Elderberry: A centuries-old remedy for respiratory problems, elderberry has now been validated by science. A study of black elderberry demonstrated that the extract sped recovery from flu. The study, published in The Journal of International Medical Research, showed that when taken within 48 hours of symptoms appearing, elderberry reduced flu duration by four days. Additionally, those taking elderberry needed less pain medication.
Echinacea: Native Americans used echinacea to cure all manner of diseases for hundreds of years, but today, the herb is mainly used to treat colds and flu. To stay healthy during winter months, take 50 to 150 milligrams daily, suggests Steven Rosenblatt, MD, PhD, an integrative physician based in Los Angeles.
Cold and flu season is upon us, and there are dozens of over-the-counter medications out there that claim to ease symptoms. Although they may offer some short-term relief, they inevitably leave you feeling foggy and groggy. It’s best to help your body heal, not just cover up symptoms, says Aimee E. Raupp, MS, LAc, author of Chill Out & Get Healthy. Here, she gives her top picks for natural cold and flu remedies that offer real relief.
Neti pot. Nasal irrigation has been used for centuries; it removes mucus, pollen, and other inhaled debris from your sinuses, soothes the lining of the nose, and improves its function, says Raupp. You can use the neti pot daily to improve nasal function, but definitely do it at the first sign of a cold, as excess, thick mucus that lingers in the sinuses is fertile ground for infections and bacteria. “Nasal irrigation is the only way that thick mucus can be washed out of the nose, and it’s great for kicking a sinus infection,” adds Raupp.
Garlic. Garlic has antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial activity that can help ward off a minor infection. Raupp suggests eating a clove or two of fresh garlic per day, drinking garlic tea, or taking garlic in pill form. Olive leaf is another powerful antibacterial and antiviral herb to consider and can be taken at the first sign of illness.
Try: Wakunaga Kyolic Formula 103 and Barlean’s Olive Leaf Extract
Drink more fluids, including water. Stay hydrated and wash your cold away. Teas are also good choices, especially if they contain immune-enhancing herbs.
Try: Yogi Tea Immune Support
Steam your cold away. At the first sign of a cold, steam your face with hot water and a few drops of essential oil. Raupp offers this advice: “Boil some water, remove from heat, add a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil, throw a towel over your head, and steam your face over the mixture.” You can also steam in the shower.
Try: NOW Foods Eucalyptus Oil Essential Oils and Aura Cacia Shower Tablets
Gargle with warm saltwater. If you have a sore throat, this will help to soothe and heal. Try 1 teaspoon of salt per 8 ounces of water.
Honey. Another remedy to try for a sore throat is 8 ounces of hot water with 1 teaspoon of honey. It’s soothing and can help reduce coughing.
Try: Himalaya Soliga Forest Honey
Lemon and ginger. “Drink a cup of hot water with the juice from half a lemon and three slices of fresh ginger at the first sign of a cold,” Raupp suggests. She recommends taking this remedy at least three times per day for the first two days of symptoms. “It will help detoxify your body of any lurking, sickness-causing bacteria,” Raupp says. The vitamin C in lemon is also helpful. If you have a sore throat, add 1 teaspoon of honey to this concoction. If you have a fever, pour a cup of boiling water over two chopped garlic cloves, four slices of fresh ginger, half a chopped onion, and a dash of cinnamon and ground clove. “Drink up and get under the covers,” says Raupp. “This remedy will cause you to sweat out your fever.”
Try: Gaia Herbs Quick Defense and American Health Ester-C capsules
Stay away from mucus-triggering foods. Avoid dairy, sugar, white flour, and wine. “These are all extremely phlegmy substances and will feed your cold,” cautions Raupp.
Rest! Pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you feel tired, try to get some extra sleep to allow your body time to heal or fight off an impending infection.
Take a probiotic supplement daily. The healthful flora-restoring bacteria found in probiotics boosts your immune system and helps your body fight the bacterial overgrowth that could be causing your cold. “Eating a probiotic-enriched yogurt won’t cut it,” says Raupp. “You’d need to eat 10 yogurts to get the same amount of healthy bacteria that one probiotic capsule gives you.”
Try: Udo’s Choice Adult’s Probiotic
Get acupuncture. Raupp recommends acupuncture for boosting your immune system and treating colds. Find an NCCAOM-certified acupuncturist in your area at nccaom.org.