Natural Cold and Flu Remedies

Actually, I don't really know much about natural cold and flu remedies.  Note that I am not a medical professional nor an herbalist. But I have survived many, many, many illnesses with children too young to take common cold remedies such as decongestants or cough suppressants, as well as many colds myself while pregnant (when I try not to take any medications unless absolutely necessary).  So how do we deal with the stuffy noses and sore throats and other miseries of minor illnesses around here?

Natural Relief from Cold and Flu

  • Honey. Honey feels so good on a sore throat, and it works as well as anything I've tried to suppress a dry cough so you can rest or sleep.  Plus, my kids never complain about eating a spoonful of honey!  When my kids or I have a cold, we eat spoonfuls of (unpasteurized local) honey several times during the day, plus one big scoop before bedtime before brushing teeth, so we can stop coughing long enough to fall asleep. When I had a particularly wicked cough while pregnant, I kept a lidded cup of water mixed with honey next to my bed, and when I woke up coughing, I would sip some of that honey water from a straw to help control the cough. (Note: Do not give honey to children under one year of age.)
  • Homemade lemon tea. My mom used to make this for me when I was sick, just as her mother made it for her.  It's a very simple recipe: hot water, lemon juice (freshly squeezed is delicious), plus a little honey. Helps clear the nose, soothe the throat, and calm your cough.  Of course any hot herbal tea is nice when you are feeling yucky, so just make and sip your favorite.
  • Menthol vapor rubs. My Latin mother-in-law told me about this one. Apparently this is a favorite remedy of many Latinos, and my pediatrician assured us it was completely safe.  I was pleased to note that even the major brand had a very harmless list of ingredients (I'm guessing they haven't changed the formulation in decades). My husband rubs a bit on my kids' chests and then puts a tissue on top (to keep it off the PJs).  He also dabs a little under their noses.  Some folks put it on their kids' feet too.
  • Drink tons of water. I once had a doctor tell me that water was the very best cough expectorant of all. When my kids are sick, I keep them drinking water all day long. They take their sippy cups with them everywhere, and I remind them to drink every time they cough. Drinking extra helps prevent dehydration too.
  • Hot showers. For me, a hot shower is always one of life's great pleasures. But when I'm sick, I consider them part of my cold treatment. The steam helps clear my nose and the hot water helps soothe my aching body.  Although I bathe my kids as little as possible while sick to avoid them getting the chills, the steam from a hot shower is perfect for little noses too. Bring congested little ones into the bathroom when an adult takes a hot shower to benefit from the hot steam: close the windows and door and turn off the fan, and steam up the bathroom as much as possible to help clear the nose and chest. 
  • Short low-key walks, esp. in brisk weather. I don't try to vigorously exercise when I'm feeling under the weather, but nothing clears the nose like a little exertion, especially in colder temperatures.
  • Humidifier. At night or during naps, consider using a humidifier to help sick ones breathe more easily at night, particularly if you live in a very dry environment.  Just remember to always air out the room well the next day so you don't encourage the growth of mold. 
  • Blow or suction nose often. What a boon it was when my first child finally figured out how to blow his own nose!  For those too young to do this, there are a number of suctioning devices available.  I never found those bulbs that they give you in the hospital with a newborn at all useful, but I've heard good things about electric suction devices from friends as well as this European suction device (if you can move past the ick factor).  It's important to keep the snot moving, as this helps prevent sinus and ear infections from developing.
  • Stay upright. Desperate parents will do almost anything to help a baby breathe at night.  I've spent many a night sitting up in a chair holding a little one upright on my shoulder. I wouldn't recommend letting a baby sleep in a car seat (as they can experience reduced oxygen levels in this position), although I know many folks resort to this. With very young babies, I co-sleep on a crib wedge with them (still searching for a modestly priced non-foam one of these!).    With older kids, I sometimes roll up a blanket to put under the top of their pillow near the wall to keep it at an angle, or stagger two pillows to achieve an incline. Sleeping upright helps relieve both congestion and coughing.
  • Sinupret. This is a "dietary supplement" technically, not a medication.  The syrup, acceptable for children 2 and up, is supposed to provide natural sinus, respiratory and immune support.  I learned of this remedy in an article about cold remedies for kids by Dr. Bob Sears. There is some clinical evidence for its effectiveness. We tried this with my first, who always got horribly congested (and often got ear infections) while sick, but he disliked the taste enough that I could never get him to take it regularly. So I can't really tell you how well it works, but it's perfectly safe for little ones and possibly worth a try.

Check out Healthy Child Healthy World's blog for more natural and non-toxic remedies for cold and flu.

What are your best tips for natural relief from cold and flu?

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  1. Neti pot. As soon as you start feeling something--or even as soon as you know you've been exposed--start your nasal cleansing regimen. The salt water makes an environment inhospitable to the cold and flu germs, which need a period of time to incubate in the nose and throat area before you start feeling sick. It also helps clear out the gunk that becomes congestion, which makes you that much more comfortable--lots of relief. It's supposed to be the best thing for sinusitis and other sinus infections. The only caution I've heard (besides not using the wrong salt or too much salt) is to not make it part of your daily routine when you're healthy. Also, this is fairly obvious once you've seen a demo, but it doesn't work so well with young kids.

  2. Rachael, I've never used one personally, but I know many folks who swear by the neti pot. I've heard they are great for allergies as well. Thanks for the detailed explanation!

  3. I wish I didn't need these tips this week, but I do. Thanks for posting!

    My son won't eat honey by the spoonful, but he will eat honey candy and it has really helped with his cough the last week. We found it when we were searching for dye-free Halloween candy! Just in time :) We bought GoNaturally Organic Candy - they sell both honey and honey lemon drops at

  4. Hi! We're big fans of the Neti, which helps to prevent secondary infections. My 6yo and 8yo do it too (when I urge them to.)


  5. I second the honey motion! You can never have too much, either in tea or on a spoon.

  6. My girls love that I treat their coughs with honey. It's like a play on "a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down" They don't object to taking their medicine!

  7. Great list! We find the probiotics in kefir to be immune-strengthening as well. This year we're also trying elderberry syrup.

  8. I have recently been making a cough suppressant that my kids like and I think helps a little: water/cold green tea, cayenne pepper, honey, acv. I give it whenever they start coughing. _We also drink garlic tea with honey and use a lot of saline spray. Thanks for the list.

  9. Generally, a common cold is accompanied by difficulty in breathing, headaches, pains in the sinus, sore throat, and nasal congestion. It usually goes away naturally in a week or two. However, learning how to get rid of a cold can certainly aid your body to alleviate the discomfort of experiencing the common cold. It can also help your body flush out the phlegm faster compared to just waiting for your cold to pass.


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