Folk remedies against the common cold

Old wives' tales or not they'll help your sneezes more than a trip to the chemist

Aaaachou! Oh no – it’s that time of the year again: you trot into the office one morning and half your colleagues have called in sick. Your child comes back to school with its head glowing like a light bulb and a runny nose. And, before you know it, you’ve caught it too: the common cold.

At this point most people would head off to the nearest pharmacy to stock up on Lemsip, paracetamol and cough mixture. But think again: paracetamol reduces the fever and stops your body burning off the virus, and cough medicines simply suppress a cough and don’t help the body to fight the virus. So if you’d like to ease the symptoms, whilst your body tackles the bug, try and few of these folk remedies.

CHICKEN SOUP: This little mixture combines several beneficial properties. First, there’s the broth, which provides rehydration. The body loses lots of water through coughing, a running nose or feverish sweating which has to be replenished by drinking a lot or – eating soup. It’s also hot, which helps loosen the mucus of a cough, and its steam helps against congestion. Chicken soup also often contains garlic, which has antibiotic and antiviral activities. Garlic is also an expectorant, which will help you to cough up phlegm. To make the most of its properties, use fresh cloves and squeeze them through a garlic crusher. For vegetarians, vegetable stock will do the trick as well.

INHALING STEAM: This works wonders on a clogged up nose, and it’s as easy as pie. Just fill a pot with hot water and add a couple of drops of eucalyptus oil. Then use a big towel to trap the steam, crawl under it and breathe deeply. Being stuck under a towel with your head over a steaming bowl might look a little silly, but it helps. Instead of the eucalyptus oil, chamomile can also be used. You should be able to get dried chamomile flowers in a health food shop – they’re also great for tisane when your tummy is upset.

HONEY AND LEMON: A great soother of sore throats. Honey has a soothing thickness and makes swallowing easier. It can also literally act as a ‘honey trap’ for bacteria, making it more difficult for them to move around. Lemon stimulates the production of saliva, which makes swallowing less painful and, of course, contains lots of valuable vitamin C. If you want the full ‘honey trap’ and vitamin C effect, just mix lemon juice with honey and lick it off the spoon. Or, if you prefer the soothing effect of a hot drink, make your own homemade Lemsip – guaranteed to be cheaper than the artificial stuff from the pharmacy! Squeeze a lemon and just add honey and hot water. The only drawback is that you’ll lose some vitamin C because of the heat.

CINNAMON AND GINGER TEA: Cinnamon bark contains a chemical called cinnamaldehyde that kills off bacteria. It is also a fever reducer and has anti-inflammatory properties. The spicy ginger helps wash out mucus and is good against fever and chills. For a cinnamon and ginger chai-type of tea, cut up about two inches of fresh ginger, add one piece of dried cinnamon bark and a pinch of cardamom. Boil for 10 minutes and leave for another 10 minutes. The result might be quite spicy, so add milk and honey as you prefer.

GARGLING WITH SALT WATER: Salt has disinfecting properties, so helps against the infection. A more short-lived effect is that if your solution is strong enough, the salt water will attract some of the water that has caused the swelling of the mucosa in your throat. For this to happen, the solution has to be saltier than your own bodily fluids, so use two teaspoons to one pint of water. You can also use this to rinse your nose, which might not be the most pleasant feeling, but it does help congestion.


This article first appeared in the Ecologist November 2005


For ethical and sustainable suppliers of Health and Beauty goods and services check out the Ecologist Green Directory here

More from this author