Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Your health: Remedies for croup in children

Croup is a childhood illness that infects the upper airways. Photo / Getty Images
Croup is a childhood illness that infects the upper airways. Photo / Getty Images

Are there any plant medicines to keep croup in children at bay?

Croup is a childhood illness caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold and infect the upper airways. However, in cases of croup, after a few days of typical cold symptoms, the infection progresses to a seal-like barky cough, hoarseness and noisy breathing. The child's airway swells, making breathing difficult. They may also have a temperature. Croup can be distressing for both children and parents alike.

Croup is most common among infants and toddlers between six months and three years of age. It usually lasts for 5-6 days and is more likely to occur in colder weather.

Children with croup can become seriously ill so it is important to seek medical help immediately if your child is struggling to breathe or speak, has difficulty swallowing, or becomes frightened and anxious.

The best situation is to prevent the progression of a cold to croup. This is where plant medicines that enhance the activity of the immune system and are active against viruses can facilitate recovery. It's also worthwhile to give the child a preventative dose of immune strengthening herbs during the colder months and shoulder seasons.

One of our best plant allies in recovery from viral infections is Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea). This wonderful herb has been proven in clinical trials to reduce the severity and duration of colds and influenza. It assists the body's natural healing process during infection and helps to clear mucus build up from the nasal and bronchial passages.

Another excellent plant for cold and flu is Elderflower (Sambucus nigra). Used medicinally for over 2500 years, its flowers and berries have proven antiviral and antibiotic properties and help to manage fever. A pleasant herb for children, it is specifically useful for head colds, catarrah and sinusitus, helping to clear up runny noses and post-nasal drip.

Plant medicine works best when used at the earliest onset of infection. For best results in an acute situation, frequent dosing is needed: usually between 2-5 doses daily until there is clear improvement.

If the cold has already progressed to croup, the addition of plant medicines that have an affinity for chest complaints will provide targeted relief.

One of the best plants for giving relief to spasmodic coughs, Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) helps to expel infectious phglem as well as providing a cleansing antiseptic action.

Similarly, Licorce (Glycyrrhiza glabra) helps to relax spasm in chest complaints by forming a protective layer upon irritated mucus membranes, relieving inflammation and pain.

Croup can improve during the day only to worsen again at night. Californian Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) has been used for many generations to relax children and ease distressing spasms. It has pain relieving properties which are especially useful for the barking cough specific to croup. It is not a chemical sedative, but rather allows the child to relax and get the healing sleep they need to recover.

Steam inhalations with essential oils such as thyme, eucalyptus and mint (check instructions for correct dose), taking the child to a steamy bathroom whilst running a hot shower, or running a bath are old medical tools to provide instant humidity and relaxation to the airways and keep them open for easier breathing.

If the condition worsens or does not improve, consult your lead healthcare professional without delay.


Ministry of Health (2014, July 14). Croup.

Schapowal, A., Klein, P., & Johnston, S. (2015). Echinacea reduces the risk of recurrent respiratory tract infections and complications: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Advances in Therapy, 32 (3), 187-200. doi: 10.1007/s12325-015-0194-4.

Ulbricht, C., Basch, E., Cheung, L., Goldberg, H., Hammerness, P., Isaac, R., . . . Wortley, J. (2014). An evidence-based systematic review of elderberry and elderflower (Sambucus nigra) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. Journal of Dietary Supplements, 11(1), 80-120. doi: 10.3109/19390211.2013.859852

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Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Sandra Clair is the founder of Artemis ( offering New Zealanders a premium range of traditional plant medicine products. She is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified health professionals in her field, as a Swiss trained medical herbalist and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). Sandra is currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

Read more by Sandra Clair

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