Cold and flu season is once again upon us, and we all know what that means: It’s time to start scouring the Internet for homemade tips on how to alleviate the dreaded cough and phlegm. After all, a trip to the doctor is sometimes not a feasible, preferable, or fast enough option for relieving our cold and flu symptoms.
One such home remedy that has garnered a lot of attention lately is honey wraps – or rather, chest wraps made with honey and coconut oil. But how much truth is there to this remedy and can they actually help ease a cough or eliminate phlegm? Let’s take a look at the science.
What is a honey wrap?
A honey wrap is a type of compress made with raw honey, flour and coconut oil and wrapped in a napkin. This napkin is then applied to the chest, much like a sheet slathered with vapor rub. The honey wrap is meant to make us cough up unwanted phlegm and mucus from our lungs.
However, there’s a few reasons why the science seems to fall flat:
- Honey has not been proven to affect the lungs when applied topically.
Honey is a sweet, natural substance produced by bees and other insects that are full of healthy amino acids, minerals, and vitamins, like riboflavin, zinc, potassium, and vitamin B6 (1). As a result, honey has powerful antioxidant (9), antimicrobial (10), and anti-inflammatory (3) properties.
When applied topically, honey can benefit our skin at a superficial level by moisturizing it or helping to heal sunburns (5) and minor cuts (6, 10). However, no research has shown that honey can be absorbed by the skin so deeply as to influence the lungs or throat when topically applied.
When it comes to relieving cold and flu symptoms, it appears that most of the benefits are due to oral ingestion – when eaten, honey can relieve nocturnal coughing and sleep difficulty in people with upper respiratory tract infections (2), even better than some over-the-counter medication.
- Effective cough wraps usually include aromatic oils and/or strong vapor
Studies have found that store-bought menthol-based vapor rubs – characterized by their strong, pungent vapor – can provide effective relief for coughing and phlegm (7). Aromatic oils, such as the oils of eucalyptus, peppermint, oregano, and peppermint plants, may also ease coughing in people with upper respiratory tract infections (11). Effective cough drops and lozenges also contain minty, airway-clearing ingredients, like menthol or peppermint oil (1).
However, honey wraps made up of flour, honey, and coconut oil do not include pungent aromatic oils and the ingredients found in effective vapor rubs or cough-suppressing methods, like menthol, camphor, and/or herbal essential oils.
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A Better Alternative: Homemade Vapor Rub
If you would like to treat your cough and phlegm with honey, try drinking a cup of herbal tea with a spoonful of honey instead – or ingesting 2.5ml of honey directly before bed (4).
On the other hand, if you would still like to try your hand at making a homemade vapor rub, we invite you to follow this amazing recipe from our friends at Wellness Mama (8) that includes pungent aromatic oils while leaving out the honey!
Keep in mind, however, essential oils might not be safe for babies or children. If you are planning to use this rub on little ones, reduce the amount of essential oils you use – or just buy pre-made natural vapor rubs formulated for children instead.
- ½ cup olive, coconut, or almond oil
- 2 tablespoons of beeswax pastilles
- 20 drops of eucalyptus oil (4 drops, for babies and children)
- 20 drops of peppermint oil (4 drops, for babies and children)
- 10 drops of rosemary oil (none, for babies and children)
- 10 drops of cinnamon or clove oil (none, for babies and children)
- Melt beeswax with the olive/coconut/almond oil in a double boiler.
- Add the essential oils to the mixture.
- Stir the mixture until everything is well incorporated.
- Store the mixture in small tins or jars.
- Apply to the neck or chest before sleeping to ease nocturnal coughing – or use as needed.
1) University of Maryland Medical Center. (2017). Cough. [online] Available at: http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/cough [Accessed 23 Oct. 2017].
2) Paul, I. (2007). Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and No Treatment on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality for Coughing Children and Their Parents. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 161(12), p.1140.
3) Yaghoobi, R., Kazerouni, A., & kazerouni, O. (2013). Evidence for Clinical Use of Honey in Wound Healing as an Anti-bacterial, Anti-inflammatory Anti-oxidant and Anti-viral Agent: A Review. Jundishapur Journal of Natural Pharmaceutical Products, 8(3), 100–104.
4)Shadkam, M., Mozaffari-Khosravi, H. and Mozayan, M. (2010). A Comparison of the Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and Diphenhydramine on Nightly Cough and Sleep Quality in Children and Their Parents. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(7), pp.787-793.
5) Zbuchea, A. (2014). Up-to-date use of honey for burns treatment. Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters, 27(1), 22–30.
6)University of Maryland Medical Center. (2017). Wounds. [online] Available at: http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/wounds [Accessed 23 Oct. 2017].
7) Paul, I. M., Beiler, J. S., King, T. S., Clapp, E. R., Vallati, J., & Berlin, C. M. (2010). Vapor Rub, Petrolatum, and No Treatment for Children With Nocturnal Cough and Cold Symptoms. Pediatrics, 126(6), 1092–1099. http://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2010-1601
8) Mama, K. (2017). How to Make Natural Vapor Rub | Wellness Mama. [online] Wellness Mama®. Available at: https://wellnessmama.com/3527/natural-vapor-rub/ [Accessed 23 Oct. 2017].
9) Pérez, R., Iglesias, M., Pueyo, E., González, M. and de Lorenzo, C. (2007). Amino Acid Composition and Antioxidant Capacity of Spanish Honeys. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 55(2), pp.360-365.
10)Molan, P. (2001). Potential of Honey in the Treatment of Wounds and Burns. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2(1), pp.13-19.
11) Ben-Arye, E., Dudai, N., Eini, A., Torem, M., Schiff, E., & Rakover, Y. (2011). Treatment of Upper Respiratory Tract Infections in Primary Care: A Randomized Study Using Aromatic Herbs. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2011, 690346. http://doi.org/10.1155/2011/690346
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