Being sick sucks. No matter where you are or what time of year it is, having a cold really bites, even if it’s just a nagging sore throat and a runny nose kind of cold. When I was a kid, other than providing me with a steady supply of cough drops, my mom’s go-to cold remedy was warm chicken broth with parsley. It was simple, but it served the dual purpose of providing some protein and soothing my sore throat. As I got older, I came across new remedies from different people and different places. Sure, I still love my chicken broth and parsley, but my boyfriend prefers straight up chicken soup from the can. Similar, but just a bit different. That’s the theme I noted with a few of the other remedies I’ve found. This post is going to be a collection of simple recipes for simple remedies, so you can keep that robitussin on the shelf and hopefully lay off the cough drops for a bit. **NOTE: None of these remedies are intended to cure or treat any severe illness. Always consult a doctor for any severe or persisting medical problem.**
Tea Tree Oil and Water
One of my mom’s other signature cures for colds, be they in your head or in your chest, is a simple (albeit kind of stuffy) remedy that requires only three ingredients, and you don’t even have to eat it.
1 large bowl of hot water
4 drops of tea tree oil
1 bath towel
Fill a kettle with water and bring it to a boil on the stove. Pour the water into a large bowl and add the drops of tea tree oil (also known as melaleuca oil, if you’re having a hard time finding it by the other name). Place the bowl on the kitchen table and pull up a chair. With the bath towel, you’re going to create a tent containing your head and the bowl of water so that the vapors get caught in the towel and don’t escape into the room. Next step: take some deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Repeat until there’s no steam left (it’ll be a while, so get comfy, put on some relaxing music, and take off your glasses).
Why does it work?
Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic/antibacterial/antiviral and it works as an expectorant. That means it can knock out whatever is causing your cold and help you cough up any phlegm in your chest or throat. It also works pretty well as a cleaning solvent because of those antiseptic properties. You can find little bottles of the oil online or at a natural foods store.
When you think about it, all lemonade is is lemon juice, sweetener, and water. Not too bad, really, but don’t go buying any old lemonade and nuking it in the microwave. The best way to do it is by making it at home. I promise, it’s really easy. Ingredients: 1 lemon 1-2 tbsp honey (depending on how sweet/soothing or how tart you like it) water your favorite mug
Heat up some water on the stove again, and get your favorite mug ready. I actually use a smaller mug than my favorite one, but that’s because my fave is the size of a small flower pot. If you’re like me, pick out a more standard sized mug, for the sake of not watering things down. Pour the honey into your mug. The more honey you add, the more it’ll help soothe your throat and cough. I usually like about 2 or 3 tablespoons, but I also like the taste of straight honey. Massage, cut, and juice the lemon and add that to the mug of honey. Add hot water to fill the mug (it should be about a cup or so) and stir until everything is combined. Enjoy while warm for best results. Why does it work? In addition to being yummy, honey is a natural antibacterial, which can help knock out some bugs that make you feel sick. Honey also helps coat and soothe your sore throat, making you more comfortable, like a cough drop would. This is why you find honey in so many of the recipes for cold remedies (it’s in several that I’m going to be listing). Lemon — or any citrus for that matter — also provides some Vitamin C, which can help boost your immune system to get you over whatever is making you feel gross a little quicker.
Hot Toddy (Abridged Version)
This one is a remedy I learned from my friend in Scotland. Much to my surprise, I found that taking this shot of what basically amounts to liquefied honey with some booze to make it go down smoother actually worked significantly better than continually popping cough drops.
1 shot glass
lemon juice (optional)
I didn’t include measurements because I’ve seen shot glasses vary in size (which is stupid, because a shot is supposed to be a fixed measurement, as far as I’m aware). Fill the shot glass a little more than halfway with honey, then top it off with whiskey (I used maple whiskey because that’s what I had — it was pretty good, actually).
Pop the shot glass and contents in the microwave for about 10 seconds to heat up the liquid. If it starts bubbling, take it out, because you’ll make a nice mess if you let it keep heating (not like I learned that from experience or anything…). Stir the honey and whiskey together, and then either sip it or take it as a shot or two, but make sure you drink it before it gets cold (otherwise it doesn’t work as well and you lose most of the honey).
Why does it work?
As I mentioned before, honey does wonders for soothing sore throats and coughs, but it’s tough to drink honey because… well, it’s viscous. By heating it and combining it with whiskey, it makes the honey easier to drink, the vapor carries heat and moisture up to your sinuses, and — at least for me — the hot whiskey causes a couple of good coughs. Then again, I don’t drink much (and neither should you, especially if you’re sick!).
Earlier, I said I liked chicken broth while the boyfriend prefers Campbell’s. Either way, chicken soup is pretty a much a staple if you’re feeling under the weather. A lot of that comes from the fact that it’s easy on the stomach, so if you’re down with something that makes you woozy, it’s relatively easy to keep down (as opposed to, say, Chinese takeout or a cold cut sandwich). You can always make a simple broth with some bullion or by, you know, buying a carton of broth and heating some up, or you can go the boyfriend’s route and just heat up a can of soup. If you want to make your own, I came up with a recipe not long ago and posted it here, on the blog.
Why does it work?
As I mentioned, chicken soup is pretty easy to keep down if you have an upset stomach, but the warm broth also is soothing to the throat and helps move mucus along. That’s generally true of most warm liquids, be they tea, soup, or just warm water. Warming your face by drinking warm liquids (or inhaling warm vapors) helps get the gunk in your sinuses flowing. While that does mean runny noses and post-nasal drip, it also means feeling better, sooner.
Hot Limeade with a Kick
This is a recipe I learned from one of my high school friends. Her mom is Jamaican and she said that, instead of the hot lemonade recipe that I mentioned having when I was sick, her mom made this version. If you’re not a fan of lemons but you like your limes (or you’re sick of lemon this and lemon that and want a change of pace), give this one a go.
2 tbsp honey
a splash of rum
Juice the lime into a small mug and add in the honey. Add a splash of rum (about half a shot), and stick the mug in the microwave to warm everything up. Mix the ingredients together and drink it warm, in a few sips, like the whiskey and honey.
Why does it work?
Honey, again, soothes the throat, while the lime provides some Vitamin C. The rum, more than anything, is here for flavor, though alcohol is an antibacterial — just don’t go crazy and drink yourself silly. Too much alcohol can lower your immune system. (That’s right. Scientific references on a food blog.)
Herbal tea can be good for a number of things, from helping you relax with some lavender tea (unless you’re pregnant) to soothing your stomach with some ginger to helping you get through cold season. While this isn’t going to be a recipe for loose leaf (though that might be cool to do someday), I’ll give a brief overview of some teas that can help you feel better and why.
• Licorice Tea: Licorice helps soothe the throat in a similar way to honey, by coating it and soothing it.
• Peppermint Tea: Peppermint, like those menthol cough drops, cools your throat and sinuses.
• Slippery Elm Bark: While you’re probably going to have more luck finding tea containing this ingredient than you are finding one exclusively made of this, slippery elm bark works as an expectorant, helping you cough up whatever might be in your throat or chest.
• Rosehip Tea: Rosehips are good source of Vitamin C, and they provide a nice change of pace if you’re getting sick of citrus or your stomach is getting tired of acid.
I know this sounds weird, but you’re going to have to trust me on this one. If you’re a fan of garlic, this is… well, it’s kind of like drinking a marinade, but it’s honestly not so bad.
1 tsp garlic
3 tbsp honey
Get out that mug from the hot lemonade and prep like before: heat water on the stove, put honey in the mug, juice the lemon and put that in the mug, add 1 tsp of garlic, and top everything off with water.
Now, this is coming from me and, when I’m sick, I don’t have any qualms about drinking chunky tea. If you’d rather avoid that, you can always get out a little saucepan and boil your water with the garlic in it and then strain it out before adding the water to the lemon and honey in your mug. However you do it, enjoy the drink nice and warm for best results.
Why does it work?
We’ve been over why honey and lemon and hot liquids are good for you when your sick, so let’s focus on the newcomer here: garlic. Why in the name of all things wonderful would you drink garlic?? Well, it turns out, garlic is surprisingly good for colds. Garlic contains allicin, which is a strong antibacterial. The fresher the garlic, the more allicin it contains, and the better it is for you.
Gargling Salt Water
This was a trick my mom always told me to use at the first sign of a cold. Gargling warm salt water is pretty gross, no matter how many times you’ve done it, but it actually, factually does help soothe your sore throat and get the virus out of your system.
1 cup warm water (not boiling, just warm)
1/2 tsp table salt
Mix the two together and swish and gargle away, changing the pitch of your gargle to move the liquid up and down your throat as much as possible. Spit it out and repeat until you’ve drained the glass, then let it sit (ie. don’t drink anything for about 10 minutes afterward).
Why does it work?
This is probably one of the more surprising remedies, because it’s an oldie (like, pre-OTC meds old) but a goodie. Gargling the saltwater changes the chemistry of the inside of your mouth and your throat, drawing fluids from the tissue inside your mouth and throat, bringing the virus with it. It’s not a cure, but it can sure help make you feel better, especially if you do it at the first inkling of a cold.
That’s right, yogurt. No recipe for this one, just get some low-fat yogurt and enjoy.
Why does it work?
Yogurt is full of probiotics, or “good bacteria.” What does that mean? It means that the bacteria in yogurt work with your body to help you stay healthy and function as you should. These bacteria make their home in your gut, where they primarily aid with digestion, nutrient absorption, and… ahem… staying “regular,” but a healthy gut also means a boosted immune system!
This one is a last-minute addition from my friend. She’s my guru when it comes to all things Indian, especially their cuisine. If you’re looking for an immune booster and cold-easer, here’s a good one to try.
2 bags chai black tea
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tbsp honey
— Brew water for making tea. In your teacup, add the honey, turmeric, and ginger, followed by the tea and water. Let it all steep and drink up. Be careful! Turmeric can leave bright yellow stains on your clothes and fingers if you come into contact with it. It’s not harmful, of course, but it is very bright. Why does it work? Well, we’ve touched on honey numerous times, but ginger and turmeric are new here. Ginger, in addition to calming woozy stomachs, ginger is also an anti-inflammatory, which helps when your throat is swollen and irritated from a cold. Turmeric, on the other hand, owes much of its health benefits to a chemical called curcumin. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, helps boost your immune system, and gives your whole body a bit of a tune-up. Way to go, turmeric!