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Best Cold Remedies – Herbs, Spices, and Something You Might Not Expect

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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.

Black text on yellow background "Best Cold Remedies - Herbs and Spices", surrounded by cold fighting herbs and spices

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.

herbs for colds - cayenne, licorice root and bay leaves

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

Ingredients

  • 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.

pot of chicken soup with text at top "Is chicken soup really good for colds?"

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 infections

Chicken 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.

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.

Copper kitchen faucet with text "Learn How Copper Can Help Prevent Illness"

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.

copper drawer pull

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:

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.

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17 Comments

  1. A tea of white clover, ginger, mint, chamomile, and honey will kill 90% of the cold within 24 hours. White clover is all over the place where I live, and I have used it to kill colds, aid in flus and bronchitis and pneumonia symptoms, and have even given it to a couple of COPD/emphysema patients with noted relief of their symptoms for nearly 8 hours.

    Do some research on white clover – it is a wild edible, can be used as a flour additive to baked goods (offers a vanilla sort of flavor to the baked goodies), can be eaten raw or cooked, and is a very potent medicinal herb when used to treat respiratory infections and illnesses. Made into a salve, it also has topical uses for things like psoriasis. I have eaten and used this particular plant for years now, and my daughter is also learning as well.

    Do some research on white clover; I think you’ll be very surprised at what you find. In the meantime, here’s what I’d suggest for a cold-killing medicine :

    1. Fill half of a metal tea ball with either fresh or dried clover leaves and-or flowers.
    2. Warm up water to where it’s just starting to boil, then drop the tea ball into the water. Add mint, chamomile, and ginger tea bags.
    3. COVER the cup, and let it steep for about 10 minutes. (If you don’t like a very strong mint flavor, then pull the mint bag out of the cup after 5minutes, and re-cover).
    4. When done steeping, pull all tea bags out (making sure to squeeze into the water), and discard. Remove the clover tea ball. Add honey to taste, and drink.

    *NOTE* If you are susceptible to the sedative qualities of chamomile, then either do NOT add the chamomile, or only take the mixture in the evening, before bed.

    When I give this tea to people, I generally give it to them in the late afternoon or early evening, and tell them to ‘sleep on it.’ By the next day, most symptoms are either greatly reduced, or gone. Each part of the tea serves a medicinal purpose, so you really do need all of the parts. You CAN leave parts out, but remember that in doing so, you are also leaving out the medicine.

    This is how the various parts of the tea break down medicinally :

    Clover – fights respiratory illness
    Honey – antibacterial (yes I know colds/flus are viral, but often secondary infections are starting to set in if you’ve been sick for a week!!); this also helps to coat a throat that’s sore and raw from coughing and hacking one’s head off
    Ginger – works very well on the GI system, and also is wonderful at settling upset stomachs caused by constant coughing and mucus drainage/post-nasal drips.
    Mint – painkiller, and if you breathe the vapors in as you drink, it also helps open up the sinus passages to relieve some of the stuffy feeling.
    Chamomile – light sedative, works on the central nervous system, as a result it helps reduce the coughing reflex so common to colds and flus and other respiratory illnesses and conditions.

    A word of caution :
    If you are female, and on your menstrual cycle at the time, I would recommend leaving the ginger OUT of the tea if you have a tendency to suffer from cramping during your period. The ginger can sometimes exacerbate the cramping because of the way in which it works on the GI system. My daughter cannot handle ginger in any form while cycling for this very reason.

    I hope this helps someone. =)

    1. It’s 5 years later, but the advice you both shared are exactly what I needed. Thank you Laurie and Seliah!!! Love your videos too Laurie, but your blog is exactly what I was looking for when it comes to medicinal herbs!!! Thank you so much for choosing to share!

      1. I thank you for these home remedies , I believe they will be a great help with my asthma and this pandemic going on

  2. copper– then I wonder, would jingling a few old copper pennies in your pockets during the day kill some germs too?

  3. Hi there, I just wanted to say I love your blog!!! so many great tips.
    One thing I wanted to know is if you are familar with CHAGA ?
    Its the number 1 antioxidant in the world, it has healing properties aswell as boosts your imune system, you find it on birch trees only then dry it and either make tea or a double extract by soaking the outside (black part) in a high alcohol for a couple months, as the outside only disolves in alcohol while the inside is only soluble in hot water (tea) mix together and you have a double extract 🙂 It has even been proven to fight cancer cells and many, many other diseases, its been used in Asia and siberia for centuries, and now even some doctors are recomending it to patients instead of chemotherapy. I have now been drinking the tea everday for close to a year and a shot of the extract every so often (winter) and havent been sick since and I have always sufferd from colds and flu’s in the fall as I dont got the best imune system but that has changed now. I add some honey or lemon or both and it makes a very nice tea much like a breakfast tea.
    I was turned onto Chaga from my employer who has been drinking it for 30 years and hasnt rememberd when he last had any bad sickness, and we are wildlife viewing guides that are out in all weather conditions in central British Columbia.

    Again thanks for all your tips and advice, I look forward to your future posts

    1. I’ve read about it but haven’t worked with it, and figured it would be harder to find than the herbs and spices listed in the post. Thanks for sharing your experience. Always more to learn!

      1. If it is made from birch bark does it then have aspirin-like, salicylic acid, compounds? This would possibly produce anti-inflammatory and blood thinning effects? Just wondering.

  4. I have both of Stephen Harrod Buhner’s books. (Herbal Antibiotics and Herbal Antivirals) HIGHLY recommend them!!! The Antibiotic book had two chapters (Ch. 8 : A Handbook of Herbal Medicine Making and Ch. 9: An Herbal Formulary) that made price of the book worth these two chapters alone!!! And the bibliographies, both book and medical journal are awesome! He goes more into detail about medical journals (how to access/read) in the Antiviral book. I’d take these books with me to the doctor to show him WHY I need that culture done. This author also has a sense of humor and isn’t afraid to use it!!! I got mine through Mother Earth News, but I’m sure that Amazon is another good source. These books have a “forever place” on my Keeper Shelf!!! And have started hunting for some of the books from his bibliographies as well.

    1. I have the original Herbal Antibiotics and the second edition (which is much more comprehensive), as well as Herbal Antivirals, The Lost Language of Plants and a couple more of his books. The volume of knowledge he has accumulated and shared over the years is amazing.

  5. Winter is the season that affects most our health. To keep healthy, I try to drink as many hot liquids as possible. I also try gargling every time I get a sore throat. It does wonders. Chicken soup and warming spices are also of great help. Wonderfully written article!

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