The best cold and flu remedies are the ones you add to your routine before you get sick. By including the right herbs, foods and probiotics in your regular routine, you're less likely to get sick and more likely to recover faster if you do. I've made a habit of adding these herbs and spices for cold and flu fighting into our meals and herbal teas. This post discusses the best cold remedies (and flu remedies) using herbs, spices and your kitchen sink.
Herbal Treatment for Cold and Flu
You are probably aware (hopefully) that most colds and flus are not caused by bacteria, they are caused by viruses. Therefore, standard antibiotics are useless as a remedy for colds and flus. There are now anti-viral medications, but in a recent study, they only reduced flu symptom length from 7 days to 6.5 days, and may have some side effects. Plus, who really wants to schlep into the ER when you feel lousy and your immune system is already compromised? Secondary infections are often more dangerous than the original virus.
Getting the flu shot may not help, either. Because of the ability of the flu virus to quickly mutate, in a given year, the flu vaccine may be ineffective on over half of viruses sampled by the CDC.
It turns out that many common herbs are not only antibacterial but also antiviral, and have minimal to no side effects. In the book Herbal Antibiotics, Stephen Harrod Buhner presents his top choices for cold and flu fighting herbs, including echinacea, wormwood root, balsam root, boneset, red root, licorice, sage, garlic and honey. (Honey is not an herb, but is often used in herbal medicine.) Complete dosing instructions and contraindications are in the text. I highly recommend the book, as it gives not only practical information on herbal use, but an overview of the history of antibiotics and how antibiotic resistance spreads. Technically, he includes both herbs and spices in his arsenal, as various plant parts are used.
An example of the easy to use recipes that Stephen provides, such as The Best Cold and Flu Tea.
Best Cold and Flu Tea Recipe
- 2 teaspoons sage
- juice of one lemon (or one teaspoon lemon balm herb)
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) honey
To prepare the tea, pour one cup boiling water over sage and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain out herbs, add remaining ingredients, and drink hot.
Best Cold Remedies – Grandma Was Right
One of my favorite remedies for cold and flu season is a big batch of chicken soup. Chicken contains an amino acid called cysteine. Cysteine can thin the mucus in your lungs and make it easier to expel. Proper soup often includes an assortment of herbs and spices, many of which have healing properties.
The Weston A Price Foundation website states:
Stock contains minerals in a form the body can absorb easily—not just calcium but also magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. It contains the broken down material from cartilage and tendons–stuff like chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain.
I include bay leaf in soups, which is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Parsley is rich in vitamins and minerals, and can act as a stomach soother. Sage is another herb that is popular with poultry, and is also anti-bacterial and anti-viral. Fresh sage is best when available because many of the beneficial compounds are concentrated in the oil. Celery, too, has a long history of medicinal use.
Counter Your Cold with Warming Spices
Cinnamon, nutmeg, rosemary and cloves are also warming spices that may boost your immune system.
Put some extra cinnamon or nutmeg in your eggnog. Be generous with the spices in your pumpkin pie or scones. Throw some extra sage in the stuffing. Make a rosemary vinaigrette for your salads. Experiment with the flavors. Regular use over time will help boost your immune system.
Another way to get in your herbs is with these easy homemade cough drop recipes. One uses chocolate and orange (vitamin C is also good for colds), and other uses a mix of cold fighting herbs.
Rule of thumb: Strongly scented and flavored herbs and spices come with strong oils that can add flavor, improve your health and often extend the life of your food.
Get Rid of Cold and Flu Germs on Surfaces with Copper and Herbs
Frequent hand washing is very important, but your sink may help keep you healthy in another way, too. Copper naturally kill germs – which makes it a great choice for handles and levers. A recent study in Europe demonstrates:
Under normal daily conditions the level of multi-resistant Staphylococci Aureus (MRSA) bacteria decreased by a third, and their resettlement on copper door handles and switches decreased considerably.
In our home, we have copper handles on all the cabinets. We also have a copper faucet in the kitchen and brass door handles (brass is typically 63% copper and 37% zinc). Not as much copper as in the study, but we're not coping with MRSA. If you don't have a big budget, swap out drawer pulls in your most heavily used areas. For instance, change out the main bathroom or the kitchen.
You can use herbs to make Thieves Vinegar to spray on surfaces as a natural germ killer.
Treat and Prevent Cold and Flu Symptoms with our Natural Cold and Flu Remedies series, including:
- Probiotics for Colds and Flu – Fewer Symptoms, Faster Recovery Time
- Knock Out Cold and Flu Germs with Essential Oils
- Stomach Flu Treatment – Why the BRAT diet may NOT be your best choice
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What are your best cold remedies? Leave a comment and let me know what works for you.
Originally published in 2011, updated in 2015 and 2016.