil.


16 Ayurvedic home remedies for cough and congestion: herbal nasal oil by Athreya Herbs




 

Home remedies for pitta dosha related cough and congestion


If you have a cough and congestion with pitta dosha out of balance, the cough will most likely be dry and the mucus will be thin, unless you get to a point of infection. Once there is an infection the pitta dosha cough and congestion will produce greenish-yellowish mucus (Lad, 159)


With pitta dosha, the cause for imbalance is often inflammation. For example, heat and inflammation in the sinuses or the throat dry out the mucus membranes or create infection.


You can have this dry cough and congestion (or infection) no matter your particular constitution when pitta dosha is out of balance.


Pitta dosha causing dry cough and congestion is more likely to happen in the summer, when eating spicy foods, when exposed to molds and other irritants, or when you have been in a hot climate.


In this case, using remedies with a lot of heat will continue to dry out the mucus membranes and make matters worse.


To combat this you want to add the qualities that are opposite to the list of qualities for pitta dosha. For example, instead of heating, you will want to add cooling.


16 Ayurvedic home remedies for cough and congestion: woman in bed blowing her nose

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: from Pexels


When I'm in India, everyone, with good intentions, always insists that I drink lemon ginger honey tea when I have clear mucus. My pitta heat goes through the roof, my sinuses become more inflamed, and I get more clear mucus, and maybe eventually the greenish-yellowish mucus.


I have learned over time that marshmallow root tea or licorice root tea is much better than ginger when I have clear mucus that is due to inflammation.


Here is a list of the qualities opposite to the pitta dosha qualities:

  • dry

  • slow/dull

  • cool/cold

  • heavy

  • sweet smelling

  • contained

  • dense


Of course, in this situation, we don't want to use the dry quality as a remedy because the cough and congestion are dry. Even though excess oil usually aggravates pitta dosha, some oil in this case is helpful.


If you keep coming back to the qualities, you can figure out exactly what your body needs.



Some home remedies for pitta dosha cough and congestion



For dry pitta cough created by excess heat, drink marshmallow root or licorice root teas. These teas will help reduce inflammation and pitta, while soothing the mucus membranes.


You can either buy these herbs in powder form and cook them in water, or purchase them in teabags and steep them.


16 Ayurvedic home remedies for cough and congestion: woman drinking tea from a cup

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash



Even though this yummy Ayurvedic jam is heating, it is excellent for the lungs, reduces cough and congestion, is safe for pitta, and is particularly good at increasing immunity (Pole, 296). Its main ingredient is amalaki, a fruit that is excellent for reducing pitta. The best way to take it is with warm milk (nut milk can be used if you are not consuming dairy), or you could take it with warm water. Chyavanprash is considered to be good for all of the doshas (Pole, 296).

 

Athreya is a company that I trust for Chyavanprash.



9. Nasya oil or ghee


Put 3-5 drops of nasya oil (an oil specially prepared for use in the sinuses) or ghee in your nose in the morning and the evening to help soothe the mucus membranes (Lad, 152). Do not use oil or ghee in the nose when there is an infection or greenish-yellowish mucus.


Athreya Herbs is a company that I trust that offers nasya oil.


I find brahmi ghee to be quite effective for my pitta sinuses to keep the mucus membranes well lubricated. Here is a brahmi ghee available on Amazon.



10. Recipe for tea to combat greenish-yellowish infection


Mix the powdered herbs in a jar. Use 1/4 teaspoon of the mixture in warm water with honey 2-3 times per day until the infection subsides (Lad, 159).



11. Steam the head to reduce greenish-yellowish infection


  • 1 drop of eucalyptus essential oil

  • 1 drop of peppermint essential oil

  • 1 drop of tea tree essential oil (this essential oil is quite potent, be sure to just use a drop)




 

Home remedies for kapha dosha related cough and congestion


If you have a cough and congestion with kapha dosha out of balance, the cough will most likely be wet and the mucus will be thick and sticky.


You can have this thick and sticky type of cough and congestion no matter your particular constitution when kapha dosha is out of balance.


Kapha causing thick and sticky cough and congestion is more likely to happen in the late winter and spring; if you are eating an excess of heavy, sticky, slimy, oily smooth foods; or when you have been in a damp climate. Children, because they are in the kapha time of life, often get thick and sticky cough and congestion.


16 Ayurvedic home remedies for cough and congestion: child blowing her nose

In this case, you want to add the qualities that are opposite to the list of qualities for kapha dosha into your life. For example, instead of oily, you will want to add dry. Instead of cold, you will want to add heat.


This is where you would use the remedies with a lot of warmth, dryness, liquefication, and clearing qualities.


The qualities opposite to the list of kapha dosha qualities listed above are:

  • light

  • sharp/penetrating

  • hot/warm

  • dry

  • rough

  • liquid/liquefication

  • hard

  • mobile

  • subtle

  • clear/clearing



Some home remedies for kapha dosha cough and congestion


12. Black pepper and honey


  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon of honey

Combine and eat on a full stomach, otherwise, the black pepper may be too hot. Take 2-3 times per day for 3-5 days (Lad, 158).



13. Ginger Clove and Cinnamon Tea


This tea can either be boiled or steeped in a cup of hot water. Take 2-3 times per day for 3-5 days.




16 Ayurvedic home remedies for cough and congestion: a mug of steaming tea

Photo by David Mao on Unsplash


14. For a stubborn kapha cough and congestion


  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard seed

  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder

  • 1 teaspoon honey

Mix these ingredients and lick the mixture from a spoon. Follow with a cup of hot water. You can do this 2-3 times per day for 3-5 days or until the cough is gone (Lad, 158-159).



15. Steam your head


Add 1-2 drops of eucalyptus oil to a pot of boiled water. Place a towel over your head and breathe in the steam (Lad, 151). You can do this 2-3 times per day.



16. Tumeric and honey


Mix equal parts of powdered turmeric and honey. Slowly lick this mixture from your spoon. Follow with a cup of warm water. This dries up thick, sticky mucus fast!



 

Remember to notice how the cough and congestion are presenting in your body. If it's dry, it's vata dosha, or sometimes pitta dosha's heat drying out vata dosha. If your cough and congestion are producing greenish-yellowish mucus, it's an infection and connected to pitta dosha. If your cough and congestion are wet, thick, and sticky, then it's kapha dosha out of balance. Use the qualities of Ayurveda to bring the body back into balance by applying the opposite qualities.


Let me know how these remedies work for you, or tell me your favorite Ayurvedic home remedies for cough and congestion.




 


Vagbhata. Astanga Hrdayam. Translated by Prof. K. R. Srikantha Murthy, 7th ed., vol. 1, Chowkhamba Krishnadas Academy, 2010.


Lad, Vasant. Textbook of Ayurveda: Fundamental Principles of Ayurveda. 1st ed., vol. 1, The Ayurvedic Press, 2002. p. 250.


LadLad, Vasant M.A.Sc. Textbook of Ayurveda: General Principles of Management and Treatment. 1st ed., vol. 3, The Ayurvedic Press, 2012. pp. 562-566.


Lad, Vasant. The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Three Rivers Press, 1996. pp. 151-152, 158-159.


Pole, Sebastian. Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice. 2nd ed., Singing Dragon, 2013. p. 296.



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