For many people, a case of the sniffles during the winter is inevitable, something that’s just accepted as another annual occurrence that coincides with Thanksgiving and Christmas. You know the deal: runny nose, congestion, and the dreaded sore throat. Cue the Nyquil… or not?
Over the past few years, we’ve tried to take a more holistic approach to our health, and while I will still admit to taking an occasional OTC decongestant for the worst cases, the drugstore is usually the last option. So before automatically turning to a bag of lozenges or antibiotics (which do absolutely nothing by the way, considering that both cold and flu are viruses), take a look at some of these natural cold remedies.
Natural Cold Remedies (Many of Which You Probably Already Have!)
One of my current favorites is elderberry, a shrub that grows wild throughout much of North America, and not just for sore throats, but for fighting off a cold before it can take hold. Numerous studies have touted elderberry as an immunostimulant and have found that it can help reduce the severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms. The key medicinal constituents are in the ripe berries; submerge a cup of berries in vodka for a month to make a potent tincture. When you start to feel under the weather, take a spoonful of the tincture two or three times a day until you feel better. For those concerned about the alcohol content, stir the tincture into a cup of boiling water – exposed to the heat, most of the alcohol will evaporate.
Although I didn’t perform any double-blind studies or have any control groups, I can say with some certainty that I noticed a difference last year on more than one occasion. Through years of experience, I can tell when my body is about to develop a full-blown cold, and when I used the elderberry, the initial symptoms dissipated and I felt fine within a day or two, with no progression.
Honey is another go-to when throat irritation strikes. A tablespoon dissolved in a cup of hot water (or taken straight up) will soothe the burning and stop the itching of the worst sore throats. Whenever my throat feels hoarse or scratchy, or I have a persistent dry cough, raw honey is usually what I turn to first. You will need to keep drinking it periodically to keep things feeling nice, so we often have a mug (or two) of honey-lemon tea floating around when a bug hits the household.
A remedy that may seem counterintuitive is cayenne pepper, but it’s one that works to clear up a number of symptoms. The component that causes the heat also reduces inflammation and helps relieve pain. When my cold is at its worst, I often make a concoction of hot water, ground cayenne, apple cider vinegar, and honey. It sounds crazy, but it will clear your sinuses, relax your throat, and bring tears to your eyes all at the same time. This is one that I chug rather than sip.
A good homemade bone broth is also a valuable tool to have on hand. Your grandma knew what she was talking about when she recommended chicken soup – she just didn’t mean the fake, sodium-laden Campbell’s variety. Alternating mugs of elderberry tea and bone broth throughout the day should put a quick stop to your cold.
If you grow herbs for the kitchen, you may also find a helper there. While most people probably associate sage with turkey stuffing and winter squash, it is actually a powerful soothing herb in its own right. Steep a few leaves (fresh or dried) in a cup of boiling water with a bit of honey to make a comforting tea. Tastes like Thanksgiving, but it gets the job done.
A couple additional, though less common, options are licorice and marshmallow. Sadly, they have nothing to do with Twizzlers or s’mores, but are instead the roots of the actual plants (which gave rise to licorice and marshmallow candies – fun fact). Both licorice and marshmallow roots contain elements that are great for dry, irritated throats. Because they’re roots, you’ll get more out of them if you let them steep in hot water (together or separately) for a little longer than a normal tea, say 30-60 minutes. These are both easy to grow as well and have a place in my garden.
Slippery elm was also a common treatment back in the days before CVS. A tea made with the inner bark does a great job of soothing burning throats. If you happen to have a slippery elm tree in your yard, go ahead and pick a branch and give it a try. Although it’s not as common as it once was, you can still find slippery elm bark from a few good sources. Common mullein is a plant with a tall stalk of yellow flowers that has similar properties to slippery elm and can be used in much the same way.
Finally, remember to get some sleep! I can see a distinct correlation between illness and the amount of rest I’m getting at the time, so don’t skimp on that!
Colds stink, when you can smell anything at all. But rather than popping pills or spraying who knows what into your mouth, give one or two (or more) of these cold remedies a try the next time you’re afflicted.