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Natural Remedies for Cold and Flu Symptoms

written by contributor Krissa Jeldy of More Than Mundane.

It’s that time of year. The common cold and flu are making their rounds. Of course, prevention is key, but in the case you do get sick, it’s helpful to have some natural home remedies to ease your symptoms.

Why Use Home Remedies?

Effectiveness. Many OTC medications simply mask the symptoms, while home remedies work to heal your body and at the same time provide relief from the uncomfortable symptoms.

Safety. Many OTC medications are not safe for children, and in fact, the FDA recommends that parents not give any cough and cold medicine to children under age 2.

Convenience. Many home remedies are things you are likely to have around your home already, which saves you from having to run to the store when you’re feeling under the weather.

Congestion

  • Eucalyptus Steam. Fill a sink or large bowl with steaming water and drop a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil in the water. Lean over the sink or bowl, covering your head with a towel and breathe in the steam. For young children, you can simply turn on a hot shower in a small bathroom and allow the room to fill with steam, then sit with them in the steamy room.
  • Homemade “Vapo” Rub. Add a drop or two of eucalyptus essential oil to 1-2 teaspoons of a carrier oil. Rub this mixture on your chest, bottoms of your feet, and even under your nose.
  • Humidifier. Use a humidifier at night to keep the air moist. You can also add some eucalyptus essential oil to some models, but check your manual first.
  • Stay Well Hydrated. Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water a day. Clear broths and soups are especially good too, as well as herbal teas. Avoid drinks with caffeine because they can dehydrate you.
  • Apply warm compresses to your sinuses if you’re having trouble breathing through your nose.
  • Elevate your head with a few extra pillows at night to help you breathe better throughout the night. For young children, roll some towels or place pillows under the head of the mattress to elevate that end of the bed.

Photo by boo_licious

Cough

  • Honey. Take a teaspoon of honey straight, or make some herbal tea and add honey. You can also add a squeeze of lemon to a spoonful of honey for some extra Vitamin C. My kids love getting honey when they have a cough or sore throat. Be sure not to give honey to children under one though.

Scratchy/Sore Throat

  • Salt Water Gargle. Dissolve a teaspoon of salt in warm water and gargle four times a day.
  • Garlic. Raw garlic is best if you can stomach it. I sometimes mix raw garlic into a spoonful of honey, which helps it go down easier and I get the benefits of both honey and garlic. If raw garlic is not an option, load up some soup with garlic and eat that.

Stuffy Nose

  • Try a Neti Pot or make your own salt water rinse. Mix 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in 8 ounces of warm water and use a bulb syringe to squirt the salt water mixture into one nostril at a time, while plugging the other nostril.
  • Use a menthol salve under your nose both to help you breathe easier, and to relieve irritated, raw skin. You can make your own salve by heating a cup of oil such as olive oil or coconut oil (or a mix,) and 1/4 cup beeswax in a double-boiler over low heat until the beeswax is melted. Then pour into containers and add 10-20 drops eucalyptus essential oil while it is still warm. Once the salve cools and thickens, if you want to adjust the thickness of the salve, simply heat it again and add more beeswax. You can also experiment with adding other essential oils, such as lavender.
  • Onions Beside the Bed. Cut up an onion and place it by your bed at night to relieve congestion, stuffy nose, and ease a sore throat.

Photo by David M. Goehring

Aches/Fever

A fever means your body is fighting infection, so as long as it doesn’t get too high, allow the fever to run its course while making sure to monitor your temperature closely.

  • Drink lots of fluids. To avoid dehydration, be sure to drink lots of water, clear broths and soups until the fever passes. This helps flush toxins out of your body as well.
  • Tepid Sponge Bath. Fill a sink or basin with lukewarm water, and use a washcloth to gently wipe over the body. (I have very unpleasant childhood memories of being awakened in the middle of the night to tepid sponge baths, but I’m thankful now that my parents were taking such good care of me!) When you have a fever, even tepid water will feel cold, so have someone without a fever help you get the temperature of the water right.
  • Garlic. Not only is garlic great for boosting your immune system, but it can also help fight a fever. Try a garlic poultice for kids if they aren’t willing to eat garlic straight. It is also helpful for congestion and coughs.
  • Allow your body to release heat. Although it can be tempting to bundle up when your body is chilled from a fever, try to just use a light weight blanket or something that will still allow heat to escape.

And of course, always remember to get lots of rest and sleep so your immune system can fight off the sickness.

What is your best tried and true home remedy?

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44 Comments

  1. Myrnie

    What an amazing list! Another way to use onions, garlic, or ginger is to macerate slices in a non-reactive container, like a jar. You can layer a large sliced onion with a cup of sugar, let it sit overnight, and drain off the juice- the juice will keep in the fridge, and is great at helping to break up mucus, and safe for children. It really is great at helping their coughs be more productive, and I’ve never met a child who minded their teaspoon of medicine! 🙂

    • Krissa

      That does sound like something kids wouldn’t mind taking…it can definitely be a challenge to get kids to eat garlic and onion. I’ll have to try this for my kids.

  2. Jeanette

    Great blog post!

    My remedy is a long, hot bath with my homemade bath salt of sea salt, mint and eucalyptus. Takes care of a stuffed nose, sinuses and that general yucky feeling. 🙂

    • Krissa

      That sounds wonderful! I think I’ll need to treat myself to one of those next time I get a cold.

  3. brie.

    thanks for these tips! my husband and i were just saying yesterday that we need to get stocked up for cold season…

  4. Katie

    For coughs in the under 1 crowd, our ped recommended corn syrup with a bit of lemon. It’s got the same sugary-coating effect that calms the throat without the honey. Yeah, corn syrup isn’t the best stuff to eat by the spoonful, but it’s safer than honey for the littles and much safer than cough syrup.

  5. Aimee @ Simple Bites

    A timely post for our household – thanks! The boys started sniveling on the weekend, so I’m feeling particularly susceptible. Also, as I’m pregnant, I can’t take any medication for colds. Bookmarked!

    • Krissa

      Great point about natural remedies being good for when you’re pregnant. I hope you don’t catch the boys colds!

      • Aimee @ Simple Bites

        Too late. I woke up totally sick. 🙁

        Question: do you know if eucalyptus essential oil is safe for pregnant women? I know many aromatherapy oils are to be avoided because they can trigger uterine contractions.

        • Krissa

          Aimee-Oh no! So sorry to hear you’re sick! From what I’ve read, eucalyptus essential oil is safe to use during pregnancy. Just dilute it when applying to skin, and don’t take internally.

  6. julia

    Elderberry syrup is something we’ve been trying lately. I think it has helped, and it’s something I can consume while pregnant.

  7. Rachel McGrath

    Started feeling the effects of a cold on Friday. My weekend was spent sipping honey and lemon, resting, taking hot baths, and eating as much garlic as possible!

  8. Brina

    All of these suggestions are great! In addition to some of these, we use elderberry syrup, but we make it at home now. Much more economical. I am also pregnant – due any day now, and I love the fact that I can take it while I am pregnant. I will post the recipe we use for our elderberry syrup, but you can eliminate some ingredients if you want just the basic syrup. My original syrup contained yarrow, but yarrow can possibly cause early contractions, so I just leave that ingredient out when I am pregnant.

    This has been such a life saver in our family of soon to be 8. With so many people in the house, I have been amazed at how fast we can beat sickness if we tackle it right away. I also have more information on why I chose the ingredients that I did, but I felt that I was already making this post too long. 🙂 There is a ton of information out there, though about each of these ingredients.

    Elderberry Syrup
    2 cups filtered water
    1/3 cup echinnacea
    ¼ cup yarrow
    ¼ cup rose hips
    ½ cup dried elderberries
    1 cinnamon stick
    1 tsp ground cloves (or 5-10 whole cloves – I just sprinkle some in)
    ¾ cup raw honey

    I put everything but the elderberries and honey in a pot and simmer (very low or not even quite simmer) with the lid on for ½ hour, let sit ½ hour. Then strain (with a fine strainer or use cheese cloth) and squeeze out as much as possible. Return liquid to 2 cups by adding more water. Then add elderberries and simmer ½ hour, let sit for ½ hour. Drain through a strainer and mash through strainer everything that you can. Return liquid to 2 cups again and add honey. It is important that you mix the honey in while the elderberry syrup is still warm. Otherwise it does not mix in well. Store in refrigerator.

    You can save the extra step and just do all the ingredients at once if you’d rather. I just feel like I can squeeze so much more out of the elderberries themselves if I do them by themselves at the end. The Echinacea and Yarrow can tend to be “hairy” and I don’t really want to mash that into the syrup.

    The cloves and cinnamon have other properties too, but they do a really good job at preserving the syrup so that it lasts longer in the fridge. The only time I found mold growing in my syrup was after a month and a half and I had not put the cloves and cinnamon in that batch. I have never found mold growing since then and sometimes, the syrup has been in my fridge for 2 months or longer.

    We use 1 Tbsp. 4 times a day for children and adults (6 years and older) if they are sick. We use 1 tsp. for children 1-3 and 1 1/2 tsp. for children 4-5 4 times a day if they are sick.

    For the ones who aren’t sick, but have been exposed to something, we just give them the proper dosage once or maybe twice a day depending on what is going around until we’re sure everyone in the house is well.

    Vitamin D (especially in the winter) also is a great help in boosting the immune system.

    • Krissa

      We use elderberry syrup too, but I’ve never added echinacea, yarrow, or rose hips. I think I might try adding echinacea to my next batch…great idea!

    • Michele

      Hi Brina,
      Where can I purchase echinacea, yarrow, rose hip, and elderberries? Are they expensive? I cannot wait to make your elderberry syrup.

      • Krissa

        I get mine through Mountain Rose Herbs online.

        • Michele

          Thank you. I will check out their site

    • Michele

      Thanks for all the information. I’ve never heard of some of these ingredients. Can you tell me if I need to get the flower, powder, or oil forms for these ingredients : yarrow, rose hip and echinacea ? Can I add fresh ginger to your recipe? I’m so excited to make this syrup for the winter. I have a 1 1/2 year old son and need to get ready for cold and flu season. I don’t want to give him man made medicine. I would rather give him natures medicine. Have you thought about making a how-to video on preparing your elderberry syrup and posting it on YouTube? I really think you should 🙂

      • Brina

        I buy the herb cut and sifted. So, on herbalcom.com’s website, I buy Echinacea purp. herb c/s; rosehips c/s; and yarrow flower c/s. I did make the mistake of buying the whole rose hip before. It is doable, but it requires you to break up the rose hip then. I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t add fresh ginger to it either. Great idea!

        I’m excited for you that you are starting on this journey with your son now. I didn’t start with all of this until my 5th child was 1. So my older kids got plenty of man-made medicine. It is AMAZING to me the difference in their immune systems after switching.

        Sorry – not techy enough to even know how to post a Youtube video. 🙂 Plus, just had baby #7 with a lot of complications. Recovering from a 4th surgery in 2 1/2 months. So not something I want to tackle trying to figure out either. 🙂 But God has been good through the whole process.

        So we don’t risk hijacking this comment section, please feel free to email me directly with any questions too. I can also send you a Word file that has the recipe plus info on each herb I use and why I use it. I don’t know if they will let my email address on here, but it is orcuttranch@aol.com. Although I hope everything I’ve posted has been helpful for this post. 🙂

        Brina

        • Michele

          Omg. Yes, everything you’ve posted has been so helpful. I understand. You have a lot on your plate right now. I hope your baby makes a full recovery. I will keep you and your family in my prayers. Wow. That would be awesome. Thank you so much. I’m going to shoot you an email now.

  9. anjuli

    I loved this post! thanks for all the wonderful ideas! i wasn’t feeling well and tried some fresh garlic today! can’t wait to read more from you in the future!

  10. Kara

    Very helpful! My son just came down with a cough at night and while I had been doing the honey I hadn’t thought of a way to keep his head elevated at night since he doesn’t stick to his pillow, using the towels under the mattress is a great idea! Looks like I also need to get some eucalyptus oil since it is useful in so many things. Any suggestions on where to get that?

  11. Amanda S.

    Great suggestions! I’d forgotten about some of these and for the first time in at least a year I woke up with a head cold yesterday. The eucalyptus works so well for stuffy sinuses!

    My personal tried and true is pressed apple juice (ie, soft cider) simmered with fresh ginger, a few cloves and a bit of cinnamon stick. Drink hot or cold. Another tried and true for me is elderflower syrup.

    • Krissa

      That apple juice sounds great and something that kids would enjoy too. Thanks for sharing!

    • Nicole

      Oh! I bet my kids would love your apple juice remedy!

  12. Jennifer

    If there’s something happening in my throat, I spray some straight white vinegar in there and it usually takes care of the problem. You could probably use ACV too. Doing this with any kind of vinegar is nasty…but it works.

    • Nicole

      Yep, I use “shots” of Apple Cider Vinegar and although it is disgusting, I think it is really effective!

  13. Rebecca

    I’m so happy you posted this! My one year old son has been sick off and on for the past 5 weeks. I’m going to try some of these remedies and hope he gets better.

  14. Tony Scott

    Thanks for this helpful post! This one’s perfect during this time of the year, when we are more prone to go down with cold or flu. The best thing about this is that most of these remedies are readily available at home.

  15. Nikki

    If you have a really really heavy chest cold, your chest feels really tight and it hurts to cough, try thyme. A sprig of thyme brewed in a pot then drunk eases the tight chest.

    Most cough sweets in the uk have a small amount of thymol in it, so it makes sense.

    Doesn’t taste very nice, but it does the trick.

  16. Brie

    Tangerines are also great for a cough from mucus. They cut the mucus very quickly plus you get a vitamin C boost. Also if you have a cold, you shouldn’t eat raw, cold foods (no salads, raw veggies). Everything should be cooked and warm. Sweet potatoes are also very good for colds and mucus.

  17. Leigh

    My doctor said throw out the humidifier because it harbors mold and actually doesn’t really help. What do you think?

    • Krissa

      I think that if you keep it sanitized and cleaned regularly it should be fine. Personally, I’ve found that when I use it for my kids, it really cuts down on their coughing at night, but if you don’t notice much of a difference and the maintenance is too much of a pain, you could skip it. I’ve just found it to me really effective and haven’t had to deal with mold, so it works for me!

  18. britt

    elderberry juice is great for fighting cold and flu. I also up the dosage of vit c and fluid intake as well as warm tea with organic home-raised honey. The little ones enjoy the sweet tea and the herbs help sooth them. Also when the first signs of a cold starts or when I feel under the weather, I soak in a warm bath of epsom salt. The magnesium in it helps soothe achey muscles and helps ease tension away.

  19. Jhell@How To Get Rid Of A Cold

    Common cold can also be an indication of a serious illness. If you are feeling nausea, vomiting, high fever, and recurring coughing, make sure you get medical attention on how to get rid of a cold at once.

  20. Jhell Smith

    Onions Beside the Bed. Cut up an onion and place it by your bed at night to relieve congestion, stuffy nose, and ease a sore throat.

  21. sripriya saraboje

    your tips are really great… thank to u all.. my child is having heavy cold now.. and i searched d tips for recovery..i think this would help me in curing my child.. thank u again…

  22. Daniel

    Eucalyptus steam really does wonders. I always use this simple home remedy when I get ill. There are also many nose sprays containing eucalyptus that help as well.

  23. cathy e

    We all need natural remedies for colds and flu especially during cold weather. I am a firm believer in healing the body naturally using the bodies own natural defenses.
    And garlic is good for so many things so everyone should it eat daily, it cleans the blood and fights bacteria as good as any medication in my opinion. Doctors are too fast to push pharmacy meds on people when they should be taught to train their patients to look at natural remedies that help the body heal itself. great post!

  24. Charles Cook

    These natural remedies for cold and flu are the best thing given for people who suffers it. I hope you can share topic regarding natural pain relief, thanks and keep this blog helpful!

  25. david son

    oh nice .hot bath with my homemade bath salt of sea salt It really is great at helping their coughs be more productive, and I’ve never met a child who minded their teaspoon of medicine!

  26. david son

    wow! Great ,Actually i love it very much.I think herbal is best

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