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5 Natural Cold, Cough, and Flu Remedies

Winter is making itself known and it's time to gear up for increased exposure to various illnesses over the next handful of months. Naturopathic Medicine is very effective at treating acute illness and helping to shorten the duration of illnesses, as well as preventing these illnesses.  

The foundations of a vegetable-based, whole foods diet, stress management, and quality sleep are always essential. These are foundational.  


Beyond that, these are my top 5 recommended home remedies for colds, coughs and the flu for you and the little ones in your life this season. These will act as prevention and treatment




1. Start Eating Mushrooms!

The mushrooms that flush in Western Washington in the fall rivals anywhere in the world in terms of diversity and quantity. Fungi from right in our backyards, as well as the crimini and button mushrooms you can readily get at the store, are wonderful preventive and treatment food options that are often overlooked.

Photo by Nick Grappone on Unsplash

One thing fungi are really good at in nature for themselves and us is fighting off viruses and bacteria.  Many compounds in mushrooms help us to directly fight off microbes but also help our immune systems to be stimulated and more effective at fighting off foreign invaders.   


My advice is to eat as many mushrooms as you can get into your diet. Get a variety if possible.  Eating a serving at least 2-3 times a week will give you a healthy boost against infections this winter.  


Mushroom powders, such as reishi powder, are other easy forms to get the health benefits of our fungi friends. If you are using mushrooms to treat an acute illness, this might be an easier option. I recommend taking 4-5x the serving size for at least a few days to get over an illness quicker.




2. Alliums Alliums Alliums!

Alliaceae is the family that contains onions, garlic, chives, leeks, and shallots.  These are often just called the members of the Allium family. This family of common and easily accessible foods is a real treasure trove of potent antimicrobial compounds.  

Photo by LoboStudio Hamburg on Unsplash

I commonly recommend these plants for any kind of upper respiratory infection, even something as serious as pneumonia.  

The key for prevention is to eat them on a regular basis.  Start throwing onions and garlic in at least one of your dishes you make each day.  And with garlic, I recommend adding it at the end so that it's as fresh and potent as possible as opposed to cooking it down.  You can try having a jar of fresh smashed garlic in the fridge to throw in soups and other dishes for ease of use.


In acute illnesses, like when you are getting a sinusitis, or bronchitis, etc., my favorite preparation is a strong garlic, onion, and red pepper broth. Place one whole onion, a whole clove of garlic, and 1tsp. (or to tolerance) of red pepper in a sauce pot.  Add enough water to cover that x3.  You can add any other veggies you like, a beef bone, or whatever tickles your fancy, but the Alliums and the pepper are the key.  Simmer that for 30-60 minutes and drink the broth over the next 24 hour period.  The pepper gets your blood moving and loosens up mucus secretions.  The onions and garlic give you potent antimicrobial medicine.

To the left is the recipe described above with carrot, a couple of chicken thighs, ginger, and miso added.  

Cilantro was added at the end. The main key is, again, the garlic and onion, but ginger and miso are tasty additions that are helpful as well.













3.  Fermented Foods (Probiotics)

Probiotics have been such a buzz in the health world for long enough now that most of us knows our gut bacteria are important, even if we don't know why.  

One thing that the bacteria in our gut do is regulate our immune system. They actually can increase and decrease susceptibility to illness based on the health of their ecosystem. They can even directly cause disease.

Taking a probiotic is a helpful option, but it's a lot more cost effective to eat fermented foods if you make your own.  Look up how to make sauerkraut or kimchi online. There are many recipes and it's really easy.  


I will often take a probiotic if I get sick. In this case anywhere from 15 billion CFU and up is a common strength available. Take one or two a day for at least a week.

Eating fermented vegetables however, you are not only getting a regular dose of probiotic, but you are getting fiber, other phytonutrients, and a host of vitamins and minerals.  I try to eat kraut at least a few times a week.  It's great as a topping or side dish to nearly any meal.  Give it a try!




4. Elderberry 

Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is a wonderful medicine that everyone should know about.  It has antiviral properties that are effective against the influenza virus and likely beneficial for any viral infection.  

A nice thing about Elderberry is that it is very safe.  So much so we use it in little children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers.  

Another awesome perk is that elderberry syrup tastes delicious and ya can't say that about all herbal medicines!


For prevention, adults can take 2-3tsp. 1-3 times a day.  For acute illness, 2-3tsp. every couple of hours is safe and effective.   




5. Contrast Hydrotherapy

Increasing blood flow to vital organs and affected organs like lungs and sinuses when sick helps symptoms and helps get immune cells to the area. I don't know of anything that does this any better than contrast hydrotherapy.


Photo by Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash

The basic idea is to use warm/hot water for 3-5 minutes and then a short burst of cold for 30-60 seconds. Then back to warm for 3-5 minutes. Traditionally this is done 3 times but you can do it as much as you like, as long as you tolerate it well.


You can do contrast hydrotherapy to any part of the body or the whole body. With a cold and/or cough, I focus on the face, neck, and chest. The colder the water, is usually the better. The only thing you want to avoid is getting chilled. The idea is for your body to respond to the cold and send blood to the area to warm it up. Especially with the chest and if you are depleted, you may have to use less cold water or do less time. Remember, it's not supposed to be hard to recover from. On the contrary, you should feel decreased congestion and a bit of revitalisation afterwards.




Bonus Home Remedy for Babies and Kids with Colds and Coughs


Wet Sock Treatment

This is an old naturopathic treatment that may be the best home remedy for kids ever created. It uses the same idea as #5 above, except we're drawing blood to the feet. This simple treatment will help decrease a fever (but importantly, not suppress it), decrease congestion, and help the littles sleep through the night.


Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

Basic Formula:

Wet cotton socks, wrung out so they're damp, not dripping wet.

Place the socks in the fridge.

When laying them down for bed, place the cold cotton socks on and then dry wool socks over the top.


They will likely protest briefly and then will likely go to sleep. It's a little uncomfortable for a moment and then the body responds by sending blood to the feet to warm them up. Kids respond wonderfully to this treatment. It isn't uncommon that it helps them kick the illness and they are much better the next day.


The socks will warm and dry throughout the night. You can leave them on, remove them, and even replace them with another pair if they wake in the night and are having a hard time.


My experience with adults is that it only works maybe 50% of the time. Whereas kids it seems to always have a positive effect.


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