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Most people experience a common cold each fall or winter season accompanied by those familiar symptoms we all associate with having a cold—achy body, runny nose, scratchy throat, fever, cough, stuffy head, and a rundown feeling that sends us to bed.
The common cold is an acute viral infection with inflammation of all or any of the airways including the nose, throat, sinuses, larynx, and lungs. The common cold is most often caused by a rhinovirus settling into the body a few days before the actual symptoms show up, and commonly lasts five to seven days. Secondary bacterial infections often accompany primary viral colds complicating the symptom picture. The onset of a cold is usually abrupt after a 1-3 day incubation period, starting with throat and nose discomfort or burning, followed by sneezing, runny nose, or malaise.
It is not uncommon for many people to have chronic respiratory irritation causing a cough that may linger even after the infection has resolved. Start with rest and hydration. Resting in the early stages of a cold will help the immune system in resolving the infection. Avoid becoming overstressed and get enough sleep. Drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration, which works against the immune response, and modify the diet to eliminate stressor foods, including caffeine, sugars, processed foods, alcohol and mucus-producing foods such as dairy products, and refined carbohydrates.
The saying “feed a cold, starve a fever” is good advice, but be sure that the food choices are healthy ones. Eat more fruits and vegetables; broths, soups and stews with small amounts of whole grains, beans, and miso. Other useful foods to include in the diet are garlic, horseradish, lemons, limes, oranges, pomegranate, and onions. Try adding ¼ to ½ tsp. of grated horseradish to soup or on a cracker to help decongest the upper respiratory system. And some fragrant herbs and spices with antibacterial, antioxidant, or decongestant properties that can be used in cooking include cinnamon, fenugreek seeds, ginger, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, turmeric, and cayenne pepper.
HERBAL TEA BLENDS
Drinking herbal teas throughout the day will help hydrate the body, increase sweating, and reduce fever.
To boost immunity: At the first signs of a cold, try a tea made with yarrow flowers, elder flowers, linden flowers, and peppermint leaves. Add boiling water, and steep three to five minutes, covered. Strain, sweeten with honey if desired, and drink hot several times a day. Tip: While sipping this herbal infusion, sit under a blanket to help produce a sweat and aid the immune response.
For sore throat: Although not technically a tea, another hot drink that is particularly helpful if the throat is sore or sinuses stuffed up is hot herbal lemonade, which can be made from common kitchen ingredients. To 1 cup boiling water, add 1 Tbs. lemon or lime juice, 1 tsp. of real maple syrup or raw honey, and ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper. Mix well and drink hot several times a day.
For cough: For cough, look for teas made with licorice root, anise seed, mullein leaves, and wild cherry bark. Steep for 5 minutes, and drink several times a day. This tea will help to soothe the mucous membranes and move phlegm out of the lungs.
To clear congestion: If you are suffering from a head cold with lots of congestion in the nose and sinus, a helpful tea to decongest and clear the nasal passages is a blend of elder flowers, eyebright, and fenugreek seed. Fenugreek seed can also be taken in capsules 300-500 mg three times a day to decongest the upper respiratory passages.
Overall aches and stuffiness: Try a tea containing dried thyme, rosemary, and peppermint. Steep 5 minutes and add a slice of fresh ginger if desired. Drink hot several times a day.
These top herbal recommendations for the common cold may be taken as teas, tincture extracts, tablets, or capsules.
Andrographis, also known as King of Bitters due to its taste, has immune-enhancing and anti-inflammatory actions that help to significantly reduce the course and duration of the common cold. A dose of 500 mg three times a day for prevention and up to 1,000 mg four to six times a day during an active infection is standard.
Echinacea is well known for its immune-modulating activity, stimulating the body’s defense system, increasing secretion from the lymphatic system, mucous membranes and skin. The herb has strong antiviral activity. This herb helps to shorten the duration and reduce the severity of colds, influenza, and upper respiratory infection. Using the herb at the first signs of a cold is recommended. Take 1 dose according to label instructions every two hours for the first two to three days of the cold, then drop the dose to three times a day until the cold is resolved.
Elderberry can be taken as a preventative measure against getting a cold, as the active compounds in this herbal medicine act to inhibit the virus from attaching to the body multiplying. It is also useful to take during a cold, and is often found in natural cough syrups. There are many types of elderberry preparations of the market, including chewable tablets, syrups, and extracts. Take according to label instructions.
Garlic acts as a broad-spectrum antimicrobial. The active agents in garlic have a particularly strong action on the mucous membranes and the respiratory system. Try an immune-boosting soup made with lots of garlic, and ingredients such as onions, shiitake mushrooms, fresh ginger root, carrots, celery, parsley, and miso broth. As a supplement, take according to label instructions.
For sore throat or swollen glands, try an herbal throat spray with bitter orange, calendula, myrrh, echinacea, or propolis. Used several times a day, a throat spray helps with the early stages of a cold, delivering the effects of the herbs on the local tissues involved and soothing the discomfort.
A few nutritional supplements that are fundamental in supporting the immune system, starting with the earliest signs of a cold, are vitamin C (250-500 mg, four times a day), vitamin D (2,000 IU, three times a day for several days), and zinc (30 mg, two to three times a day).
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