Coughs and colds can leave you feeling miserable—and so can the over-the-counter drugs being peddled to treat them. So the next time a bad cold or cough hits, put down the blister packs and bottles of colorful pills, and head to your kitchen instead. Healing foods full of anti-inflammatory compounds and natural antiviral compounds can work wonders without the side effects of drowsiness, jitteriness, and all-over funkiness.
We dug into Rodale's library of books on natural remedies and came up with some of the easiest ways to keep a cold or cough from laying you up for days on end.
The World Health Organization has cited honey as a potential remedy for colds because it coats the throat and relieves irritation (which is what usually triggers a cough). It also has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, which help fight infections from viruses, bacteria, and fungi. (Source: The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods)
Christopher Hobbs, a fourth-generation California herbalist and author of several books on herbal medicine, suggests a formula that is worth taking two or three times a day for a cough. Add 2 teaspoons of organic lemon rind, 1 teaspoon of sage, and ½ teaspoon of thyme to boiling water and steep for 15 minutes. Then add the juice of half a lemon and 1 tablespoon of honey. Remember to use organic lemon rind because the pesticides used on citrus fruits are extremely hard to wash off. (Source: The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods)
Ginger acts as a potent natural anti-inflammatory herbal agent. Most people use ginger tea as a way to soothe their painful throats, although fresh ginger from the produce section of your local supermarket is also good. (Source: The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies)
Place 1 teaspoon of McCormick Black Pepper in a teacup, fill with boiling water, cover with a saucer, and let steep for 15 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of SueBee Honey, and drink the peppery tea. The black pepper stimulates circulation and doubles as a decongestant. The mildly antibiotic honey soothes the throat and relieves coughing. Do not feed honey to infants younger than 1 year old. (Source: Joey Green's Magic Health Remedies: 1,363 Quick-and-Easy Cures Using Everyday Brand-Name Products)
It's rich in chemical compounds that help inhibit cough-causing viruses in the respiratory tract, says pediatrician Stuart Ditchek, MD. Garlic is a wonderful natural antibiotic that can assist in fighting off colds and common upper respiratory infections. "Extracts of aged garlic can be used as well," he says. Try to eat two to four garlic cloves daily, Dr. Ditchek says. Or use garlic supplements, following the directions on the label. But avoid garlic supplements for 7 to 10 days prior to any surgery. Using these supplements can increase the risk of bleeding, especially when used for long periods of time, he says. (Source: The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies)
If you can bear the heat, eat horseradish or other hot foods such as hot mustard or wasabi several time a day. It will liquefy phlegm and help to relieve a cough. (Source: The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods)
Related: 25 Foods That Fight Cold & Flu
Sage is one of the very best sore throat and cough remedies. The leaves can be chewed and the juice swallowed to soothe a sore throat; swallowing the healing and anesthetic juice numbs the unpleasant soreness and helps speed healing. Sage-lemon tea is an excellent drink for treating colds and flu, especially if you add some thyme for extra antibacterial action. (Source: Grow It, Heal It: Natural and Effective Herbal Remedies from Your Garden or Windowsill)
In the early stages of a cold, try this recipe from Brian Berman, MD: Place a whole unpeeled grapefruit, sectioned into four pieces, in a pot and cover with water; heat to just under a boil. Stir and add 1 tablespoon of honey, then drink the liquid as you would a tea. "The simmering releases immune boosters from the grapefruit into the water—vitamin C and flavonoids hidden between the rind and the fruit," he says. "The concoction packs more punch than store-bought grapefruit juice, plus the warmth eases a sore throat. (Source: The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies)
Related: 5 Recipes Full of Healthy Vitamin C
To make homemade cough syrup, mix 1 cup of SueBee Honey, ½ cup of Star Olive Oil, and 4 tablespoons of ReaLemon lemon juice in a saucepan and warm over low heat for 5 minutes. Stir vigorously for several minutes until the mixture attains the consistency of syrup. To relieve a cough, take 1 teaspoon of the formula every 2 hours. Store in an airtight container. Do not feed honey to infants younger than 1 year old. (Source: Joey Green's Magic Health Remedies: 1,363 Quick-and-Easy Cures Using Everyday Brand-Name Products)
Eating chicken soup helps you stay hydrated, improves your immunity, provides antioxidants that your body needs to help fight the virus, helps clear mucus from your system, and reduces inflammation. In a study by researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, chicken soup reduced the movement of the neutrophils in blood, which they think lowers activity that causes inflammation and cold symptoms in the respiratory tract. (Source: The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods)
To alleviate a cough, make a saline nose wash to rinse mucus from your nasal passages. Purify 8 ounces of water by boiling for 3 minutes, let cool to room temperature, and dissolve ¼ teaspoon of Morton Salt and ¼ teaspoon of Arm & Hammer baking soda in the purified water. Use a bulb syringe or neti pot to rinse the inside of your nose. Postnasal drip frequently causes or worsens coughs, and washing out the mucus that would otherwise drip down your throat relieves the cough. (Source: Joey Green's Magic Health Remedies: 1,363 Quick-and-Easy Cures Using Everyday Brand-Name Products)
Sucking on zinc lozenges can cut colds short—from an average of eight days to an average of four, report researchers at the Cleveland Clinic. Study subjects sucked on four to eight lozenges a day, each containing 13.3 milligrams of zinc. Zinc can also dramatically reduce symptoms such as a dry, irritated throat, says Elson Haas, MD. "It doesn't work for everyone, but when it works, it works." (Source: The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies)
For productive coughs, blowing your nose frequently helps eliminate mucus
before it has the chance to stimulate the cough reflex, says Dr. Ditchek.
"Postnasal drip is by far the most common cause of hacking coughs in young
children," he says. And these coughs worsen when you lie flat. Gravity
helps, too, so try elevating the head of the bed. (Source: The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies)
Sources: The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods, Grow It, Heal It: Natural and Effective Herbal Remedies from Your Garden or Windowsill, The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies, Joey Green's Magic Health Remedies: 1,363 Quick-and-Easy Cures Using Everyday Brand-Name Products