Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Natural remedies for the cold and flu

Someone recently asked for how I treat the usual cold/flu that goes around this time of year. Below are some of the things that have worked for us.

  • Stay away from sugar and refined carbs: This may seem obvious, but germs will thrive if you feed them simple sugars.
  • Eat healing foods: Fresh citrus in the form of lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit provides lots of vitamin C. Garlic is a "miracle cure" for most infections. Ginger reduces fever, and calms nauseous stomachs. Cayenne pepper "turns up the heat" on the germs that are causing the illness. Try to think of fresh foods that combine some of these ingredients, such as guacamole made with fresh garlic, a bit of lime juice, and cayenne pepper. 
  • Soup made from scratch: Not just chicken soup, although that is always a great option. The warm, salty broth is both soothing to the throat, and gentle on upset stomachs. 
  • Garlic/ginger lemonade: In a blender or food processor, mix a couple of cloves of garlic, or a 1-inch piece of ginger, with half of a peeled lemon, about a quarter cup of honey, and a half cup of water. Blend until smooth. Pretty strong stuff, but very effective.
  • Honey: Local, raw honey can both soothe sore throats, as well as help fight the illness. Raw honey is usually crystallized, and can be a bit hard to find. Beekeepers often sell their honey at local farmer's markets or through craigslist.
  • Cough syrup: I make a very simple, yet highly effective cough syrup by slicing a large onion, and heating it in a little pot with an equal amount (by volume) of honey over the lowest heat on my stove. The syrup is ready after a couple of hours, but becomes more potent the longer it simmers. Usually, I give a tablespoon every hour or two. Surprisingly, this syrup is actually quite tasty, and our kids have never complained about taking it. After a few hours on the stove, I refrigerate the syrup to keep it from spoiling, and use it over the next couple of days, if necessary. It usually works very quickly.
  • Vick's vapor rub: I love using this at night for coughs that are making it impossible to sleep. I rub it on the chest and back, and then bundle my "patient" under warm covers to enhance its effectiveness. If you are using it on a child, be sure to explain to him/her that they should not touch the ointment, as they may otherwise accidentally rub it on their face or eyes. 
  • Ricola cough drops: While sugars are really something to be avoided, these particular cough drops are very effective at quieting coughs and soothing throats.
  • Elderberry Zinc lozenges: These are pretty tasty, and very effective. During cold season, our health food store regularly sells out of them, so others must find them helpful, too. 
  • Super Lysine Plus Extract: Directions are given on the bottle. A very potent immune booster, I consider this one of the "big guns" of my natural medicine cabinet, and use it only for more severe illnesses, such as the flu, a sinus infection, strep throat, etc. The extract also contains other highly effective supplements, such as echinacea, goldenseal, and propolis.
  • Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE): Another highly potent natural supplement. Use as directed on the bottle, or research suggested treatment online.
  • Garlic Mullein oil: A great remedy for ear infections! There are several brands on the market, but my favorite is the one made by Herb Pharm. Directions are given on the bottle.

Remember, I am not a medical professional. Educate yourself about any treatments you read about online, or are suggested by your physician. None of the above mentioned remedies are appropriate for infants and babies.

Personally, when our kids get a cold or flu, I observe and treat them at home for about 24 to 48 hours. If they are not significantly improving by that point, I take them to the doctor to make sure they dont't have something more serious than a bad cold or flu. Thankfully, none of our children has ever had anything more serious than that, but I was still glad to have taken them in the couple of times that these remedies didn't heal them right away.


  1. Oh, Zsuzsanna, an important tip that I HIGHLY recommend all parents do to their kids if the have what seems to be the flu:

    Ask your child to put their chin to their chest. If they cannot, they may have bacterial meningitis, which sadly, a woman's (who I know) son had, and he died of it :(

    If in the case your child cannot put his/her chin to his/her chest, rush them to a hospital.

  2. Very good point, Stellar, thanks for mentioning it!

    Last week, Isaac was feeling under the weather one day, but his only symptom was that his neck felt sore. I wasn't sure if it was from the flu that had been going around (I always get a sore neck with it), or if it was from playing at a farm the day before and jumping off huge stacks of straw bales. But I immediately asked him if he was able to put his chin to his chest (he was), and had him do it several times throughout the day.

    Meningitis should NOT be treated at home. That is clearly a case for the hospital.

  3. Wow - you must have been reading my mind! I was just coming to your blog to find that cough syrup recipe (with the onion) that I had come across a couple of months ago. And here was your post! Thank you for writing one just for me :-)

    The problem with my two older kids is that they get a cold and then feel better relatively quickly but end up getting these horrible, lingering coughs that can last for weeks. I'm hoping the cough syrup you recommend could help them...

  4. Oh - and one more question...When you say it's not for babies, what age are you referring to. All 3 of my kids are sick right now. My youngest is 19 months. Too young for the cough syrup in your opinion?

  5. I like your list. I would suggest vitamin D3 (they make chewables for kids). My family just doesn't seem to get sick since taking a daily D3 but when we do catch something, it doesn't last very long (a day or 2 at the most). You can increase D3 dosage when you are sick.

  6. Thank you so much for this post! It was very helpful. We have also used the garlic ear drops, if our ears start hurting we put them in. They are fine the next day.

  7. My grandma used to make a tea for me when I was sick. She would boil 1 onion with a few cloves of garlic. She would add honey and make me drink it. It tasted really horrible, but it always made me feel better.

    Thanks so much for the cough syrup recipe ! My little guy is just starting to cough a bit, and I hear a little sniffle too. :(

    When he is sick. I put the vapor rub on his feet, and put socks on him. It helps him, and it helps me too when I'm sick.

  8. I have to echo castiron's post about vitamin D3. Very effective immune booster! Make sure it's D3 though! You can get at Costco for about half the price of what I can find at other stores.

    Also, for what's it worth, I seem to find buckwheat honey more soothing on my throat than clover honey.

    Thanks for all your great tips!

  9. We haven't been sick since I found products containing moringa. In fact, my daughter is off of her asthma meds after being on them for 14 years!

  10. Good post! I'm printing it out and adding it to my books :) Sophia just had a little bit of a cold for two days and I used some Hyland's homoeopathic cold medicine which worked great. Also used some honey and garlic because I remembered you posting that before!

  11. I was just curious as to why you so quickly respond to the negative comments and questions towards you and your family? I have many times made positive comments and asked some godly questions, as well as many other women. You very rarely address the positive thingsat really makes me question your reason for all of this. Should a woman not be of a gentle spirt? Many times you get quite agressive.

  12. Thank you for posting the recipe for your cough syrup Zsuzsanna! I will definitely be using it next time any of us gets a cough!

    Thankfully we are a pretty healthy lot and praise God, don't get sick very often but its always good to have knowledge about natural remedies!

  13. I have heard that Unkers is much more effective than Vicks. I have never tried it, but have heard RAVING reviews about it. (not to mention that the company looks like it is a Christian company.)

    Also, rubbing Vicks on the bottoms of the feet can calm coughing.

    Great post! Thanks! :)

  14. Thanks for posting these!! I didn't know about the chin-chest thing either. Great tips!

  15. Perfect timing for this post. After we got done talking on the phone I got so very sick. The garlic lemonade was all I could keep down. I also ate a lot of oranges and this flu only lasted a day and a half. Everybody else who has had this flu has lasted at least three days. So thank you for the remedies, they were very helpful!

  16. I do hope you feel better soon! These are very helpful to me, as I have to be careful which medications to take (I'm under doctor's care, but soup from scratch and tea with honey hasn't hurt a soul yet!

    You should be getting your 'postcard' from Kentucky soon, although it's morphed from a postcard into a little book! You're in my prayers that you recover soon--perhaps just a little rest is in order--you're still recovering from Anna's difficult birth AND running the house. We just want to see you bounce back from feeling run down!

  17. Do you have any recommendations for babies under a year with colds/yellow sputum?

  18. @Lilly

    Go to the doctor and do it now!!!
    Better safe than sorry.

  19. Renee,
    hope your kids are feeling better. Please let me know how the cough syrup works for you. And no, 19 months is not too young for the cough syrup IMO. Babies are only not supposed to have honey under age 1.

    Castiron and Lisa,
    thanks for the tip about vitamin D3!

    I'll have to look into moringa, thanks.

    thanks for the recommendation.

    oh no! I'm glad you got over it quickly. Hopefully nobody else in your family will get it. After having taken care of Steve and sick kids for a couple of days, I got the "flu from hell", too. Yesterday was the worst - all 8 of us were sick, to varying degrees. Thankfully, I am much better today, and able to take care of everyone else.

    thank you! The kids have LOVED getting the cards. As far as rest - well, I try. :) I was the last to get sick, and the first to recover with this illness, thankfully.

    there is not much to do for little babies. If they are still breastfeeding, nursing them often and just lying in bed resting with them will help them feel comfortable. You could also try squirting some breast milk into their nostrils to help break up the mucous.

    Another thing that has worked for our babies is running a warm bath in the big tub, with the bathroom door shut so that the steam stays in the bathroom, and then taking a bath with them (much easier than trying to bathe a baby in a big tub). Some people also like to run a shower on the hottest setting, while sitting in the bathroom holding the baby. The hot shower will make it really steamy in there, which helps with the stuffiness. I guess humidifiers have the same effect, but I don't like using them because they are so hard to keep clean (they can grow and put out spores if not cleaned properly).

    Also, years ago Vicks made a vapor rub for babies that I really liked to use for stuffy babies (super mild, but still effective), not sure if they still make it.

    Finally, there are many homeopathic remedies on the market for colds etc. which are safe for babies at any age. Hope your little one gets better soon!

  20. @Lilly

    Yellow sputum always means infection!

  21. Great article on moringa in a newspaper this past Sunday:

  22. I have been in bed for two days with a horrible cough, weakness, and headache. Thankfully, no fever. I used the netti pot for my congestion and sinus pressure and it worked great!
    I'm going to try your cough syrup recipe tonight.
    Amy W.

  23. "cayenne pepper 'turns up the heat'"?!? Are you serious? All this will do is irritate a child's stomach, which causes diarrhea then dehydration. The virus is attacking cells in the mucosal lining of the nose and sinuses so pepper in the stomach will do absolutely nothing to kill the virus.

  24. Thanks for posting your thoughts on preservatives in food and our homes.


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