Feeling tired and achy? Scratchy throat? Queasy stomach? Suspect you may be coming down with that bug that’s going around?
A few tried-and-true home remedies:
- Ease the pain of a sore throat. Cheap and effective, a warm saltwater gargle (1/2 teaspoon salt to a cup of warm water) relieves a sore throat as well as anything. Astonishingly, Japanese researchers found that people who gargled with plain water three times a day during cold and flu season developed 40 percent fewer upper respiratory infections than those who didn’t or those who gargled with an iodine mouthwash.
- Relieve congestion. Cheap, effective, and safe, a saltwater nasal rinse is an ancient remedy for treating sinus problems, nasal congestion, or postnasal drip. You may find the practice a bit challenging at first, but give it a try.
- Calm a cough. Although coughing is the body’s way to clear mucus from the airways, you may want help soothing a severe cough, especially nighttime cough. For children older than a year and adults, research has confirmed that a spoonful of honey (with or without lemon juice) works better than over-the-counter cough medicines, without any of the undesirable side effects. Researchers suggest that darker honey may be better.
- Quiet a digestive upset. Dried or fresh ginger root in tea or capsules (or even flat ginger ale) helps quell nausea as well as any over-the-counter medicine. (Don't use ginger if you take blood-thinning drugs.) Peppermint and chamomile have been used for centuries to calm queasy stomachs and quiet gurgling guts. I like to grate a little fresh ginger root into a pot of peppermint/chamomile tea, add a touch of ground cinnamon, and sip it warm or cold. This quartet of tasty herbs in tea soothes the stomach, tastes good, and helps keep you hydrated.
- Soothe aches and pains. My own favorite remedy for the aches and chills of winter infections: a long soak in a hot bath, followed immediately by a long nap. The hot water causes sweating, so to replace the fluid you've lost, sip a pot of hot ginger tea while you soak—both to replace lost fluid, and to take advantage of the known anti-inflammatory and antibiotic compounds in the ginger.
About that chicken soup: Yes! Stock up!
Generations of grandmas in cultures around the world have relied on chicken soup to treat the congestion, fever, aches and chills of respiratory infections.
University of Nebraska physician and medical researcher Stephen Rennard took his wife’s family recipe into the lab and discovered that chicken soup did indeed have the power to reduce inflammation and congestion in the respiratory tract. (Here’s the recipe and a video of the preparation of the robust soup Rennard tested. Later research confirmed that most any recipe for chicken soup should confer the same benefits. But current research suggests you may want to pass up canned soups and stick with homemade.)
Natural health advocates Dr. Andrew Weil and ethnobotanist James Duke recommend studding your soup with plenty of chopped garlic, onions, leeks, peppers (especially hot peppers), parsley, chopped basil, rosemary, black pepper and ginger—herbs and vegetables all known to contain a host of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibiotic compounds.
I learned about this potent potion from a friend the day after I'd published this post. I'm making some today. It seems amazingly versatile: I can take it as an immune-boosting tonic or congestion-fighter, use it to flavor winter soups, and apply it topically as a liniment for aching joints and muscles.
One final word
If you (or a sick family member you're caring for) don't get well within a few days on home remedies, or if your symptoms worsen, call your doctor.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.