Last week, we had a croupy cough sneak it’s way into our house. You know that sound? Like a little baby seal barking? That is how I know we have the croup.
Fortunately, croup generally sounds worse than it is. The barking cough sounds terrible, and it does not help that the cough itself tends to act up in the middle of the night when you may be worried about your breathing, or the breathing of your child! But rest assured that most cases do not require emergency care. In fact, even conventional health websites admit that home treatment is most effective. (source)
So when the croup hits your house, what should you do? There are several remedies you can use, including a humble little herb called mullein.
Why Should I Use Mullein?
Mullein leaf enjoys a reputation as an herbal remedy for respiratory ailments. Making an infusion of mullein leaves is one of the easiest ways to utilize the traditional uses of the herb. Mullein is very fuzzy, and tastes a bit bitter. This means that you will need to steep the mullein for longer than a typical tea, and will benefit greatly from sweetening with honey or another natural sugar. (source)
Steeping the leaves or loose tea in boiling water extracts the active ingredients and properties from the herbs and moves them into the liquid. Then when you strain the solids out, the medicinal and beneficial aspects of the herbs are left behind. From mullein-infused water you can make tea, medicinal-grade infusions, and even steam to breathe for acute congestion.
You can also infuse mullein into oil. This is useful for ear infections, especially if you combine it with garlic oil. (source)
Generally, steeping for a shorter amount of time, anywhere between 5 minutes to 30 minutes, yields a sweeter tasting infusion. After 30 minutes, between 1 to 4 hours of steeping, you can get a wonderfully potent and healing infusion, but the taste will be more bitter.
I recommend using raw honey to sweeten the stronger infusions. It makes the resulting flavor much more pleasant. And raw honey, especially if it is local, also imparts beneficial attributes like a myriad of vitamins and minerals, and immune-boosting anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. (source)
- tea kettle
- French press OR tea infuser
Mullein Infusion for Sickness
1/2 cup organic mullein leaf
5 cups boiling water
raw honey, to taste (buy raw honey here)
slice of lemon, optional
- Measure out the mullein leaf into a French press or tea infuser. Pour the boiling water over the herb.
- Let steep for at least 30 minutes, preferably for 2 hours or more (up to 4 hours).
- Strain out the tea solids and sweeten to taste with honey and lemon. Warm up again to serve.
But What About the Croup?!
Croup generally only affects children, because the inflammation of their tiny airways makes the voicebox, windpipe and breathing tubes swell up. While this makes it difficult for your child to breathe, the barking cough itself doesn’t need to be cause for seeking out emergency care. Common croup behaviors include sitting up in the middle of the night to breathe better, having symptoms worsen during the night and improve during the day, and the telltale barking cough. (source)
When I decide whether or not to take my child to an urgent care or emergency room, whether they have croup or another illness, I watch for genuine signs of respiratory distress: rib retractions, a wheezing sound when breathing in, signs of worsening health instead of improvement, or any symptom that sets off my intuition that we need to seek professional treatment.
That said, treating the barking cough itself can be easily achieved with natural remedies and home treatment. Once you have your mullein infusion made, you are ready to take on the croup with other household remedies.
Here are my top 4 ways to fight croup at my house.
- Mullein infusion: Drink the mullein tea warm, with plenty of raw honey, lemon, and even crushed garlic. The mullein may help with congestion, airway opening, and general lung health.
- Warm mist humidifier: A warm mist humidifier is one of the best things you can invest in for a good nights sleep during a visit from the croup, especially if your child has coughing fits in the middle of the night that wake them up. The warm mist seems to help soothe the cough and get it from a dry bark to a more moist, productive cough.
- Cold night air: Counterintuitively, it also may help to go outside into the cold night air for about 15 minutes in the middle of a croup coughing fit. If the air is helping, you will hear improvement in the cough.
- Elderberry syrup: Elderberry syrup is rich in vitamin C, and anti-oxidants that help your immune system when fighting off a cold, infection, or virus. I make this recipe and usually use camu camu instead of the rosehips.