Everyday Wellness

10 Natural Remedies for Colds and Flu that Really Work

These herbs and spices can turn your kitchen cabinet into a medicine cabinet, especially when it comes to combatting seasonal sniffles.

By Rachel Kessler

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Oreganoistock/VitalinaAlthough oregano is best known for giving pizza and pasta an extra kick, Patrick Fratellone, MD, a leading integrative medicine doctor and registered herbalist with the American Herbal Guild, recommends reaching for this herb to treat a hacking cough. “Oregano is a powerhouse of flu-fighting properties since it’s antibacterial, anti-fungal, and an antioxidant, and it can also be used an expectorant to treat lung or respiratory conditions,” says Dr. Fratellone. You could take an oregano capsule twice a day with meals, but if all you have on hand is a bottle of the dried herb, you can make an oregano tea: Pour 8 ounces of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried oregano and let stand for 10 minutes. If the taste is too bitter, add some raw honey. Aim to drink two cups a day. This elixir can also be used topically to treat skin infections and calm down an upset stomach. Check out the impressive health benefits of oregano oil.

Cinnamonistock/amiteThis woody aromatic herb in your culinary closet has secret powers besides flavoring oatmeal and cookies. Because of its anti-fungal and analgesic properties, Dr. Fratellone uses it to treat bronchitis. It tends to be warming for the body and it dilates your blood vessels, he says. (It also lowers blood sugar concentration and improves insulin sensitivity, which is why cinnamon is also being used to treat people who have diabetes, according to webmd.com.) If you’re fighting a bug, create a cinnamon tea by pouring boiling water over the herb into a cup. Dr. Fratellone recommends one cup two or three times a day. You can also sprinkle it on your food or in your latte. As a bonus, cinnamon has been shown to aid weight loss!

Garlicistock/GooDween123This stinky plant does way more than flavor your tomato sauce. Garlic is antibiotic, antimicrobial, and antibacterial, says Clinical Herbalist and New York City-based founder of Urban Herbalist Steve Sietos. “When you have yellow or green phlegm, reach for that garlic. It’s highly anti-viral, immune stimulating, and it’ll kill any upper respiratory infections,” he says. Garlic is great medicine for yeast infections and urinary tract infections too, according to research from the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences in India. To use it as an elixir, take a clove of fresh garlic. Press or chop it, and let it sit for 15 minutes. When the garlic reacts with air, a chemical reaction transforms the clove into a powerful antibiotic, says Sietos, who also treats pets with herbs. He says that if you spread garlic and olive oil on a piece of bread or mix it with olive oil, it’ll knock out any upper respiratory infections. Check out these surprising health benefits of garlic.

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Gingeristock/Julia_grafvisionGinger is a muscle relaxant, or an antispasmodic, which means it may have the power to stop the spasm of coughing. It also stimulates the immune system. “When you have a clear phlegm, not green or yellow, take ginger to warm up the system,” Sietos says. Slice fresh ginger into silver dollar slices and simmer it in fresh water for 20 minutes; then drink it like tea. Add a cinnamon stick or a squeeze of lemon. “You’ll notice the cough goes away pretty quickly,” says Sietos. And if your stomach is feeling queasy, ginger can help with nausea too, according to a study in the British Journal of Anesthesia.

Nutmegistock/Julia_SudnitskayaOne of the more unpleasant cold symptoms is that achy, restless feeling that makes it difficult to sleep, even though you feel exhausted (here’s why you get so sleepy when you’re sick.) When that happens, head to your spice stash and pull out the nutmeg. Nutmeg contains tryptophan, the same stuff that makes us pass out after a heavy turkey meal on Thanksgiving. Nutmeg is amazing for sleep, according to webmd.com. “Grate nutmeg on your food or into your tea—it’ll knock you right out, says Sietos.

Rosemaryistock/gaffera”Rosemary is highly antiviral and antibacterial,” Sietos says. “Everything you smell in that signature aroma is medicine.” How do you take this fragrant elixir? If you’re working with fresh rosemary, simmer it in water for 10 minutes and cool. Drink it three times a day until your cold is gone, Sietos recommends. If you’re working with dried rosemary, take a teaspoon and steep it in a cup of hot water to create a sipping tea. Here’s how rosemary can also work on headaches.

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Self-healistock/_LianeMSelf-heal is also known as Prunella vulgaris, and it’s one of Dr. Fratellone’s favorite herbs. “Also called All Heal, this herb is great for congestion, and it reduces swelling in the lymph glands,” he says. “It actually has an antibiotic effect against a wide range of bacteria and viruses,” he says. Self-heal can also be used to treat sore throats, according to webmd.com. Try using it to create a tea and drinking it two or three times a day when you’re feeling under the weather.

Thymeistock/wmaster890Thyme is a lovely aromatic herb in the mint family that’s easily cultivated, and it is probably in your kitchen cabinet right now. “Thyme is a powerful antimicrobial remedy that has volatile oils, like thymol and tannins, which work for spasmodic coughs and for fighting sickness,” says Clinical Herbalist Arielle Hayat, of The Alchemist’s Kitchen. “It’s antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiviral, so it can help you sweat out a cold, and also work on supporting digestion (like other herbs in the mint family).” Hayat likes to prepare thyme in a syrup. she melts local organic honey and infuses it with chopped onions, thyme, and/or garlic for three hours, then strains it and adds the resulting syrup to warm water or a tea as a tonic for cold, achy flu, or cough. If you use a tincture, the dosage is 1-4 mL. Tea dosage is 1-2 tsp of herb to 4 cups of water in a 6-8 hour infusion three times a day. If you’re thinking of growing your own thyme, these gardening tricks can help.

Wild roseistock/KerrickA rose is not just lovely and fragrant—it’s also super-duper high in Vitamin C content. And it will help treat symptoms of the common cold, flu, or other infections and illness, says Hayat. According to recent studies, every 100g of fresh wild rose hips contains 1,009 grams vitamin C, which is 30 times the amount of vitamin C in citrus fruits. And it has advantages over citrus, as Sietos says drinking orange juice when you have a cold can cause phlegm. Wild rose hips are also rich in minerals like zinc and selenium, which helps stimulate the function of the kidneys and bladder, to help flush the system. Try making a rose petal infusion or “decoction”—the immersion of plants in hot water, like an infusion, but left on a low simmer (it can be steeped in a crockpot) to soothe a sore throat and reduce swelling.

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Elecampaneistock/ChamilleWhiteOkay, so you may not already have this one in your pantry—but you’ll want to consider stocking up. Inula helenium, or Elecampane, is an herb to be used for congested coughs, according to webmd.com. “If your cold leaves you coughing up phlegm with a dry irritated lung and throat, elecampane is the perfect remedy,” Hayat says. “It soothes irritation and relieves coughing while fighting infections with its antimicrobial properties.” The starchy root contains polysaccharides (inulin), which is useful for normalizing blood sugar metabolism and feeding the beneficial bacteria in the gut. You could call it a prebiotic, which feeds the probiotics, that community of microorganisms in your small intestine. (Prebiotics can also help you get to sleep when you’re stressed.) Try taking a tincture of elecampane (Hayat likes HerbPharm), 1/2–2ml three times a day. If you prefer to drink a tea, take 1/2 ounce of dried root in 2 cups of water infused for 6 hours. Aim to drink 2 cups a day.

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