The Natural Cure for the Common Cold
By Melissa Conroy
Colder weather is upon us, and that means long nights of burrowing under quilts, evenings spent sipping tea in front of a fire and days indoors with friends and loved ones. Unfortunately it also means that colds, coughs and flu bugs are rampant. Since we spend much more time indoors during cold weather, ill people are much harder to avoid and germs spread more easily. Although our pharmacy shelves are loaded with assorted pills, liquids and other remedies to help relieve the symptoms of colds and flues, these medicines can’t prevent us from becoming sick or help us to recover sooner.
Thankfully Mother Nature has provided us with a score of useful plants, herbs and vitamins that are powerful defenders in the battle against the cold and flu season. Before modern scientific methods brought us such things as antibiotics, flu shots and decongestants, people turned to nature to find relief from their illnesses. When “bug season” hits, there are many herbs and vitamins that are extremely useful. Here is a list of some of the most common natural herbs and vitamins for the cold and flu season. They won’t cure you instantly, but they can make you feel better and help speed up the healing process. Also, be aware that some herbs and natural supplements can interfere with certain medicines, so be sure to check with your doctor before starting an herbal remedy.
Astragalus: This root has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for quite a long time and is popular as either a cure for or to prevent the common cold. You can purchase this root in capsule form and some Asian groceries carry the root in dried form. Traditional Chinese medicine often recommends that people drink a soup or tea of astragalus root once a week during the cold and flu season to boost their immune system. However, astragalus can negate the salutary effects of certain drugs, so ask your doctor about taking this supplement if you are on any medication.
Echinacea: Also known as the “coneflower,” echinacea is a group of nine flower species that are related to the daisy family. Echinacea has long been used to help people either avoid colds or reduce the severity of a cold because it is suspected to increase the body’s white blood cell count. Although there is some debate over its effectiveness, thousands of people swear by its usefulness. Echinacea comes in pill, liquid or tea form. At the first onset of a cold, take echinacea several times a day in whatever form you prefer. However, echinacea should not be used for more than seven to 10 days.
Garlic: While your spouse may avoid you after you have downed a big plate of garlic-infused pasta, you might also ward off a cold with that same popular spice. Garlic contains allicin, which has antibacterial properties and is thought to be the reason why the spice can help you fight off a cold. You can purchase garlic tablets at the health store or simply get creative in the kitchen and load up your cooking with garlic. Some die-hard health nuts even eat raw garlic cloves.
Ginger: Ginger has long been popular as both a spice and a medicine. Queasy stomachs can be soothed with ginger, and the spice is helpful in the battle against the common cold because it is an antiseptic, an antioxidant and has antiviral properties. Try making a tea by peeling and grating fresh ginger and adding it to two spoons of honey, some cayenne pepper and two spoons of lemon juice. Add hot water, steep three minutes and drink.
Goldenseal: This wildflower (it doesn’t grow well in cultivation) contains berberine, a component that can fight against infection. Goldenseal is often used in conjunction with echinacea, and you can usually find capsules that contain both of these flowers. Like echinacea, goldenseal should not be taken for more than a week or two at a time.
Vitamin C: Most people automatically reach for orange juice when it comes to a cold because vitamin C is one of the most popular supplements people take when sick or trying to keep from becoming sick. You can either take it the natural way through fruits and vegetables or avail yourself to the many vitamin C supplements and cough drops out there. However, do be aware that recent research has not uncovered much evidence that vitamin C is that helpful. It can shorten the duration of your cold, but be aware that extra OJ is not the cure-all.
Zinc: This important mineral strengthens the immune system and may also interfere with virus replication in the throat, so it is no wonder that zinc lozenges and treatments have been popping up in pharmacies in the past several years. Zinc shows promising evidence that it can cut the duration of your cold, so at the first sign of a cough or sniffle, try zinc. You can purchase cough drops like Cold-Eeze and Walgreens Natural Zinc Cold Remedy Lozenges. Additionally, there are products like Zicam, which comes in either a spray or a gel you dab on the inside of your nose. Zinc can have the side effects of creating a metallic taste in your mouth or (if you use the spray or gel) temporarily deadening your sense of smell. However, since a cold generally reduces your sense of smell and taste anyway, this temporary loss is a small price to pay for getting better soon.
While no herb or vitamin can cure the common cold or flu, the natural world has provided us with many ways to speed up the healing process and get us back on the road to recovery sooner. A little zinc, a cup of echinacea tea or a bowl of creamy garlic soup might be just the thing to help you feel better during these cold, germ-ridden winter months.