Natural bourbon-chamomile cough syrup
Recipes, Sips & Syrups

Natural Bourbon-Chamomile Cough Syrup

Last week while I was on the road, I kept hearing from friends who caught the mystery bug that’s “been going around”… and apparently this bug gets around quite a bit, as it moved from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe to Monterey Bay and all the way down to Los Angeles.

Thankfully we never met, and I’ve been fortunate to not catch anything even remotely resembling a cold for the last nine years (knock on wood). But I feel for my friends. Being sick — especially in weather as balmy as ours right now, where daytime highs are in the 70s — is a drag.

I’ve never liked taking medicine and I especially never liked the Nyquil I saw my friends chugging as if it was life-giving elixir. My dear mother, who commiserated with my distaste for cough syrup, would instead send me to bed with a hot mug of tea made with Vietnamese preserved lemon and honey. The combination of salt (for relieving sore throat), lemon (for boosting immunity), honey (for fighting bacteria), and hot water (for easing congestion) is a natural powerhouse for combating a cold. I still make a mug of this concoction after a long period of travel or work when my body feels worn.

Salty and sour preserved lemons are somewhat of an acquired taste though, so this Vietnamese home remedy isn’t for everyone. But no one can say no to bourbon, right?

This is the original nighttime sniffling sneezing coughing aching stuffy head fever so you can rest medicine… only it tastes much, much better than the green stuff in the bottle. It starts out rather innocuously with the usual characters: hot water, honey, lemon, chamomile. But then you add a stiff shot of bourbon and take it to bed as a nightcap.

Besides the calming, soothing, and immune-boosting properties of this natural cough syrup, a dose of bourbon will help knock you out so you can sleep soundly through the night. If you read the label on many off-the-shelf cough syrups, you’ll find that alcohol is a major component in them… this just happens to taste better.

You can use another whiskey or rum if you’d like, and in much smaller doses (say, a few spoonfuls), this natural remedy is even appropriate for children. (My ever-resourceful parents sometimes gave me a version of this cough syrup with cognac when they didn’t have preserved lemons on hand. I never appreciated it until I was old enough to know what cognac was.)

You might recognize this recipe resembling my Honeylicious Hot Toddy, and you’d be right. Both of these boozy drinks work wonders for general under-the-weatherness, and you can add antioxidant cinnamon to your “cough syrup” if you’re so inclined.

Natural Bourbon-Chamomile Cough Syrup

Makes 1 serving


1 bag chamomile tea
2 ounces bourbon
1 tablespoon honey
Juice from 1/2 lemon


Bring a kettle of water to a boil.

Add all of the ingredients to a mug. Pour hot water to fill the mug and steep the tea for a few minutes. Stir, sip, and sleep tight!

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