A Review of Natural Cold Remedies
Raise your hand if you hate getting the cold. Yeah, I feel you.
We are all familiar with the common cold. At some point within any given year, we all fall victim to its gnarly and invisible grip, sometimes more than once or twice.
Although the common cold is usually far from fatal, it’s still a nasty experience that we hope we don’t have to repeat often. This is why many of us like to search for ways to prevent and fight colds. And I’m…well…a little more zealous in that search than your average person.
My Fear of Getting the Cold
I’m probably more afraid of catching a cold than anyone you know. If the average person is considered “cautious” when it comes to cold germs, I’m what I’d call “obsessively afraid”.
I wish I was only exaggerating.
I once made my boyfriend-at-the-time-but-husband-now ride in the back seat of my car with a hospital mask on his face while I drove him to the doctor’s office for a bad cold that he had. I rolled down my window on the driver’s side and held my breath for as long as I could the entire ride. And when I couldn’t hold it anymore, I took in just tiny bits of air and hoped that I wouldn’t catch his cold.
Boy, was I weird or what. It’s a miracle that he still married me after that.
My fear of getting the cold started soon after I was diagnosed with Leukemia. When your immune system is practically non-existent and any small bug can cause severe complications or even kill you, you just become paranoid of every cough or sneeze around you.
The paranoia never really left me.
Then a couple of years ago I was diagnosed with a rare and serious lung condition that could be exacerbated by colds, so it became even more paramount for me to keep the cold bugs away.
But the problem is, unlike other more serious illnesses, the common cold doesn’t have a vaccine and there’s no effective medication to eradicate it completely once you’re infected. The suggested treatment from physicians is usually along the lines of “rest and drink more fluids”.
It seems like with conventional medicine, there’s nothing much we can do about colds.
Interestingly, there are many so-called natural remedies out there that claim to prevent or fight colds—everything from goold ol’ chicken soup to squirting water up your nose.
But do they really work as well as some people claim they do? I wanted to find out. I tested many different natural cold remedies in my search for the magic bullet to cure colds and here’s my honest review of 7 of the most common natural cold remedies.
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My Review of 7 Natural Cold Remedies
1. Oregano Oil
The claim: Oregano oil, extracted from the shoots and leaves of the oregano plant, is said to be a powerful antioxidant and has natural antibiotic and anti-fungal properties that may help with fighting the common cold.
My experience using it: This stuff is STRONG! It’s so pungent that even a tiny drop will make my taste buds scream in disgust.
Not only does it taste awful, oregano oil also comes with a burning sensation that makes me cringe all the way down to my toes whenever I swallow this stuff. I once likened it to swallowing “battery acid”. Yep, it’s that bad.
The other downside to oregano oil is that it isn’t exactly cheap—a 30ml bottle of good oregano oil with a high percentage (more than 80%) of Carvacrol—the main active ingredient in oregano oil, costs at least $20 CAD. I also have to be careful to not take it on an empty stomach as it can cause a bit of an upset stomach and nausea.
Do I think it’s effective? Heck yeah! This is the only reason why I continue to subject myself to the misery of oregano oil. When used at the first signs of a sore throat, oregano oil really cut down on the severity and the duration of the cold and soothed the soreness in my throat. This is the brand of oregano oil I’m currently using, it’s a high-quality oregano oil that contains 75%-85% Carvacrol, and the price doesn’t break my wallet.
I usually put 3 drops in a tablespoon of water, swish it in my mouth and swallow. I repeat this process 3 times a day for up to 3 days. The awful taste and burning sensation will last for half a minute each time, but the result is worth it.
Just make sure you don’t take it on an empty stomach and never take it without diluting it first with water. For other ideas on how to take oregano oil for its health benefits, check out this article from University Health News.
2. Gargling With Salt Water
The claim: Like the title suggests, this method is literally just tilting your head back and gargling water flavoured with a pinch of table salt (or sea salt if you like it fancy). Supposedly this method will soothe an achy throat and researchers have found that it can reduce the occurrence of upper respiratory infections by nearly 40%.
My experience using it: It’s simple, doesn’t taste too bad, and unlike the oregano oil I mentioned above, its ingredients are readily available and cost next to nothing. Just go easy on the salt!
When I first started gargling, I was overly zealous and put way too much salt in my water. That didn’t turn out so well.
Instead of making my throat feel better, it made my throat feel even drier and more swollen!
Through trial and error, I was finally able to find the right amount of salt that didn’t make me feel like I was pickling my mouth—1 teaspoon of salt mixed with 1 cup of water. I also found that lukewarm water works better than cold water when it comes to soothing a throat-ache.
Do I think it’s effective? Yes. Gargling with salt water works extremely well in preventing colds from developing in the first place. Even when I had a cold already, gargling with salt water soothed my sore throat and significantly reduce the amount of mucus my body produced.
So now whenever I notice my coworkers sneezing or if I come in contact with someone who’s sick I will go home and gargle with salt water right away. I would repeat this every day for the next few days and this practice has helped cut down the number of colds I get each year from 5 times a year to just 2 or 3.
It’s such an easy and cost-effective method that I think we should all make it part of our regular routine during the cold and flu season!
3. Honey Lemon Tea
The claim: Drinking tea with lemon and honey is a traditional cold remedy that claims to soothe a sore throat, reduce phlegm and suppress a cough. This sweet and citrusy concoction is a popular go-to method to fight colds and both kids and adults love it!
My experience using it: Who doesn’t like honey lemon tea? It’s warm, tasty, and smells sooooo good!
I usually mix a cup of warm water with a slice of lemon and a tablespoon of honey or I like to use peppermint tea as the base of the beverage. Peppermint tea does a good job clearing up the sinuses and my achy throat seems to appreciate the cooling sensation this tea provides. Chamomile or dandelion teas are also great alternatives.
Do I think it’s effective? This tea works well in combating coughs and itchy throat.
If I start drinking it as soon as I notice a sore throat coming on, I won’t get much mucus at all and my cold symptoms are usually gone after a week instead of lingering for two weeks or more.
This is a big deal for me as I used to get these terrible coughs with thick phlegm all the time and ever since I started drinking this tea, I don’t get those bad coughs anymore.
I find that lemon tea without the honey works just as well so if you don’t have a sweet tooth or if you need to watch your sugar intake, just lemon water or lemon tea will do the trick.
The claim: During the cold and flu season, zinc tablets, lozenges, and syrup laced with zinc dominate the shelves at the drug store with labels such as “boosts immune system” or “helps fight colds”.
Misleading advertising? Maybe, maybe not.
Researchers concluded, after examining data collected from 15 trials involving 1,360 participants, that taking a zinc supplement within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms had an impact on how serious the symptoms would be and how long they would last.
My experience using it: I prefer zinc tablets over zinc lozenges or syrup because of its low sugar content, but the downside is that it has a rather unpleasant chalky taste and texture.
Besides the not-so-ideal flavour, zinc, when taken on an empty stomach, can lead to nausea so I have to remember to always take it with some food.
Another thing I have to watch out for is the dosage limit. Zinc is considered safe for most adults when taken by mouth in amounts not larger than 40 mg daily.
Taking doses higher than that or taking zinc for a prolonged period of time may negatively impact copper absorption in the body and lead to anemia. That’s why I only take zinc when I feel a cold coming on, and I only take it for 3 to 4 days at the most. I stick to 40mg a day and stop immediately once the worst of the cold symptoms are over.
Do I think it’s effective? I’m on my third bottle of zinc and I make sure I carry a few tablets in my purse all the time. That should tell you what I think about the effectiveness of this little mineral!
If I take zinc as soon as I get a sore throat, I won’t get that super tired, I’d-just-been-hit-by-a-truck feeling I usually get with a cold on the second and third day. Instead of having to shut down everything just to nurse my cold-ridden body for at least a day or two, I can continue with my daily routine with the help of zinc and I’m able to jump fully back on my feet within a few days.
The claim: Echinacea is a well-known herb that has been hailed by many as a “miracle herb” with amazing cold and flu-fighting abilities. It contains a mixture of active substances which are believed to be antimicrobial and has a positive effect on the human immune system.
My experience using it: I tried several forms of this herb including Echinacea tea and Echinacea pills. I remember it had a slightly bitter taste to it but it wasn’t horrible enough to stick out in my memory like oregano oil.
The good thing about Echinacea is that unlike several of the other remedies I mentioned in this post, it didn’t cause any tummy-related side effects when I took it.
Do I think it’s effective? Echinacea tea worked fine as a base for the lemon and honey tea but by itself, its effect was lackluster. Even when I took the Echinacea pills, which were supposed to be more potent, I didn’t notice any difference in the severity or duration of my cold symptoms.
I kept hoping that there would be some benefit to justify its popularity as a “cold-fighting” remedy but I just couldn’t find any. A total disappointment with this one I’m afraid!
6. Vitamin C
The claim: Many people swear by vitamin C as the “go-to” cold-fighting remedy. Studies show that taking regular vitamin C supplements reduced cold symptoms and improved recovery time by 8% in adults and 14% in children.
My experience using it: Vitamin C pills taste like citrus-flavoured candies which I love to munch on. I’m obsessed with anything citrusy! But because vitamin C is easy enough to get through food, I try to reach for vitamin C-rich foods like fruits and vegetables first before I go for vitamin C supplements.
Of course, there are days where you just can’t control how much fruits and veggies you get from your meals and that’s when the supplements come handy. And when they taste as good as these Vitamin C gummies, who can say no?
Do I think it’s effective? Most definitely! Like zinc, taking vitamin C through either food or supplement within 24 hours of a cold has a noticeable effect on the course of the illness. I feel like I have more energy in my body and my throat doesn’t hurt as much for as long as it usually does without taking the extra vitamin C.
It’s a much more palatable alternative to oregano oil and I highly recommend it.
7. Ginger Tea
The claim: Ginger is no ordinary spice. It is highly revered in Chinese culture as a food that also doubles as a powerful medicinal herb. It is believed that the anti-gingerols and shaogals in ginger root will help kill rhinoviruses—the virus that causes colds in the first place.
My experience using it: I made ginger tea by cutting a small piece of fresh ginger root into thin slices and simmering them in hot water for about 15 minutes. Then I mixed the tea with some honey to lessen its spiciness and I drank this concoction twice a day for the first couple of days of a cold.
Do I think it’s effective? I only tried ginger tea a few times and had to stop because every time I drank this stuff it only made my throat feel worse.
I also noticed that I would get thicker mucus and a worse cough if I drink ginger tea.
After some research into Traditional Chinese Medicine, I found out that ginger tea should not be used for colds that start out with a sore throat as ginger is considered as a type of food that creates “heat” or “warm” energy in your body and that can exacerbate symptoms of excess “heat” in the body—a sore throat being one of the symptoms.
How can you tell if you should use ginger tea or not? If you have a sore throat or if you’re coughing lots with thick, yellowish phlegm, stay away from ginger. Try this steamed Asian pear with honey recipe instead.
But if your cold is characterized by thin, runny mucus in the nose, which are symptoms of excess “cold” energy in your body, then ginger tea should be able to warm you up.
The conclusion? Ginger is effective ONLY for the right kinds of colds and if used inappropriately it may make your cold even worse.
My conclusion after trying so many different natural cold remedies is the following:
- Try oregano oil if you got tough taste buds and don’t mind shelling out a little bit more money for the good stuff.
- Incorporate a warm salt water gargle into your daily routine, and drink lemon tea often, especially when you feel your throat starting to get scratchy.
- Get a bottle of Zinc supplement and have it handy at all times, and eat a lot of fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C.
- You don’t need to go out of your way to get Echinacea but it probably won’t hurt.
- Be careful with ginger tea as it might exacerbate your type of cold.
Have you tried any of the remedies I mentioned in the post? What’s been your experience? Do you have any other natural cold remedies that you’d like to recommend? Let me know by leaving a comment!