For daily wit & wisdom, sign up for the Almanac newsletter.
Got a runny or stuffy nose? Scratchy throat? Suspect you may be coming down with that bug that’s going around? Here are 5 tried-and-true home remedies to stave off a winter cold or cough. And does chicken soup really work? Let’s take action!
5 Tried-and-True Home Remedies:
Cold symptoms are usually mild, but also very annoying and uncomfortable. As soon as you think you’re getting a cold, take steps to relieve discomfort and get better.
Ease the pain of a sore throat. Cheap and effective, a warm saltwater gargle (1/2 teaspoon salt to 1 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 instead. See 5 natural sore throat remedies.
Relieve congestion. Cheap, effective, and safe, a saltwater nasal rinse is an ancient remedy for treating sinus problems, nasal congestion, or post-nasal drip. You may find the practice a bit challenging at first, but give it a try. (Always be sure to use a sterilized container for any liquid destined for the nose!)
Calm a cough. Although coughing is the body’s way to clear mucus from the airways, you may want help in soothing a severe cough, and especially a nighttime one. For children older than 1 year and adults, research has suggested that a spoonful of honey (with or without lemon juice) may work as well as some over-the-counter cough medicines, without any of the undesirable side effects. Researchers suggest that darker honey may be better. See more cough remedies.
Quiet a digestive upset. Dried or fresh gingerroot in tea or capsules (or even flat ginger ale) helps to quell nausea as well as any over-the-counter medicine does. (Don’t use ginger if you take blood-thinning drugs, however.) Peppermint and chamomile have been used for centuries to calm queasy stomachs and quiet gurgling guts. I like to grate a little fresh ginger 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 to 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. Subsequent research confirmed that almost any recipe for chicken soup should confer the same benefits. But current thinking suggests that you may want to pass up canned soups and stick with homemade to reap the most benefits.
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—plants all known to contain a host of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibiotic compounds.
Make Your Own “Fire Cider”
I learned about this potent potion from a friend. Made from apple cider vinegar and a selection of powerful ingredients—like garlic and horseradish—it’s 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.