Onion cough syrup


Are you curious about making home remedies but a little nervous about actually using one?   Here’s a simple home remedy for children’s coughs & colds.  All you need is an onion, and granulated sugar.  Et voila! Overnight it turns into onion cough syrup.

I learned about this remedy in my herbal medicine class.  It’s a classic children’s remedy for coughs which has been used for generations…but which I can’t find much about in books or on the internet!

Whenever I meet an older person I always ask them “What did your mother do when you were sick?  What kind of foods did she make?”   Unfortunately, more often than not, nothing comes to mind.  Soon after learning about this cough syrup recipe, we mentioned it to my grandmother.  Suddenly, you could see a memory flooding back.  She had clear memories of her own mother making and using this syrup on her when she was a child.

Brilliant moments of vintage wisdom like this always make me think of how many wonderful remedies, skills & tips that we’ve lost as a society.  Some remedies which would still be really effective (and inexpensive, healthy, simple to make and easy on the environment.)

Reminders like this just strengthen my resolve to learn (and teach!) as much as I can about good food, home remedies and making stuff ourselves!!

Why would onions help a cough or cold?

Garlic and onions are well known for strengthening the immune system, as well as being brilliant natural antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and expectorants.

Garlic is the most effective.  I would really encourage everyone to eat more garlic during the winter months, and especially if you feel run-down or catch a cold.  (You might want to make some homemade chicken stock and add lots of garlic.  OK your breath might smell, but you’re not going to be smooching anyone when you have a cold, right??)

Onions are a gentler form of some of the active components in garlic.  So onions are more suitable for children, the elderly, people who need a gentler remedy or for anyone who isn’t crazy about garlic!

How do I use onion syrup?

This onion syrup is traditionally used as a childrens cough syrup.  Simply give a spoonful as often as needed to stop coughing (1-2 spoonfuls per hour, if needed).

You MUST use this syrup fresh.  It is ready in 6-8 hours (overnight), so just make some fresh every 2 days.


How does it taste?

I made this syrup myself last week when I caught a cold on a plane flight.  I was eating it for a whole day and thought it tasted lovely and sweet.

A few hours later my nose unblocked.

Then I realized, wow, this really smells of onions!

So, my advice is:

  • If your child has a stuffed up nose, take the syrup straight.
  • If they can still smell (and taste), you might want to have them hold their noses as they eat it.

My mother had my 3 year old nephew hold his nose while taking the syrup and he thought it was fun and tasted yummy.  My 5 year old niece went for a straight spoonful and wasn’t too happy about it.  Experiment and see what works.


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How to make Onion Cough Syrup

You need:

1 onion

granulated sugar

a container with a lid, which fits the onion


Find a container that fits the onion

Peel and slice the onion

Layer sugar and onion slices in the jar.  Top with more sugar.  Cover.

Let it sit overnight on the countertop (6-8 hours).  Pretty soon you’ll see liquid in the jar.

Layers of onion and sugar. Make sure to close the jar!

Take a spoonful of this liquid as needed for coughs & colds.

Store the extra syrup in the fridge for one day.  Make fresh syrup every 1-2 days.


Have you ever tried onion cough syrup?  

What other family remedies for coughs & colds do you know??  Share them in the comments!

(And if you really don’t want to make your own, you can buy an herbal cough syrup here)


115 Responses to Onion cough syrup

  1. zee sherman says:

    i have looked for the recipe for a long time my dad made it when i was a child, finally found it on bing 85 years young, thank you all so much , my husband is driving me crazy with his cough not to mention what it is doing to him .

    • PAUL says:

      Good day. I remember my mom putting a jug with half an onion and some suger infront of the bed. The vapour itself worked extremely well for coughing

  2. art selig says:

    well i!ll tell you i am 79 and finally found someone who new how to make onion syrup…thanks a lot

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Art, that’s great! so glad you found the recipe on my site.

      • Clint says:

        I came from a really mixed ethnic area ,N W Indiana all kinds of these recipes there. I also think that it is a Polish syrup, could be German.
        Thanks, Clint

  3. Jarek says:

    We use this recipe in Poland all the time. The doctors will recommend it as well. I have a little tweak to it – I chop the onion as then the syrup is made faster, add honey instead of sugar (real honey not that artifficial crap), chop one clove of garlic and add to the jar as well, add some freshly squeezed lemon juice. the garlic doesn’t really alter the taste but, as mentioned in the article it’s even stronger antbiotic than the onion, and the lemon improves the taste and adds additional vitamin C vital in colds and flu

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Jarek, I love this adaptation to the recipe, I’ll give it a try! I’ve been putting limes in honey recently for a vitamin C boost, so this tweak seems to combine all the goodness into one spoonful 🙂

    • Liana says:

      hi Jarek, how much of lemon juice do we add to the syrup?

    • Linda says:

      I just tried it with the lemon juice and it tastes really good. When I was a kid living on the farm my mother kept a pan of it on the pot belly stove all winter long and when one of us (5 Kids) starting coughing we got some. My sister and I still make it. I love it.

      • Judy says:

        The older gas cooking stoves that kept a flame for a pilot light is where my mom kept the onion tea. She would reference it to tea. She has passed , and I ‘m not sure how she fixed it. I recall the thinly sliced onions and sugar ,and I think honey. As a child I don’t recall it ever having a bad taste. We always got it or a honey & alum mixture. We never saw inside a doctors office, only home remedies. My folks were raised in Arkansas $ it was all they new. I am 63 and in good health.

        • Brilliant I am sure all home remedies are the best. Managed to nurse my daughter to health over Christmas with a terrible cough without going to the Dr.

      • Tonya says:

        Mine did also their pass down recipe stated to warm it up over night. When wemoved to a home with a floor furnace a pot of it was sitting in one corner of the floor grates my mother used the sugar broke up the onions and added garlic, honey and lemon the lemon can be sliced up fresh like the onion and let it steep overnight. It did not cook it just kept it warm because we kept getting spoonfuls and it did not burn us but was nice and warm.

  4. Fabi says:

    thank you for this website, I found it very interesting. I also liked this recipe a lot and will try today for my 22 month. I just wanted to give my opinion about the sugar use. I am a pharmacist/ethnopharmacologist and have been studying old plant medicines for some time. One needs to put these old recipes in perspective. until not too long ago, sugar was used in moderation. definitely not like today. Sugar itself is not a problem. The problem, like many things in life, is the amount of sugar we take every day. I don,t really see a problem with few spoons of sugar, when someone who has a balanced diet is sick. Unless the person is diabetic of course. Actually sugar cane was used as a medicine until not too long ago. Just my 2 cents… Exchange white sugar for brown one if you r worried.

    • Amanda says:

      HI Fabi, such a good point! A couple of spoonfuls when you’re sick is not the problem, it’s the fact that we eat so much sugar on a daily basis, a lot of it hidden in our regular food! Thanks for sharing.

    • vanessa says:

      The sOng we sang as a child was….a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down , the medicine go down 🙂 mary poppings

    • Tonya says:

      DO NOT USE HONEY FOR INFANTS!!!! They say children less than two but I know some children that got sick at 3 years old. I raise honeybees and I tell everyone no honey to children under 3. Babies digestion system has not advanced enough to handle the honey can cause severe stomach upset.

  5. Bubby says:

    so I used this remedy to help with a terrible chest cough. My buddy told me about it, and said his grandmother had passed it on to him. It is an awesome expectorant. My advice though; TAKE AT NIGHT BEFORE BED! It loosens the phlegm which can lead to alot of coughing if taken during the day. I take 2 spoonfuls right before going to bed and in the morning I feel much better.

  6. Henry says:

    when I was young my mother used to make this cough syrup out of the onion to. But the way she make it is to use brown sugar and big jar deep actually she usually use red onion. I wander though if it will work for adults ? and does it matter if mix the sugar all together without layering it ?

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Henry, I think it will work for anyone, but onions are more gentle than garlic (which would be the adult version). I’ve not tried mixing the onions and sugar, I’ve only done the layers. Let me know how it works if you try it.

      • Glenna says:

        I grew up on this. My granny got the recipe from a neighbor in Germany (we called it German syrup) and she made it in a casserole dish then placed a tea towel over it and let it sit. Works just as well.

  7. Carlos says:

    I think its more simple to just eat an onion as it is ! its a little bit hard to do it, but i will know the effects tomorrow!

  8. anna says:

    the best cure for a cough my grandmother recipe and i tell every one about it because it works so quick almost instant is butter sugar and milk, heat together, my granny lived to be 96 and she still cleaned the chapel up until her late 90 she was amazing 🙂

  9. Tammy says:

    I can remember my mom making horehound cough syrup. But, in recent years, the horehound candies have been very hard to find. I used to sneak it from the medicine cupboard when I wasn’t even sick. She also made mustard plasters. We never heard of the onions and sugar before. I just made some now as my hubby’s cough is driving me crazy.

  10. Lisa says:

    We used to make it on the stove when I was a kid. I making some now for my kids. Vapor rub on the bottom of their feet with socks at night helps also.

    • Brenda says:

      my mom made it on the stove. She made a sort of make shift double boiler and boiled the onion with a plate on the sliced onions and a can on top to squeeze out the juice…you can make it in a few hours that way and it works just the same …..sugar, onions and just a bit of water…. when the water cooks off you have this great syrup that works better than most cough syrups that you get by prescription. you just have to give it your attention when making it…

      • Sandy says:

        Remember my mother doing this when my brother and I was little. Than seems like she just stopped making it , time the next two came along !!

  11. Clint says:

    I rememberd this cough syrup being made in the kitchen when I was little (72 now ) I loved it. Do you if people ever cooked it on the stove.

    • rockerman43 says:

      My grandmother was part of the Germans from Russia group and came to the US from the Ukraine..when i was 8 i had whopping cough with no relief until she boiled onions on the stove with the honey..i remember that it tasted awful but was the only thing that worked for my cough

  12. Danielle Hryniewicz says:

    This is a very common cure her in Poland. I am American and had never heard of it before but my husbands family swears by it. I make it for my kids and we all get over a cold very quickly!

    • Charles Cole says:

      My wife is from Poland, and I thought she was nuts when she sliced an onion and covered it with sugar. Turns out that she wasn’t nuts, I was just ignorant. Oh well. Like they always say, you learn something every day.

      • Amanda says:

        I thought it was crazy the first time I heard it too. I’m loving all these comments about how this traditional remedy is still in active use!

  13. Treay Cohen says:

    My Aunty used to make a sugar and onion syrup for Colds which, try as I might, I have been unable to replicate. It tasted yummy! This was in the fifties. She also made a wonderful black ointment, a bit like Magnoplasm, (wish that were still available, wonderful stuff!). Unfortunately, she threw her recipes away, after Alzheimer’s overtook her.

  14. Chris Wise says:

    Dear all. I would not worry over much about sugar v honey (Or Hunny if your Poo bare). Honey is after all 99 pc sugar and some extra good bits thrown in to make it a good antiseptic and healing aid
    My Mum gave me this mixture when I was congested as a child, and it always shifted better than anything else.
    By the way thanks for the recipe I’m making some for the first time in over 50 years. I’ll try
    and let you know how it goes.

  15. olga hunnam says:

    I come from a large family & I remember something about my mother putting onions in a large jug with sugar & leaving it in the old black range oven overnight, next morning we line
    d up for a spoonful before we went to school that was in the 1940s..

  16. Mozette says:

    One of my neighbours – who had Asbestosis – gave me the remedy when I had pneumonia and I couldn’t shake the chesty cough. So, he sent over his wife with the remedy written down on a piece of paper for me (because he heard me some nights when he couldn’t sleep at 4am due to his condition).
    At first, I wasn’t all that convinced about it, but then, when I took my first sip, I realised it wasn’t too bad. So, since then, I’ve been making this remedy – seeing I can’t take anything with Penicillin as I’m allergic to it and so I’ll try anything to help a cold and a dreadful cough go away.
    I have tried to get my family to work with this remedy, but nobody will use it. Mum went to her doctor and he Googled it and they found it had been around for over a century and was invented around WWI due to the rationing with food stores. Amazing what people will do when it comes to looking after family.

  17. david says:

    My great great grandmother made onion syrup but she used water and heat to reduce the mixture to a syrup.

  18. karolina smith says:

    Can you pleas explain what exactly you do with the onion to make a poultice? how, i have 2,5 year wee boy, who is on antibiotics on and off for past thre months, it always start with litle cold in two days its a bad cough and in week goes to his ears …. Thank you very much 🙂

  19. This really works my mother inlaw told me about it when my 2 year old little Doll got sick i tought she was the only one who new about this 😀 but feels better to know im not the only one doing it. 🙂 i just saved this resep. so i wont have to ask her to make it again. Thanks for the big Help <3

    • Hi!! Read about onion and honey syrup . How about grinding and sieving juice out of onions and adding honey to it instead of slicing and covering with sugar or honey?? Will it not have the same effect??

  20. JNC says:

    I’m not all that old and I did this with my children when they were little. You don’t really use all that much sugar but I would think if you wanted to use honey instead it would work as well. The idea is that the sugar/honey draws the liquid out of the onion and makes it taste better. I also used to chop onions very fine and made a poultice out of it to put on my sons chest when he had bad colds. I didn’t have to worry about burning his skin like you would with a mustard plaster. Worked wonders actually. 🙂

    • Linda Kennelly says:

      Hi JNC…
      I think the poultice with the onion sounds like it would be very effective. I’m definitely going to make the onion and sugar..(or raw honey). I’m going to use it for a healthy syrup for daily use…I read that it can prove effective with strep and staph..that’s enough for me!

  21. Brittany says:

    This sounds seriously better than Delsym. I’d rather have onion breath.

  22. Mysty says:

    Mom used to make us onion tea with honey and lemon (more like to improve the taste) when we were seriously ill. She also put something else in the tea, but I cant remember the third ingredient right now …
    This combination is seriously disgusting, but VERY effective, so suck it up and try it 🙂

  23. Amanda says:

    Hi everyone, good point about the sugar! I’ll have to ask an herbalist about that…

    Lissa your suggestion of honey & garlic is right-on. That’s the ultimate cold-busing solution because honey is very soothing for the throat too. But it tastes really strong, and I think it would be difficult to get children to take it!

    The whole idea of the onion and sugar is that it’s a kids remedy because it’s more gentle and easier to swallow 🙂

  24. carooina says:

    oh hello.
    When I was a child and got neumonia my mother anything she could, so someone told her mix aguardiente or some strong liquor like vodka and put in a glass jar with 4 pieces of garlic and she did it, i took this awful liquid three times per day for a week and felt better, she also put on my chess, brown paper bag with candle is dificult to me explain the liquid part the candle, she put is in the paper bag and waitand put me when was still liquid, but this part up, for all night, i think if she put me something hot or warm worked too. Sorr my English. About the sugar, i agree with the first comments, i stop the sugar during the cold because stimulate the mucus secretion.

  25. Lissa says:

    This is such a great recipe! But I’m wondering about the sugar-is it changed somehow by the process? Generally for colds and such my first move is to cut out all sugar because it suppresses the immune system. Would honey work as well? Also, could you substitute garlic instead of onions? Hmm, honey and garlic… Will try.

    • Ashley says:

      Honey is actually preferred. Use raw natural honey && it’s tasty!

      • Pointtaken says:

        You should never give honey to children under 3 as it could contain harmful bacteria. Its usually not recommend!

        • Treay Cohen says:

          I have never heard of not giving honey to young children. Here in Western Australia, it was common to dip dummies in honey to soothe babies, in the 40’s to the 60’s. (Never mind the Dental problems as a result).
          I know all of our honey is heat pasteurised, but still…

        • Amanda says:

          The standard I’ve heard is not to give honey to babies 12 months or younger. After 1 year, it’s fine. Of course it’s always up to each parent what to give their kids!