Walk into any drugstore and you’ll see shelves packed to the brim with products claiming to ease congestion, stop the sniffles and alleviate coughs. Before you spend your hard-earned cash on a pile of these over-the-counter medications, look in your pantry. There is a wide range of holistic remedies for the common cold that use ingredients you already have in your own home. Whether you’re looking to prevent an illness from taking hold or you’re trying to ease symptoms of a cold you already have, there are plenty of holistic options for you to choose from.
What does ‘holistic’ mean?
In layman’s terms, a ‘holistic’ treatment is something that considers the big picture, rather than specific problems or symptoms. Holistic health aims to focus on the connection of mind, body, and spirit, rather than just focusing on a particular symptom and aiming to fix it.
Let’s think of it this way - when you have a cough, you could run to the corner store and pick up an expectorant to get rid of a cough. If you’d like a more holistic treatment, you could make a hot mug of tea that contains ingredients known for soothing the throat, such as slippery elm, clove, mullein, and ginger. Not only will this tea help ease inflammation and reduce phlegm, but it will help to boost your mood and work wonders on other systems of your body.
When you take care of your body and mind, it shows. You’ll feel generally better, get sick less often, and have more energy. By using natural remedies instead of over-the-counter treatments, you consider your body as a whole and work to keep it functioning properly.
Natural remedies for a cold
Apple cider vinegar
A high-grade apple cider vinegar (get an organic, unfiltered one with the ‘mother’) can help balance pH levels in the gut. If your body is too acidic, toxins can begin to take over and diseases can develop. While apple cider vinegar is considered to be acidic, it actually becomes alkaline when consumed. Creating a more alkaline environment can help to kill off bacteria and viruses that have taken hold. 1 The ‘mother’ present in unfiltered ACV is a colony of bacteria that work to help keep your gut healthy.
A popular natural remedy for cold symptoms is to mix a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water, then mix in a tablespoon of honey (local is better). Drink twice daily until symptoms subside.
You can also use apple cider vinegar in a gargle to ease the symptoms of a sore or scratchy throat. Mix a quarter cup of warm water with a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar, gargle for 30 seconds and then spit it out.
A popular folk remedy for treating colds is to take a bite straight out of a clove of garlic! If the thought of doing that makes you feel a bit nauseous, there are other ways to reap the benefits of garlic without having to gnaw at a piece of it. When garlic is crushed (either by a knife or between your teeth), it releases allicin. This is a powerful antimicrobial compound that is only present shortly after it is released and before it is heated, which is why raw garlic is recommended. 2 By consuming allicin, you can alleviate that slightly-sick feeling that comes with the onset of a cold.
If you’re not brave enough to take a bite straight out of a clove of garlic, you can gently crush the clove and mix it with a spoonful of honey. You can even add a touch of olive oil and eat it on a piece of toast!
The efficacy of zinc lozenges has been debated widely, but it is thought that taking zinc once cold symptoms set in can help shave a day or two off of your cold. A meta-analysis published in 2017 aimed to put an end to this debate once and for all. The results showed that when zinc was taken in excess of 75mg per day, the duration of the common cold was shortened by one day. Zinc (taken in lozenge or syrup form) is most effective when taken within 24 hours of the first onset of cold symptoms. 3
Large amounts of zinc can be toxic to the body, so you should be wary of taking large doses over a long period of time. If taken only during the duration of your cold, you should be fine, but it’s recommended to speak with a professional about this option.
Oil of oregano
Oil of oregano has powerful antiviral and antibacterial properties, which can help rid your body of microbes that are causing you to become ill. Holistic practitioners have been using oil of oregano for many years to treat a cough, cold, flu, bronchitis, sore throats and other respiratory ailments. 4
To reap the benefits of this oil, diffuse it throughout your home, add it to a decongesting vapor rub, or inhale it through steam inhalation. It’s especially effective for congestion and cough if you add a few drops to a bowl of warm water, cover your head with a towel, and inhale the steam for 5-10 minutes or until symptoms subside.
Ginger boasts a wide range of health benefits, but it’s especially helpful for colds when mixed into a healing herbal tea. Make a warm, soothing tea out of ginger, lemon, honey, turmeric, and a pinch of both black pepper and cayenne pepper. Ginger helps you to sweat out toxins in your body, honey soothes an irritated throat, and lemon is chock full of vitamin C. Turmeric, and its main constituent curcumin, have been proven to boost the immune system and reduce inflammation in the body. 5 Black pepper helps your body absorb curcumin easier, and cayenne pepper is a great natural decongestant.
Elderberry has long been used as a popular natural remedy for cold, flu and other respiratory symptoms. While it may not be able to prevent you from getting ill, it can help alleviate symptoms that are already present. In a 2016 study, the effects of elderberry on the duration of a cold and the severity of the symptoms were tested on over 300 participants. The results of the study showed that those who took an elderberry supplement reported a shorter cold duration as well as less severe symptoms than those who were given a placebo. 6
Certain parts of the elderberry plant are known to be poisonous, so it’s important to get high-quality supplements and not try to make them yourself. As with zinc, it is recommended to speak with your healthcare professional before beginning any supplemental treatment.
Aside from common ingredients and supplements, there are a wide variety of essential oils that can be helpful when wanting to prevent illness as well as easing the symptoms of illness already present. By diffusing your favorite blend of healing essential oils, you can start feeling better in no time. Essential oils can also be used in massage blends, added to a relaxing bath, inhaled through steam inhalation or added to a soothing vapor rub.
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