13 Natural Cold Remedies: What Works and What Doesn't

By now, pretty much everybody is back to school, and in many parts of the country, fall has suddenly arrived with a vengeance. That means cold season is not far behind.

You've heard the old saying about a cold, "Treat it, it lasts for two weeks; don't treat it, it lasts for 14 days," right? The fact is, there's not a lot you can do to get rid of a cold once you have one. But there are a whole host of options out there to lessen the stuffy-nosed, coughing, scratchy-throated, headachey misery. As it happens, some of the most effective ones are natural remedies. Here's a rundown:


Nasal irrigation (neti pot, saline spray, etc.): People swear by their neti pots for a reason -- they work. A neti pot, saline spray, or even a homemade wash clears mucus from the nose while also removing cold viruses and bacteria.

Steam: Inhaling steam from a hot shower, leaning over a pot of simmering water, or putting a wet washcloth in the microwave for a minute and laying it over your face as soon as it's cool enough to handle eases congestion, the warmth feels good on your face if you have sinus pain along with your symptoms.

Chicken soup: One study about 10 years ago said that said chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties that can ease a cold. The problem? It wasn't a scientific, double-blind study because there's no real placebo for chicken soup! However, it can't hurt and might help, especially made by you for your child, because Mom's chicken soup is the best (even if it really came out of a can). It's the steam and fluids from the soup that help most, which is good news for vegetarians because vegetable soup will work just as well.

Vitamin C: One study has shown that taking vitamin C daily doesn't help prevent colds, but can slightly shorten their duration as long as it's taken every day and not just after a cold starts. Interestingly, another study showed that for highly fit people, such as marathon runners, vitamin C cut their risk of getting a cold in half.

Echinacea: One study showed that daily use could cut the risk of getting a cold by 58 percent and the duration of the cold by 1.4 days, but other studies haven't replicated that result.

Goldenseal: There's even less evidence that this works than there is for echinacea.

Garlic: One study found it cut the risk of getting a cold and shortened the duration of a cold once a person got one; others have been inconclusive. A common remedy is to boil raw chopped garlic in water and drink the resulting broth or gargle with it. Good luck getting your kid to try that ...

Ginseng: One study found it had no effect on the duration of the flu or the probability of contracting it.

Honey: This is popular for coughs; one tablespoon of honey before bed has been shown to reduce cough symptoms in children. And this is medicine they'll gladly take.

Hot ginger tea: Ginger is used in traditional Chinese medicine and in Ayurvedic medicine as a cold remedy. There aren't good studies on its effectiveness, but like chicken soup, the steam and fluid probably help most.

Zinc: Some studies have shown zinc lozenges work to shorten the duration of a cold; others have found no effect. And the FDA has warned against the use of Zicam, a zinc nasal ointment, because several consumers reported they lost their sense of smell after trying it.

Rest, fluids, and staying warm: Turns out the best thing for your children (and you, once you inevitably get their cold) is to do what they want anyway ... relax on the couch with a soft blanket and a warm drink. It lets the body turn its energy to fighting the virus and certainly makes a cold feel less miserable.

What's your favorite natural cold remedy?


Image via ericabreetoe/Flickr

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