According to research from the Pennsylvania State University, a single dose of buckwheat honey before bed decreases cough severity and improves sleep for children over 12 months of age. Researchers randomly administered honey, dextromethorphan (the active ingredient found in many over-the-counter (OTC) cough medications), and no treatment to 105 children with persistent coughs.

Lead researcher Ian Paul, MD said, "there may indeed be a placebo effect from taking an OTC medication but our study showed that taking buckwheat honey offers a measure of relieve and is more effective than DM."

The study used buckwheat honey which is not readily available in supermarkets. "I can't tell you if buckwheat honey is more effective than clover or sunflower honey because we didn't test for that," says Paul who is also the parent of an infant and a 3-year-old. "But we do know buckwheat honey works. It has a darker color and was selected because it contains more antioxidants." Carried by many high-end food stores, buckwheat honey can also be found at local farmer's markets and on the Internet.

Another advantage of giving kids honey to quell a cough? They like the way it tastes and there are no side effects, Dr. Paul explains. "I've even had parents in my practice tell me their kids fake a cough in order to have a teaspoon of honey!"

Unlike a popular OTC remedy-cough medications containing DM-it's impossible to overdose on honey. When taken in high doses, DM can cause hallucinogenic trips and pose serious risks. Teenagers have caught on. For the last decade there have been reports around the country of teens abusing DM to get high.

Honey as Medicine...Why it Works

For centuries, honey has been used in some cultures to treat upper respiratory infection symptoms like coughing and is considered to be safe for children over 12 months old.

Further, honey has well-established antioxidant and antimicrobial effects, which could explain its ability to heal wounds (like an irritated throat). "Swallowing thick, syrupy liquid could be one of the mechanisms for it working. Honey soothes on contact," says the expert who is a pediatrician and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State Children's Hospital.

Another theory-according to Paul—is that the part of the brain that recognizes sweetness is close to the part that tells you to cough. "It's possible there is a relationship between the two that ceases coughing."

A cough is a natural reflex that protects your lungs. It's a response to an irritant either from the environmental (like a chemical or smoke) or to mucus produced by an upper respiratory infection. "Coughing keeps undesirable stuff out of the lungs. It cleans the airways which helps prevent infections," says Paul adding that a lingering cough may be a sign of a serious condition. "If a cough lasts more than one week and is accompanied by fever, rash, or a headache you should get in touch with your doctor."

The next time a cough-your child's or yours-keeps you up all night, try a teaspoon of honey. It just might help you get your Z's.


Interview with Ian Paul, MD. AAP Council on Drugs and co-author of Penn State Study on using honey to treat coughs in children

MedlinePlus: A Service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

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