Now that kids have been back in school for a few weeks, there’s been plenty of time for viruses to be exchanged. Plus, after summer travels, which include the stress of travel arrangements, dry air on airplanes, and close contact with lots of people, it can be a perfect storm for infections. When it comes to colds, the best way to beat them is to start natural immune boosters the second you feel even a hint of being sick. By attacking the virus right at the onset, you have the best chance of fighting it off before it can set in. The longer you wait, the lower your chances of knocking it out, though it’s still worth it to go full strength with the natural remedies, as you can significantly shorten the duration of a cold.
Echinacea is a tried-and-true immune stimulator that is very effective in fighting colds if dispensed properly, but it will not work if taken too late after the onset of a cold. You also need to take relatively fresh echinacea, as the dried plant loses its potency after a year or so. If using echinacea as a tea, make sure it is not an old batch. You can avoid the worry about the potency by using a tincture, which is an herbal extract made in alcohol, as alcohol is a great preservative. You will be able to tell if the tincture still has efficacy if it has the distinct echinacea mouthfeel- it has a distinct tingly feeling. There are a few echinacea species used: Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea, and E. pallida. Though different parts of the plants have shown some efficacy in different studies, the root is the main part used.
Echinacea can boost your immune system, prevent infections from spreading, and reduce inflammation. Some doctors say that echinacea isn’t effective because much of the clinical research has shown minimal benefit from echinacea for the common cold. But herbalists know that the problem isn’t
echinacea, it’s with the design of the studies. Taking high doses of echinacea only once or twice a day will not provide much, if any, benefit. Additionally, people often take echinacea in a pill, which is not a very effective form. Echinacea has direct actions on mucous membranes, so it is far more effective in a tea, tincture, or lozenge that can slowly drip down the throat and come in direct contact with affected tissues. You must take echinacea in very frequent doses for maximum benefit. One dose every 30-60 minutes as soon as you feel any hint of being sick is ideal.
2. Fresh Ginger Juice
Fresh, not dried, ginger is an effective natural cold remedy, as it is warms the body, inhibits viruses’ ability to attach to cells, and prevents excess mucous from forming. If you feel a cold coming on, juice a bunch of ginger, mix it with a little water, and sip it all day. Add honey, cayenne, or garlic as desired to power up the anti-cold concoction. If you don’t have a juicer, you can throw fresh ginger into a smoothie or just dice the fresh ginger and make a tea with it. This is one of the most readily accessible cold remedies, so be sure to go grab some fresh ginger root the second you start to feel yourself getting sick.
3. CordycepsPhoto: Andreas Kunze
Cordyceps, which we have featured before on our blog for its energy-boosting properties, is a medicinal mushroom that has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. One of its traditional uses is for all things related to the respiratory system, so it can be helpful for coughing and upper respiratory mucous that accompanies colds. Cordyceps also has anti-viral properties. For example, it increased natural killer cells and IL-12. a cytokine, in mice infected with the H1N1 virus; mice treated with cordyceps had lower mortality rates.
Elderberry has traditionally been used through the winter to help protect against flu viruses. Some studies have confirmed elderberry’s effects. For example, one study in mice showed that elderberry can suppress viral replication and stimulate immune response against influenza A virus. Another study showed that patients using elderberry syrup four times a day recovered an average of 4 days earlier from influenza than subjects given a placebo. Both studies emphasized dosage. As with many of the remedies listed here, taking one small dosage will not do the trick. Take elderberry once a day through cold and flu season to ward off infection, or take it every couple hours as soon as you feel a virus coming on. It is traditionally prepared as a syrup, but can also be taken as a tea, pill, tincture, or lozenge.
5. Fresh Garlic
Garlic has anti-microbial properties, meaning it is effective against a variety of pathogenic microbes, including fungi, bacteria, yeasts, and viruses. For the most efficacy, you should mince or crush garlic and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Letting the raw garlic get exposed to air allows allicin, the main active ingredient, to develop. Ideally, consume the garlic raw. If this is too intense for you, you can mix it with a spoonful of raw local honey and swallow it quickly or stir the garlic into soup at the very last second before eating it. You can eat or take garlic every day to help ward off colds and shorten their duration if you do get sick, but as soon as you get sick, you should consume as much fresh garlic as possible. Watch out though, as too much garlic can cause an upset stomach.
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7. Do what your grandma would tell you to do
Classic advice includes some of the best advice: lots of fluids, rest, chicken soup, and sweat it out. To do the latter, sip a diaphoretic hot tea before taking a hot bath and/or wrapping yourself in blankets. Heating up your core temperature can make your body too hot of an environment for viruses to survive in. Some great diaphoretic (meaning they make you sweat) teas to use would be peppermint, boneset, or elderflower. Take care of yourself and don’t overexert yourself while you’re sick. You must rest!