Natural Cold and Flu Remedies

Natural Cold and Flu Remedies

It’s no wonder these kinds of treatments are popular — we still have no cure for colds or the flu. While the flu vaccine may prevent the flu, and some prescription medications may shorten its symptoms, most conventional medications just ease symptoms. Many natural remedies can give you short-term relief as well, and a few may help you get better. See which ones show the most promise.


This herbal supplement may boost your immune system and help fight infections. But it’s unclear whether that helps you fight off colds. Most evidence shows echinacea doesn’t help prevent a cold, but some research found it shortens symptoms by a day or two. Other studies say it has no effect. To try it, take it when you start to feel bad and continue for 7 to 10 days.

Some studies show it helps fight viruses, like the cold. They say the mineral stops certain proteins from forming before cold viruses can use them to reproduce. While zinc doesn’t appear to prevent colds, it may help shorten their length and lessen the severity if you take it within 24 hours of the first symptoms. You should continue to take zinc for five days. The FDA says not to use zinc nasal products for colds — some people say they had a permanent loss of smell.  

Its cold-fighting powers remain uncertain. Some research suggests it can cut cold symptoms short by about a day, but an analysis of multiple studies showed that only people on daily vitamin C at minimum doses of 200 mg each day who were under extreme physical stress were significantly less likely to get a cold. Taking vitamin C only after the start of symptoms has not been shown to be helpful. 


Grandma was onto something. Chicken soup may help cold symptoms in more than one way. Inhaling the steam can ease a stuffy nose. Sipping spoonfuls of it can help replace the fluids you lose. The warm, salty broth can alleviate sore throats. 

It offers some of the same perks as chicken soup. Breathing in the steam relieves congestion, while swallowing the fluid soothes your throat and keeps you hydrated. Black and green teas have the added bonus of being loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants, which may stave off colds, as well.

This adult drink is an age-old nighttime cold remedy. Since you won’t want to drink black tea and all that caffeine before bed, make a cup of hot herbal tea. Add a teaspoon of honey, a small shot of whiskey or bourbon, and a squeeze of lemon. This mixture may ease congestion, soothe your throat, alleviate your cough, and help you sleep. Limit yourself to one — too much alcohol can keep you awake.

It’s long been known as a germ fighter. And one study showed garlic supplements may help prevent colds when taken daily. But more research needs to be done to figure out its real effects. It does have nutrients, and in food form it can also help spice up your meals when a stuffy nose makes everything taste bland.

Breathing in steam can break up congestion in your nose, offering relief when it’s stuffy or runny. You can get a heavy dose from a room humidifier, fill a bowl with hot water and lean over it with a towel over your head, or simply sit in the bathroom with the door shut and a hot shower running.

Dripping or spraying saltwater into your nose can thin out the gunk and help you get rid of it. That makes you less stuffy. You can try over-the-counter nasal saline washes, or make your own. If you make your own, use water that’s contaminant-free. It could be distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered using a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or less. Mix 8 ounces of warm water with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. Use a bulb syringe to squirt the liquid into one nostril while you hold the other one closed. Repeat 2-3 times and then do the other side. After you’re done, be sure to rinse the irrigation device after each use with contaminant-free water, and let it air-dry.

You can use the same DIY saline solution in this gadget. It lets you flush out your nasal passages with a saltwater solution. The result is thinner mucus that drains more easily. Research suggests Neti pots can ease symptoms like congestion, pressure, and facial pain, particularly in people with ongoing (chronic) sinus troubles. The Neti solution also comes in a bottle with a nozzle that goes in your nose and generates the force to flush your sinuses.

Days of wiping and blowing your nose can leave the skin around your nostrils sore and irritated. A simple remedy is to dab a menthol-infused ointment under (but not in) your nose, or on your chest or throat. The menthol vapors relieve a cough and open clogged passages, which eases your congestion. But don’t use it on raw skin and don’t give it to children under age 2.

This may help your sore throat by decreasing throat swelling and rinsing out irritants and germs. Gargle warm water with a teaspoon of salt four times daily to keep a scratchy throat moist.

You wear these strips of tape on the bridge of your nose to open the nasal passages. While they can’t get rid of the stuffiness, they do create more space for airflow. That can help relieve nighttime congestion.

It’s the original natural remedy. The rise in temperature fights colds and the flu by making your body too hot for germs to live. But if it makes you uncomfortable, it’s fine to take something to treat it. Drink plenty of liquids, too. Call your doctor right away if your temp is over 104 F, unless it comes down quickly with treatment. For an infant who’s 3 months or younger, call your doctor for any fever over 100.4. Children with a fever of less than 102 usually don’t require treatment unless they’re uncomfortable.

Who has time to spend a day or two under the covers? But when you get plenty of rest, your body can direct more energy to fighting off germs. Staying warm is also important, so tuck yourself in and give your immune system a leg up.


Medically Reviewed on 2/15/2017

Reviewed by Sabrina

Felson, MD on February 15, 2017


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American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology: “Rhinosinusitis: Saline Sinus Rinse Recipe.”
Eccles, R. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, September 1990.
Fruits & Veggies More Matters: “Vegetable of the Month: Garlic.”
Joslin, P. Advances in Therapy, July/August 2001.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “Echinacea” and “In the News: Zinc and the Common Cold.”
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
Oregon State University, The Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: “Vitamin C.”
Rennard, B. Chest, October 2000.

Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University: Micronutrient Information Center. 

Reviewed by Sabrina

Felson, MD on February 15, 2017

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Natural Cold and Flu Remedies

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