Natural Remedies for Illness

25 Natural Remedies for Cold and Flu Natural Remedies for Illness

When the flu bites, when the cold stings… these are a few of my least favorite things… Fortunately, some cases of illness can be easily prevented, and even once an illness has struck, natural and herbal remedies can help shorten the duration and get you feeling better faster. I posted before about what I keep in my medicine cabinet (and in my purse when traveling), but since we are getting in to the heat.. er, cold, of flu season, I thought more information could be helpful.

Cold and Flu Prevention

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure… you’ve heard it a million times, but how does it practically relate to illness prevention? In short, giving the body what it needs and keeping a constant supply of nutrients will help ensure that the body can resist any pathogen it encounters. Following a basic Wellness Lifestyle will go a long way toward preventing illness, as you will be supporting the body to function optimally. Avoiding grains, sugars and other highly starchy foods will also ensure that the body is functioning at peak immunity should it encounter a virus or bacteria. Some studies show that optimizing vitamin D goes a long way to preventing illness and shortening duration. Getting enough sleep is also crucial to preventing illness, and even a couple nights of interrupted or not enough sleep can leave the body worn down and unable to resist illness. Regular exercise has also been shown to reduce the number of times a person gets ill per year and the duration. But I’m sure you are already doing all that… so in the off chance you are doing all of the above and you still get sick, don’t worry- there are natural ways to heal faster!

Natural Treatment for Cold, Flu, and Illness

Once you or your child has contracted an illness, there are a lot of natural options that can shorten the duration of the illness and lessen the symptoms. I’ve included my whole bag of tricks below, so pick and choose what works for you. I get all my herbs that I don’t grow myself from Mountain Rose Herbs, though there are a lot of places that carry them. Just look for organically grown herbs and make sure they are fresh.

Home Remedies From Things Already In Your House

  1. Garlic- A powerhouse natural antibiotic, anti fungal, and antibacterial, garlic can tackle almost any illness. For the most potent effect, finely mince 1-2 cloves or garlic and float in a small glass of water. Drink quickly- if you are sick enough, you won’t even notice the taste. Note: Pregnant women should not take more than 1 clove of garlic medicinally per day, and children often resist this remedy.
  2. Hydrogen Peroxide- At the first sign of cold, flu, sinus infection, or ear infection, put a dropper full of hydrogen peroxide into each ear. Have the person lie still with the hydrogen peroxide in the ear until it stops bubbling. Do this on both sides. This is especially effective for kids. Repeat every few hours until infection is gone.
  3. Hot Liquids- This one is pretty instinctive, but load up on the hot herbal teas and hot lemon water at first sign of illness. The heat helps boost immune system and a variety of herbs can help with infection.
  4. Cinnamon- Good for more than just stabilizing blood sugar, cinnamon is an effective antiviral and antibiotic. When sick, mix 1 tablespoon with 1 teaspoon of honey and stir to make a spicy and very effective tea that helps relieve cough and congestion and lower fever.
  5. Face Steam- In a pinch, this can be made with kitchen herbs. Boil 1-2 cups of water in a large pot. Remove from heat, add 2 teaspoons each of thyme, rosemary and oregano. Cover for 5 minutes with a lid, and then remove lid and put face directly over pot with towel covering your head to hold in the heat. Breathe in the steam as long as you can, aim for 15 minutes. This will help loosen congestion and kill viruses and bacteria in the lungs, bronchials or sinuses. Alternately, you can use 1/2 cup vinegar in the steam. It won’t smell great, but it will help fight the illness.
  6. Remove White Foods- At the first sign of illness, completely remove all white foods from the diet. This includes grains, sugars, milk, cheese, dairy, sweeteners, soda, etc. These foods suppress immune function and slow the body’s healing ability. When you are ill, you don’t actually need to eat a lot of food, as the body needs to focus more on healing than digestion. Eat fresh chicken soup and drink hot liquids to keep strength up.
  7. Hydrate and Rest- If the body is running a fever (which means it is fighting the illness) the best support you can give is to stay well hydrated on water and herbal teas and to rest enough. The body needs several extra hours of rest a day when ill, and often several extra glasses of water also. If you are running a fever, it is easier to get dehydrated, so drink enough water!

Herbs to help beat cold and flu

There are many herbs that support the body when healing from an illness. I recommend buying these from a trusted source online or growing them yourself, though you can find some of them at supplement stores.

  1. Nettle Leaf- Some natural doctors say this is the only herb needed for illness treatment. It contains large amounts of vitamins and trace minerals and helps the body stay hydrated and remove toxins. In a tea with Red Raspberry Leaf, Alfalfa and Peppermint, it makes a powerful immune supporting and illness preventing remedy.
  2. Elderberry- Elderberry is well known for supporting the body, especially during flu. You can find conventionally made elderberry syrups at many stores now, or to save money, make your own.  Here is the recipe.
  3. Ginger- In capsule form, ginger can greatly help with nausea and vomiting associated with the flu. It can also help with high fever and headache. Fresh ginger root can be steeped in boiling water to make a tea that is very effective against sinus symptoms and congestion.
  4. Yarrow- Unsurpassed for flu and fever, and great for children. If used abundantly in tea or tincture at the beginning of an illness, it will usually shorten the illness to less than 24 hours. It is especially good for fevers as it induces perspiration and is great for all childhood type illnesses. It is naturally bitter, so it is often good to include peppermint and stevia leaf when making a tea. It is great for the liver and kidneys and supports the endocrine system.
  5. Chamomile- An absolute staple, especially for kids. Chamomile calms the nerves, helps children sleep better and reduces inflammation or fever. Soaking a chamomile tea bag in warm water and placing over an eye for 15 minutes every 2 hours will relieve pink eye in less than 24 hours. Chamomile tastes great and is easy to get kids to take. We use it in tea and tincture formula. It is also great for regulating hormones and for the skin and can be used regularly for good sleep.
  6. Peppermint- Great for all digestive disturbances and for lowering fever. It can be used as a tea or tincture or rubbed on the skin to bring a high fever down. It is antimicrobial and antiviral and kids usually love the taste. It can be consumed as a hot tea or cold tea during illness in any amounts.
  7. Catnip- A traditional cold and flu remedy, and a great herb for children. It helps induce sleep and settles the stomach. As a tincture or tea, it is a great herb for combating flu, cold or other illness.
  8. Red Clover- Very high in nutrients, Red Clover purifies the blood and relaxes the body. It has been used in hormonal preparations, but is also useful in treating almost any illness. Can be used in tea or tincture.

Vitamins For Cold and Flu Treatment

  1. Vitamin D3- A hormone precursor, this vitamin is finally getting recognition as a necessary nutrient for health. Optimizing Vitamin D levels can help prevent illness in the first place, and taking several thousand IU a day while sick can help speed recovery. Blood tests can help determine any underlying deficiency. This can also be obtained from supplements like Fermented Cod Liver Oil.
  2. Vitamin C- Perhaps the best vitamin for cold and flu, vitamin C in large amounts can greatly speed recovery. Most adults need 2,000-5,000 mg a day or more when ill, and kids can need up to 2,000 mg. It is water soluble, so chance of overdose is low. In severe cases, patients were given 100,000 mg/day in an IV formula and these patients recovered from cases of the flu that were deemed terminal. Use the ascorbic acid form, and chewable varieties are available for kids.
  3. Zinc- Can prevent a cold or flu virus from reproducing and can help relieve respiratory symptoms. Adults should consume 50-75 mg a day when sick in capsule or lozenge.

Natural Antibiotics and Antivirals for Illness Treatment

There are several potent natural antibiotics that in some cases work much better than store bought varieties. The following are ones I keep around at all times:

  1. Oregano and Oregano Oil- Oregano oil is a potent natural antibiotic and antiviral. When 5-6 drops are put in a glass of water and gargled, it can stop a sore throat in its tracks. 5-6 drops in a glass of water swallowed can help kill flu or infection in under 24 hours. It is tough to get kids to take oregano oil, as it is very strong. Pregnant women should not take oregano oil.
  2. Thyme and Thyme Oil- A tea (not nice tasting) made from thyme is very effective against cold and flu. Thyme oil rubbed on the skin will help the body fight infection. Pregnant women and small children should not use thyme.

Other Effective Natural Remedies

  1. Coconut Oil- Coconut oil is high in lauric acid and is thought to dissolve the  lipid coating around some viruses and make them more susceptible to attack by the immune system. If sick, aim for 5-6 tablespoons per day in food or melted and stirred into hot tea. Coconut oil has many other health benefits as well and is known to boost the immune system.
  2. Onions and Garlic on the Feet at night- For extreme cases of illness, I slice onion and garlic and place all over  the bottom of the infected person’s foot (rub olive oil on the foot first). I then wrap the foot in saran wrap and place a sock on overnight. Onions and garlic have been shown to pull toxins and help the body heal. Some natural practitioners even claim that having cut onions around will absorb toxins and keep others in the family from getting sick, though I have not tried this.
  3. Apple Cider Vinegar Gargle and Drink- Yes, it tastes awful, but if you are sick enough, you won’t taste it anyway. Drink a tablespoon in water (gargle first) at the first sign of illness and repeat hourly until symptoms disappear. This alkalizes the body and helps kill viruses and bacteria.
  4. Chlorophyll in Water- You can find concentrated chlorophyll with a mint flavoring- my kids love this one! They will drink it straight. Chlorophyll is a great blood purifier and can help bring fever down. It alkalizes the body and is very high in nutrients. For mild illness, this is often all that is needed to help children recover.

Putting It All Together

There are a lot of options in natural illness treatment, so what do you actually do when illness hits? Below is my reference sheet that I keep in my herb cabinet for reference whenever anyone in the family starts to show signs of illness. The earlier you can catch an illness, often the easier it is to beat.

  • Hydrogen Peroxide in ears
  • Removal of all grains, dairy, sugars, etc.
  • Consumption of only water with chlorophyll and herbal teas
  • Garlic in water followed by cinnamon honey tea (twice a day)
  • Chamomile, Yarrow, Catnip and Peppermint tincture (every 3 hours)
  • Cool nettle, red raspberry, alfalfa and peppermint tea to sip with grapefruit seed extract added
  • Elderberry syrup every 2 hours
  • Vitamin C and Zinc every 2-3 hours in small doses until bowel tolerance
  • Apple cider vinegar gargle and drink every few hours if they will take it
  • Hot tea with melted coconut oil before bed
  • Onions and garlic on feet during sleep

How to Make Your Own Herbal Tincture for Kids

This tincture is great for symptom relief for kids and adults. I have found it to work better than Tylenol or cough syrups and it is healthier too! It is simple to make, and you can get all the ingredients here.

Herbal Tincture Ingredients

Herbal Tincture Instructions

  1. Put all herbs in 1 quart mason glass jar
  2. Pour 80-100 proof vodka over herbs, filling jar
  3. Let steep at least two weeks, but preferably 2 months, shaking daily.
  4. Store in cool, dark place.
  5. After 2 weeks-2 months, strain liquid through cheesecloth and store in glass dropper botles for easy use. Store in a cool, dark place and it will last indefinitely.
  6. Use 8-10 drops for kids over age 2 whenever ill.

Important Notes: I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to be one. I cannot treat, cure, prevent or diagnose any illness. If you have concerns about any sickness, talk to your family physician. Do your own research on natural remedies to ensure that you think they are safe. I earn a small commission through the links above, though the price is the same for you. If you do not wish to use my affiliate link, go to the site directly. If you are pregnant or nursing, consult a qualified specialist before taking any herb or supplement.

Your turn. What natural remedies do you use to help beat the flu or other illness? Share below!

Reader Comments

  1. Mina says

    Thanks for all your suggestions. I started coming down with a cold Thursday night and tried a couple of your suggestions and I am feeling better. Not eating as much has helped too. I love your website! You are one of my heroes – I wish I had known even some of the information on your website 10 years ago. Thank you for your passion and your willingness to share what you know with others. You have been a huge blessing to me!

    • says

      What we do is get a lot of probiotics from kefir/kombucha/fermented
      foods, optimize vitamin D, eat a lot of healthy fats and veggies and
      take vitamin C. If a stomach bug hits, I just give big doses of
      probiotics every few hours until symptoms go away. Apple cider
      vinegar also works well, but the kids aren’t so big on taking it…

      • Dawn says

        I’ve just stared reading your website and I love it.  Im really trying to get healthier.  How do you make kombucha?  The ones that I have read says to use sugar and from what I’ve read on your website…No Sugar.  And also, if you can’t get pasture fead meat can you still eat the other?  Any sugestions? Thanks

        • says

          The sugar actually ferments out and is turned into enzymes and probiotics but it is needed to ferment the tea correctly. The longer you leave it the less sugar is still in it.

    • crystal says

      I had a cold sore so used essenal oil four thives on the coldsore and it did cure it. I read that the four thrives has antifungal properties and canbe use to fight infection. And help with mold and bacteria.

  2. Lily says

    Thanks for all the great info!  I want to make the tincture you suggested which calls for 2/3 cup chamomile, yarrow, peppermint, and catnip each.  Mountain Rose herbs sells the aforementioned products by ounces.  I’m not sure what 4 ounces (the smallest amount you can buy) of a dried herb (flower equates to.  What is the minimum I need to buy?  Is 4 ounces enough?

  3. Sampfaffly says

    What would be your go to for an almost 2 year old that woke up with a runny nose and sneezing?  Probably a cold/mild infection (no green yet) I am assuming.  Want to catch and stop it before he gets really sick.

        • Sampfaffly says

          Sorry, one more question.  What would you suggest for nasal congestion/runny nose?  It is getting snottier as the day goes on and getting less clear.  We have been through the ringer with him the last 4 months – mono, double ear infection, gingivitis, tonsilitis, strep, and hand foot mouth disease that I am honestly terrified of him being sick again.  We have almost completely changed our diet because of it – only a little dairy.  Want to try and keep him from any more antibiotics.  Thanks for all your help.

    • Radeyah Muhammad says

      Not feeding grains, fruits, etc cuts out a lot of breakfast food options. What would you recommend as a good breakfast food in that case? Also do you avoid fruits that are good for colds like pineapples, oranges, etc?

  4. Heather says

    I have a 6 year old that has had occasional adenoid issues and one case of tonsillitis. The pediatrician thinks he needs to see ENT again and possibly remove his tonsils…I am not down with that. I am really trying to give him things to prevent another illness. Been dong vit c and recently 5ml elderberry syrup. Do you have any other suggestions to prevent a tonsillitis?
    Thank you
    Heather

  5. Leah Frakes says

    We chop a clove of garlic, put it in a spoon and pour enough honey over the top to cover it then gulp it down. Its how I get my 3 years old to take it and it works! Healed me of the beginnings of a breast infection too!

  6. Sam says

    How much Chlorofresh would you recommend for a 2 year old? My bottle says for children 12 and over. Also, what is your treatment recommendation for the stomach virus for a 2 year old?

  7. Allison Barnes says

    What about breast milk? I am still BF my 1 year old so when my 4 YO gets sick, i always bump her a glaas a day. It’s a white food…but I’m assuming it still can only help correct? When my 4 YO asks for the breast milk I automatically know she isn’t feeling well:)

    • Cynthia M says

      Breast milk is loaded full of great stuff, including a ton of antibodies from you. And it’s all natural! ;)
      Seriously, I don’t think it counts in the “avoid white foods” category. Both of my kids’ pediatricians told me to switch them back to only breast milk for at least a day whenever they got sick in the first couple years – it helps them get better much more quickly.

  8. Rachel Amanda says

    What a great resource. I’ll be referring to this all winter long! I also like to keep garlic oil or mullein oil on hand for putting in ears when illness is developing too.

  9. Andrea Meyer says

    Thanks so much for compiling this info all together, especially for adding the specific things you do and in order. I very much appreciate this!

  10. Jennifer says

    THANK YOU SO MUCH! So many good recommendations here! We try to fight illness naturally, and I feel more confident having these remedies to refer to.

  11. Tracy Berns says

    Thank you Katie. This article is very specific and helpful! I’ve been trying to decide what tincture to make first with my growing collection of herbs over the past few months, and this just decided it for me! ‘Tis the season…I plan to bottle it up and send some to my daughter in Kentucky for my grandchildren. You’re the best, thanks again!

  12. Jaclyn Beito says

    I have a question about the cinnamon honey mixture. Last night I tried putting 1 Tbsp of Cinnamon with 1 tsp Honey in a mug of hot water and it seemed like way too much cinnamon. I was unable to finish the drink. Today I’m trying the Cinnamon in a cup of applesauce, hoping it would mix better. It tastes a bit better, but it still seems like too much cinnamon. Now, I have really cheap cinnamon, which might be influencing it, but is the ratio listed correct? Should I just look for some higher quality cinnamon? Thank you.

    • D. Spicer says

      Ceylon cinnamon is the best (pure form), and Raw honey. Made a mixture of this for my husband who was developing a cold. Placed 1 cup of water in a mug in the microwave for 1 1/2 minutes….then stirred in the tbsp of cinnamon and the tsp of honey. Had to stir from time to time as he drank it since the cinnamon didn’t seem to really dissolve. I guess you’d say drink it more quickly, like a toddy, than you would sip as a tea. Point is to get it all down so it can do it’s work.

  13. Angela Marie says

    I have just ordered the herbs I will need to make this tincture. What symptoms cause you to reach for the tincture and How often do you give children a dose? My son is 3. What about a dose for an adult? Thanks!

  14. Kerbie Belknap says

    I have a daughter that just turned 1, and last winter she had an ear infection and a low fever and all the doctor wanted to do was give her antibiotics. This year, if she gets sick I want to use a more natural approach. What remedies are safe for her age?

  15. Rachel says

    Why do you choose ascorbic acid? What do you think about “real” vitamin C from food, like the Healthforce Nutritionals brand?

  16. Sonja says

    For sore throats and upper respiratory infections we’ve always done garlic tea: a clove of garlic, 1/4 tsp cayenne, 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice in boiling water, add up to 1 tsbsp raw local honey to taste. Sometimes I put apple cider vinegar in it too. My kids got whooping cough this summer, and we added your elderberry syrup recipe & high doses of ascorbic acid. They recovered much quicker than other kids we knew who got it. Thanks so much for your website and helpful advice!

  17. Trooke says

    About the Herbal tincture for kids. My Daughter really has a problem with me using 80- 100 proof alcohol to make this for my Grandaughter. So, I used purified water instead. Are the herbs going to be ok seeping in that rather than the alcohol?

  18. Henry Chinner says

    Ginger all the way for me! I make it in a tea with mint and turmeric. Works a charm. I was not down once with flu since I started using ginger 2 years ago, touch wood.

  19. MrJiffitz . says

    i have a remedy for colds and flu that i’m thinking of patenting it’s so good. in fact – a friend was bed bound with terrible flu for a week, and was back on her feet a few hours after trying this:
    Blend up several large cloves of garlic, a big chunk of raw ginger root, a few large dollops of raw honey, and the juice of a whole lemon. Whoosh it all up together and store in a jam jar until needed. when needed, take a few tablespoons of this concoction and add hot water. drink. Add more or less of one ingredient according to taste. It’s a knock-you-off-your-feet type drink that zings through your body with virus-pounding goodness. enjoy!

    James from England

  20. Diana Edlin says

    Thank you for this extensive list! What precautions would you recommend while nursing? I know I need to be cautious of oregano and thyme for supply reasons, but I’ve also seen mixed suggestions on yarrow and garlic. Would you (in your non-medical, purely friendly advice opinion of course) use these while breastfeeding?

  21. Rachel says

    Hi Katie,

    Love all these remedies – thanks for sharing! :)

    I have a question about the honey/cinnamon tea. I’m all for raw honey and am wondering if when mixed in a tea (the key here being the hot water), if it looses any of its goodness in this process? I’ve heard people say that “cooked” honey – aka honey that’s been heated at all – is “poison.” I feel this is a pretty extreme view but do wonder what your thoughts are on heating honey. Would you recommend mixing it in just warm water or actually into boiling/hot water as you would with tea?

    Thank you!
    Rachel

  22. Alisha says

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  23. JB says

    Hey there, love all the suggestions (we have personally been doing a very similar regime with our family during colds/flu) but I wanted to share from personal experience that garlic can cause extreme chemical burns on the skin! We learned this the hard way. Even after taking precautions with oil and placing the garlic in gauze, my son still managed to wake with burns on his feet. Our only guess is that he may have stood on them in the night (possibly breaking through the gauze..). Totally a fan of the raw garlic orally, but won’t be placing on skin again. Just want to put that out there. Thanks.

  24. Susan Rebmann says

    I nurse my 7 month old.who has the.flu…..he is 20 lbs., I drink apple cider.vinegar.and take garlic….is there.anything I can do for him

  25. michele crews says

    are these remedies safe while pregnant? I am 23 weeks pregnant and sick for the second time. Other than tylenol, there is not much I can take.

    Michele

  26. Sirwin says

    The last few years I noticed that whenever I googled something for a natural remedy, it brought me to your site. I love all your info! I downloaded your app… It isthe first app I have paid for… Ever!
    I do have a question… I have a 6 month old. Hehas had a runny nose, a cough and now a mild fever. Are all the remedies above ok to use on him? I actually feel dumb asking because I always think about back in the day and other cultures that only use natural ways…. But when you have something so precious, it’s hard to just go ahead and give him these remedies.
    I am wanting to try the honey and garlic or the cinnamon…. Would these be ok?
    Thank you so much for all your amazing info. I love that you are to the point, and do this to help people. <3

  27. Alex says

    Could you please clarify the percentage of hydrogen peroxide you’re using? I’ve got 6% and 35% but both are too strong to use on the skin to my knowledge.

  28. Tessa says

    I have a three month old who woke up this morning with enough goo in her eye that it was stuck closed. Would the chamomile tea bag be safe at this age or effective on this?

  29. Jackie says

    My 2.5 is having fever and I’m start giving her black elderberry and oreganol oil into her water. Do you have any other suggestion will help her fever go away faster ?

  30. Emma says

    For the nettle tea, how much of each herb do you use in a cup of water? At what temp and how long do you steep it?

  31. Helen says

    (YOUR WEBSITE IS MAGICAL. thank you. )

    What do you think about putting rosemary and thyme essential oils and oregano oil into the chamber of one of those facial steamers? I tried one drop of each in my steamer which holds about 4 oz of water. It did burn a little at first but nothing unbearable. My sinuses and chest felt so much better after 15 mins of steaming.

    Also- does heating vinegar reduce or destroy its medicinal qualities? I put one tbsp of vinegar in my lemon ginger tea with coconut oil and honey and it tasted really good!

  32. virgie says

    concern , my son when pee’s he leave’s a sticky residue, on the toilet and the rim of the toilet, does anyone know what this is? if so how do i help cure my son with herbs, thank you .

  33. yendi says

    Is all of this safe during pregnancy? I’m not currently sick but I have a sick husband at home and I want to prevent it.

  34. Margie says

    Hi Wellness,

    Just wondering if you have any information on alcohol in tinctures and how it affects children? I have 8 year old, 4 year old and 2/1/2 year old twins so would be great to know if the alcohol dissipates when added to herbs?

  35. Heather S says

    Why do you say no to essential oils during breastfeeding? I was going to use them topically to help with post partum depression that’s been recommended by a couple other natural blogs

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