Winter is the time when the ‘flu bugs descend but hitting the Lemsip and Beecham’s isn’t for everyone, so what can you take if you want a natural remedy to ease your congestion, sore throat and blocked nose?
There are many options available, and you could try just one or a combination of natural cures, but remember to check with a doctor before taking any medicine and seek the advice of a qualified medical professional if your symptoms continue. The remedies below have a range of benefits from boosting your immune system to clearing catarrh and mucous or soothing sinuses and headaches.
Vitamin C occurs naturally in many foods, in particular fruits and vegetables, but many of us don’t get as much fresh fruit and veg on a daily basis as recommended. Eating 5 portions of vegetables and fruit can give you the nutrients, vitamins and minerals your body needs, but vitamin C in particular can be very handy for boosting your immune system and helping your body fight off illness.
Oranges and other citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes, blackcurrants and kiwi fruits have a high level of vitamin C, and you can benefit from their goodness in juice or smoothie form as well. Getting vitamins naturally from your diet is always best where possible, but you can boost your intake with one-a-day vitamins and fortified drinks or cereals which have additional vitamins added to them.
There is such as thing as too much vitamin C, even though your body does filter out any excess it cannot use. If you have too much vitamin C, it can give you an upset stomach or cramps, or induce nausea or diarrhoea.
Echinacea comes from the root of a plant called Echinacea Purpurea. It is also known as purple cone flower, having upturned daisy-like flowers and can be grown in the garden. Like vitamin C, echinacea also works to boost the immune system and has been given to children in low doses in different countries to boost immune activity, successfully fighting off some of the normal bout of childhood illness.
Taken in tablet form or as a tincture, the herbal extract helps to fight the symptoms of colds and ‘flu, and boost the immune system to help fight off additional colds. Some people take echinacea as a preventative medicine, hoping to boost their immune system and prevent catching of colds, whereas others find it more effective at reducing the symptomatic effects of ‘flu, colds and upper respiratory tract infections. It is believed to work by reducing swelling and inflammation caused by ‘flu bugs and colds and is considered a natural antibiotic, also helping combat some fungus and viral infections.
Honey and lemon has long been a cure passed down by grandmothers, sometimes including a hot toddy, with a dash of whiskey, others sticking to the pure lemon and honey with hot water recipe. It’s interesting that many cold and ‘flu remedies still stick to the traditional cold fighting duo of honey and lemon, but having the natural ingredients rather than a sachet of formulated powder can feel nicer and more therapeutic.
As well as giving you a dose of vitamin C, half a lemon squeezed into a mug and combined with hot water gives an acidic remedy to cut through the phlegm and bacteria in your throat. By stirring a teaspoon of honey into your hot drink, you’re not just sweetening the bitterness of the fresh lemon juice; you’re also adding an antibacterial agent to your drink. After the lemon has cleansed your throat on the way down, the honey naturally kills off and cleanses too, helping to reduce the fight going on inside your throat. Honey is also soothing and so after a cup of honey and lemon, a sore throat should feel eased, and you may even find tickly coughs less irritating.
A jar or squeezy bottle of honey will keep in your cupboard, and a lemon in the fruit bowl is always useful, so you can always have this handy and cheap remedy on hand.
I’m not saying water is the cure for a cold, because otherwise somebody would surely have caught on and marketed it to the world by now. However it is very effective at keeping you hydrated.
Whether you take water in as part of chicken soup, vegetable broths, warm drinks or glasses of water, it’s important to make sure you keep your fluid levels up. Don’t become dehydrated as this will make you feel worse, and the water can help flush through your system.
As well as maintaining your fluid intake, it’s best to avoid drinks like coffee and alcohol, as well as caffeinated fizzy drinks like coke, as these can increase your dehydration and make you feel worse.
You can take garlic in different ways, either through adding it naturally to your food, or as a tablet.
Two different types of garlic tablet are available; odourless and normal. The only problem is if you choose to take tablets, the smelly part of the garlic is most effective at boosting your immune system, so taking the odourless version may not be as effective as the full garlic capsule.
Garlic works best when raw rather than cooked, as cooking the bulb kills off some of the 100+ sulphuric compounds which are responsible for its ability to combat bacteria in the body. In clinical trials, garlic has also been shown to kill parasites and fight off infections, was used in the war to fight gangrene, and is a natural antibiotic.
If you don’t fancy tablet form, you could add garlic to a curry along with some of the other immune boosting ingredients below, chilli or a pasta dish, and why not accompany it with some garlic bread!
As well as being very tasty, ginger, the familiar warming flavour of gingerbread men and ginger biscuits, has a number of health boosting properties. It has been found to help balance the immune system to keep it functioning properly, as well as enhancing the immune system’s protective functions by activating ‘T’ cells – the type of white blood cells that kill viruses and tumour cells.
Another benefit is that ginger can naturally induce sweating, and healthy sweating can be beneficial to the body when suffering from colds and/or ‘flu. An agent that fights germs has recently been found in sweat, therefore stimulating the sweat glands to produce sweat could help the body protect itself from infection.
If you’re suffering from a cold related head ache or want to relieve congestion in your chest, a paste made of ginger can be applied to your chest or forehead and can help provide anti-inflammatory benefits too.
Whether made into a tea by putting a couple of slices into hot water, or added to soups, stews, stir fries or desserts, ginger can help combat colds with its many attributes from boosting your immune system to reducing inflammation.
There are a number of ways that chillis can work to help ease the pain and frustration of a cold or bout of ‘flu. The main reason behind their effectiveness is that they contain capsaicin. This is the chemical that makes your eyes stream and nose run after eating a super hot chilli, but when full of cold, this response is ideal for clearing mucous and phlegm to help you breathe easier.
As well as packing a punch to clear your passages, chillis contain a huge amount of vitamin C. In fact, you’d have to eat 4 whole oranges to get the same amount as from one chilli.
It’s not just immune system boosting and expectorant properties that chillis can boast either; they also have pain killing effects and help stimulate the release of chemicals that reduce swelling to give you relief.
So if you want to boot that cold into next week, prepare a curry as hot as you can take it, along with ginger and garlic, and you should soon be back on your feet.
Although more commonly used in cooking, thyme is a herb that can be used to ease a sore throat. Made into a syrup, with honey for sweetness, or combined with other ingredients such as licorice, it has a number of properties to help fight infection.
The chemicals contained in thyme can help fight infections and bacteria, therefore helping your immune system kick ‘flu bugs out of your system quicker. It can also sooth sore throats by reducing muscle spasms that can cause irritating coughs.
Another way to enjoy thyme is making it into a tea by steeping the herb in hot water, or using thyme tea bags. A teaspoon of honey can be added to sweeten the drink if desired, and bring its own antibacterial benefits to the drink too.
Licorice has the effect of boosting interferon production in the body. Interferon is a key chemical in the immune system responsible for fighting off viruses when they attack. It can also help in the fight against recurrent infections due to its regulatory effect on the metabolism of cortisol, therefore helping the body adapt better to stress and reducing negative effects from stress itself.
This article is provided for general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified doctor or general practitioner. If in doubt about your health, always seek advice from a medical professional and don’t make changes to your diet without seeking medical advice first.