I used to think that we were powerless when it came to fighting the cold and flu viruses because modern medicine tells us we are. I’d get sick, shut down, and basically just let myself be miserable for a week (or more), until my body finally kicked the yuckiness to the curb. There is no cure for the common cold, right?
Except, no. While there might not be a magic pill you can take to get your cold virus to say adios, there is certainly a lot that can be done to help support the immune system, and in turn, help reduce the severity and duration of viral infections. We are absolutely not powerless when we get a cold—not by a long shot. I’ve been guided on an amazing journey into natural immune support this year by two local naturopaths, and a big thing I’ve learned is this: there are as many natural ways to support the immune system and fight off viral infections as there are people suffering from them. You have an arsenal at your disposal!
The breadth and depth of natural immune support is really exciting but also can be really overwhelming. So that’s why, today, I’m showing you my personal favorite things to do when I start to feel the tickle in the back of my throat. This list is in no way comprehensive, but it’s the things that we’ve found to be the easiest to implement in our house. And, best of all, it’s been working for us. Since we started enacting this protocol whenever we feel a little throat tickle, none of us have gotten full-blown sick (and one of us is a three-year-old—holy germ magnet, Batman). I consider that a damn miracle.
One big thing you’ll notice missing from this list: vitamins and supplements. I believe a vitamin and supplement plan should be something you come up with in conjunction with your healthcare professional—not get from some random blogger. The high dosages of many of the vitamins you’ll grab from store shelves can cause unpleasant side effects in some and even be downright dangerous in others. I don’t believe supplements are something to be played around with.
That being said, I do have a very personalized supplement plan given to me by one of my naturopaths for when I am really sick and my body just can’t seem to get over a cold (like, when you’re going on week four of the worst cough ever) that involves Vitamin C, Vitamin A, NAC, and Vitamin D and is taken in high dosages in a short burst. This supplement protocol is what I use as a last resort. I definitely prefer to stick to whole food, whole herb, gentle home remedies when fighting off the common cold.
Remember: more isn’t always better, sometimes it’s just more. So the next time someone tells you to take 40578 million grams of Vitamin C to cure your cold (please don’t, that’s hyperbole), remember that a smoothie probably would have done the trick (and without as many bathroom trips—high doses of Vitamin C can wreck your bowels). This philosophy also applies to the number of home remedies you try. You don’t have to do everything on my list—in fact, I don’t even recommend it. Don’t be a helicopter parent to your body—give it enough support to succeed on its own, but don’t bombard it with every remedy under the sun.
A final disclaimer before I get to the list: I have absolutely zero healthcare training—everything I’ve learned about natural medicine has been thanks to lots of reading, lots of experimenting, and my great natural medicine practitioners. All the remedies listed here are generally considered safe for healthy individuals and are incredibly gentle and mild, but you should always consult with your healthcare professional before embarking in any kind of medical treatment—even the natural kind. You should see how many times a week I text my doctor… Alright, onto my favorite home remedies!
When I first start to feel yucky
You know the feeling. You have a little bit of a weird tickle in your throat or you sneezed a certain way and it felt different. You think you’re getting sick. Don’t just sit back and let it take over, now is THE time to act. Here are my must-do’s when I first start feeling gross:
- Speak with my healthcare professional: Because I am immunocompromised, I am under strict orders to inform my doctor the second anything feels “funny.” You might not need to do this at this stage, but it’s always better safe than sorry when it comes to medical care.
- Remove sugar, dairy, and gluten from my diet: All three of these food groups cause inflammation in the body (the dairy, in particular, causes inflammation in mucous membranes—I don’t need more snot when I’m sick). I cut all of these out until I’m 100% well again.
- Up my elderberry syrup intake to one dose every 2-3 hours: I’m already taking a maintenance dose of 1 tablespoon per day (1 teaspoon per day for kids), and I up that to taking it every 2-3 hours until I’m well again.
- Focus on hydration: Water, water, water, water, and more water! When I start to feel sick (especially if I have any sort of fever), I increase my liquid intake dramatically—mostly through water, herbal teas, and broth. You should be peeing allllllll the time.
And then, if I want to expand my arsenal a bit, I try to incorporate a few of these options next:
- Do “magic socks” at night: When one of my naturopaths (the guy in the video I linked to) first suggested this, I thought it was woo-woo hippie-dippie crap. I think I actually rolled my eyes at him. But then I tried it, and I felt a difference almost immediately. The idea is pretty simple: you soak your feet in hot water until they’re nice and warm, then you put on cold, wet cotton socks, cover them with wool socks, and then you go to bed. The theory is that the change in temperature in your feet helps boost your body’s circulation which, in turn, helps with the immune system. I highly doubt there are any scientific studies backing up this treatment (not a lot of funding to research wet socks), but I can tell you that anecdotally, it seems to help our family. Is it placebo effect? Maybe. Do I care? Nope.
- Rest as much as possible: This one is an obvious one, but not always easy to do for various lifestyle reasons (hence why it’s on the “optional” list). I find that my viruses have a much shorter duration if I rest from the get-go instead of waiting until I feel so bad that I can’t even stay vertical anymore. Rest is an excellent preventative measure.
- NetiPot twice a day (morning and night): Cold and flu viruses love, love, love dry sinus passages—so I irrigate those babies at least twice a day when I feel under-the-weather to make the bugs feel less welcome. I also usually put in a drop of KidSafe Germ Destroyer essential oil into my NetiPot.
When I am fully sick
You wake up in the morning and feel like you’ve been hit by a truck overnight: the sniffles, the sore throat, the aches—you’re sick and there is no denying it. What do you do now? Well, this is when I ramp it up a bit! Here are my must-do home remedies when I’m really sick:
- Everything listed above: All the “optional” items from above now turn into “must-do’s” when you get really sick. The only exception is the NetiPot—when I’m really stuffed up, I don’t even try. Water ain’t getting through that. Also, now might be the time to call your healthcare professional if you haven’t already.
- Ginger tea at least twice a day: Ginger is a natural antimicrobial, natural anti-inflammatory, and it is a really great tummy soother (my stomach never feels right when I’m sick). To make a cup of ginger tea, pour 16 ounces boiling water over two tablespoons sliced fresh ginger and one tablespoon raw honey. Let steep for 15-20 minutes, strain and drink. I usually make a full teapot of ginger tea and sip on it all day (you can also make my Honey Ginger Lemonade Health Tonic if you prefer something cold).
- Focus on easy-to-digest foods: This a new one for me, but has helped so much. I used to think I needed to eat “clean and green” when sick—lots of salads and fresh fruits and veggies—until one of my doctors asked me, “Is that what sounds good to you when you’re sick?” I admitted that I had to choke down salad when I was sick and she told me that our body naturally pulls energy from our digestive system to help boost our immune system when we’re sick. It’s okay to focus on smoothies and broth and puréed soup and other foods that are easy on the digestive system while you’re sick—there will be plenty of time to eat your raw kale salads when you’re well again.
- Minced garlic in water twice a day: Blech. This one sucks. I mince a clove of garlic, float it in about 1/4 cup of water and then shoot it—and try not to taste the raw garlic. Why put myself through this torture? Garlic is a motherloving rockstar when it comes to being antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and basically anti-anything-else-you-don’t-want-in-your-body. And raw garlic is the best way to get those medicinal benefits, so, I shoot it.
So then, after that, I tend to rotate in-and-out different treatments throughout the span of my illness. Here are a few I like:
- Herbal teas: I rely heavily on herbal teas like peppermint, yarrow, licorice root, and chamomile when I’m feeling under-the-weather. Not only are they soothing and comforting, but they also really help to alleviate some symptoms that might be making you miserable. These are the five herbal tea blends I tend to use when we’re down for the count with a cold. But if you’re looking for a good all-around, general-purpose, store-bought cold tea, the Gypsy Cold Care tea from Traditional Medicinals is my favorite (and it happens to be created by the person who wrote this book, which I highly recommend if you’re interested in herbalism).
- Cinnamon, honey, and coconut oil “tea” twice a day: I use this one when I’m really struggling with a sore throat or a cough. Cinnamon is a pretty effective (and mega tasty) antiviral, honey is a natural antibacterial and cough suppressant, and coconut oil is thought to help dissolve the protective coating around some viruses, allowing the immune system to get to work easier. When combined, they make a really tasty “tea.” I usually mix a tablespoon of each in about 16 ounces boiling water.
- Warm Epsom salt baths as needed for body aches: Joint and muscle pain is one of my big symptoms of Lyme disease, and having that ailment has really given me the opportunity to appreciate Epsom salt baths in a way I would never have before. A 20-minute soak in a warm bath with 1-2 cups of Epsom salts often does more for me than any over-the-counter pain reliever. And, hey, even if it doesn’t help with your body aches, it’ll probably relax you enough to where you can get a nap (which you need when you’re sick).
Like I said, those lists above aren’t even close to comprehensive. Some folks have success with lymphatic massage or essential oils or gargling apple cider vinegar or putting peroxide in their ears (yes, really) or plastic-wrapping onions to their feet (also, really) or slamming a whole bottle of whiskey (not recommended). Every body is different, and with natural medicine, there is no one remedy that’s going to work on everyone. It’s going to require some trial-and-error on your part to find out which home remedies do the trick (and which don’t) AND which remedies are reasonable to add to your already hectic life.
To make this really easy for us to reference, I turned my list into a Cold and Flu Protocol Printable that I laminated and have taped to the inside of one of our bathroom medicine cabinets. This is an easy way for the whole family to reference what needs to happen when we’re feeling under-the-weather. I thought you might like the printable, too! You can download it (for free) below.
I hope we’re coming to the end of the current cold and flu season (and, unfortunately, coming into allergy season—aaaaachooooo!), but if you happen to catch one of the late-season bugs, I hope you’ll find some home remedies here that help you get through it. I promise you aren’t powerless! Stay healthy, friends.