My choice for the best cold remedies are those that are easy to use and have stood the test of time. We'll share how to use spices and herbs for colds and flu, plus a germ fighter you may not know.
I've made a habit of adding these herbs and spices into our meals and herbal teas. If you enjoy spicy food, fall and winter are the perfect time to indulge. If you like things on the milder side, a number of mellow seasonings also have medicinal benefits.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
This are not “quick fixes”, but they may help shorten the length of a cold or flu, and offer relief from symptoms.
Cold and Flu Viruses Can Be Tough to Beat
Colds and flu are caused by viruses, not bacteria. This means antibiotics are useless as a remedy for colds and flu.
There are now anti-viral medications, but in a recent study, they only reduced average flu symptom length from 7 days to 6, 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.
The flu shot may not help, either. Viruses mutate quickly. In a given year, the flu vaccine may be ineffective on over half of viruses sampled by the CDC.
Herbs for Colds
It turns out that many common herbs are not only antibacterial but also antiviral, so you can treat a cold with minimal or no side effects.
In the book Herbal Antibiotics, Stephen Harrod Buhner presents his top choices for cold and flu fighting herbs, including:
Honey is not an herb, but is often used in herbal medicine. (See “Honey as Medicine” for more information.)
Elderberry is another personal favorite, and studies have shown it's effectiveness against influenza. You can learn how to make elderberry syrup from fresh or dried elderberries here.
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.
Here's an example of the easy to use recipes that Stephen provides. “The Best Cold and Flu Tea” treats common symptoms of a cold. It can help open up a stuffy nose and soothe a sore throat.
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 hot water over sage and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain out herbs, add remaining ingredients, and drink hot.
Grandma Was Right About Chicken Soup
Studies show that grandma was right when she said that chicken soup was one of the best cold remedies.
Chicken contains an amino acid called cysteine. Cysteine can thin the mucus in your lungs and loosen congestion. Good soup often includes an assortment of herbs and spices, many of which have healing properties.
A study at the University of Nebraska found:
Chicken soup may contain a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity. A mild anti-inflammatory effect could be one mechanism by which the soup could result in the mitigation of symptomatic upper respiratory tract infectionsChicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis in Vitro (CHEST 2000; 118:1150 –1157)
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. Onions and garlic contain sulfur compounds, which are wonderful antivirals. Get our basic broth recipe here.
Sage is another herb that is popular with poultry, and is also anti-bacterial and anti-viral. 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.
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
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 study in Asklepios Clinic, in Hamburg, Germany demonstrates:
During the trial, two hospital wards were equipped with the door handles, door plates and light switches and checked over a period of several months in the summer of 2008 and winter 2008/2009. The adjacent areas kept their usual aluminium, stainless steel or plastic handles and switches.
Under normal daily conditions the level of multi-resistant Staphylococci Aureus (MRSA) bacteria (in the test wards) decreased by a third, and their resettlement on copper door handles and switches decreased considerably.
On wards equipped with copper handles a lowered infection rate in patients was also observed.Copper fittings beat bacteria
The study “Copper Alloy Touch Surfaces in Healthcare Facilities: An Effective Solution to Prevent Bacterial Spreading” found similar results.
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.
More Home Remedies for Cold and Flu Season
Treat and Prevent Cold and Flu Symptoms with our Natural Cold and Flu Remedies series, including:
- 5 Reasons to Use Probiotics for Colds and Flu
- Knock Out Cold and Flu Germs with Essential Oils
- Stomach Flu Treatment – Why the BRAT diet may NOT be your best choice
This post is for general information and is not intended to replace medical advice from a healthcare provider. Please see a trained healthcare practitioner if symptoms are severe or persistant.
What are your best cold remedies? Leave a comment and let me know what works for you.
Originally published in 2011, last updated in 2019.