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How to Boost Your Immune System Naturally to Stay Healthy | Almanac.com

3 Tried-and-True Home Remedies for Colds and Flu

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Audrey Barron
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How to Boost Your Immune System Naturally

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What do garlic and honey, ginger, and elderberries have in common? They are natural, at-hand herbal ingredients that people used for centuries for cold and flu relief. See three age-old, tried and true home remedies to sick your sick to the curb. 

Each year, as winter approaches and we turn up the heat in the house, we tend to see a spike in sickness happening around us. The children start to notice school friends going home sick. You might notice coworkers or family members talking about “the bug” that swept through their home. I know that we have certainly experienced a bit of it on our house this year.  

Why Cold and Flu Season Happens

This winter season of cold and flu happens for many reasons. The transition from warm to cool can make our body more susceptible to viruses. As the weather shifts, it can cause a bit of stress on our system. The new pollens in the outdoor air—and even the change to more drying indoor air as we have the heat on—can make us more vulnerable to cold and flu. Simply being more dry can actually make us more susceptible to illness.  A well-hydrated person has more defenses against the seasonal bug. You also have the extra holiday stress that can often creep up from the travel, holiday gatherings, and—for many of us—a much longer to-do list. I love sending out my holiday cards, but every year I feel that extra pressure of the looming stack of cards to sign, address, and send out.

What does sending holiday cards and stress have to do with cold and flu, you might ask? Even seemingly small things like sending out cards or finding the perfect gift can add that extra layer of anxiety. Stress directly affects the way our immune system functions by essentially overdosing the system on cortisol and adrenaline. When our system is chronically in stress response, this state wears down the body and the ability to fight infection.    

How to Stay Well

As you might have guessed, one of the main keys to success in staying well at this time of year is preparation. When we are prepared with the remedies that we need, we can quickly start battling that tickle in the throat or the drippy nose. In fact, you can start taking certain types of herbs and remedies as a preventative measure to support the body in defending against a cold or flu before you even know that you’ve been exposed. So, along with having the herbs that you need on hand, being prepared by keeping these self-care habits in place is a great idea. I love my evening baths and a little strum on the guitar before bed.


Garlic, ginger, honey, lemon, and cinnamon. The ingredients of a natural apothecary.

3 Remedies to Boost Your Immune System

Now, let’s take a look at three easy-to-find and effective herbal remedies. I recommend that you stock a small but mighty “home apothecary.”  You may have some of these ingredients at home; others are easily found at a local grocery store or natural foods market.

1. Ginger Tea

Ah, the warming scent and flavor of ginger! It’s a lovely spiced warm drink to keep in your repertoire. For this tea, it’s best to use fresh ginger root. I also like to make a variation with both fresh ginger and turmeric roots. (If you can’t find fresh turmeric root, turmeric powder can work as well.)

  1. In a teapot that holds 2 cups of water, add one knob of ginger (about the size of your thumb, or a 1-inch piece). Some folks like to cut this into thin slices for more ginger flavor. Try it both ways to see which way works best for you.
  2. Optional variation: Add turmeric root (a ½-inch piece cut into slices or ½ tablespoon of powder)
  3. Now, pour over boiling water and let sit for about 10 minutes.  
  4. Pour yourself a cup and, when it’s cool enough to sip, add a squeeze of lemon and a spoonful of raw local honey.  
  5. Sip and feel the warmth of the ginger warm your body from the inside out.  

Why ginger? Ginger is known not only to help us warm up our body and soothe a tummy ache but also to actually protect us from viruses. Along with virus protection, ginger aids us in protecting against harmful bacteria and fungal infections, keeping inflammation down in the body, supporting the respiratory system and the heart—and the list goes on.  

The heat of the ginger can also help to loosen up mucus, which helps to move the virus out of the body. A hot cup of ginger tea can bring such comfort. There are not many herbs out there that warm the body like ginger.

If you add turmeric, the tea will have a more spicy flavor, plus turmeric has proven anti-inflammatory benefits. See 5 spices that fight colds and flu.

2. Elderberry Syrup

A trendy remedy, elderberry actually goes back centuries in human history, especially in the Celtic traditions. The elderberry is a dark purple berry from the elder tree, which itself carries with it much myth and story, perhaps because of its potency in helping humans to stay well. Both its flowers and its berries are known to provide important medicine.  

Elderberry syrup is made by using its berries and often additional herbs—such as ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and clove—to deliver this medicine in a sweet liquid form. Look for a good-quality elderberry syrup at your local health food store, farmers’ market or favorite online herb shop. One of my favorite highly potent elderberry syrups can be found here.

Or, make your own syrup! See the Almanac’s elderberry syrup recipe.

You can start taking a spoonful of elderberry syrup every day as you head into cold and flu season to prevent the cold or flu from taking hold. Elderberry syrup can also make a delicious and quick sweet drink. Simply put a tablespoon or so in with water, ice, and lemon.  

Why elderberry?  Along with its long history of use by humans to strengthen the immune system, elderberry is known to fight viruses, including the flu. It also seems to reduce flu symptoms when taken within 48 hours of the first signs. Elderberry is an important herb for treating respiratory as well as viral infections. 

3. Garlic and Honey Remedy

This is my #1 remedy for cold and flu due to its reliable effectiveness. We chop one clove of garlic and allow to sit for about 10 minutes to activate enzymes that in turn activate additional immune-supporting compounds. Then place the garlic on a spoon with raw local honey. Swallow, usually with a bit of water. That’s it! It’s best not to chew but to swallow straight down.  

Why garlic and honey? Garlic, just like elderberry and ginger, has long been used by humans to take care of the body and prevent illness. Cold and flu being on this list, the antivirus, antibacterial ,and antifungal properties of the garlic do an excellent job of both preventing and treating cold and flu. Learn more about garlic’s healing powers.

The honey, while masking the strong garlic flavor, also soothes the throat and tummy. Honey also has antibacterial and antiviral properties to aid your body’s defenses. Learn more about honey’s health benefits.

When you put the garlic and honey together, you have a truly powerful remedy. What a remarkable thing that two common foods put together can offer up such a powerful aid. Reason #134 why I love working with herbs!

Having these simple remedies on hand will help to prepare you for those times when you can feel a sickness creeping in—or, even better, to enable you to take proactive steps if you want to prevent sickness altogether. They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Prevention gifts us time and quality of life. Waiting to get sick can set us back in so many ways.

Give yourself the gift of preparation this year. Stock your cold and flu apothecary with a few ingredients—garlic, honey, ginger, turmeric, and perhaps even elderberry syrup—and have these remedies ready in your cabinet. Remember that they work only if you use them!

Learn more natural ways to prevent colds and flu.

–Author Audrey Barron is an herbalist, writer and herb Farmer in Indianapolis, Indiana. Audrey is also known for being the Owner of Ezra’s Enlightened Cafe in Indianapolis (2014 to 2022). She now runs her online program, Medicine Woman, and offers in-person workshops to help humans connect to the Earth and learn how to grow and use herbal medicines in daily life. Her farm, Wild Moon Acres, offers locally grown medicinal herbs, elderberry trees, workshops, tours and more.

2023 Almanac Club