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When the flu bites, when the cold stings … these are a few of my least favorite things! (And I bet I’m not alone!)
Fortunately, it is possible to protect against some cases of illness with natural remedies that boost the body’s amazing natural immune system. Even once an illness has struck, there are things a mom (or dad) can do to get the family back on track. Herbal and natural remedies may not be a cure-all, but they 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), and 5 easiest an most commonly used natural remedies, but since we are once again in the height of flu season, I thought more information could be helpful.
Natural Ways to Protect Against Cold and Flu
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.
Changes to lifestyle will go a long way toward preventing illness, as you support the body to function optimally.
There are four areas so foundational to our immune systems that no natural remedy can replace them. They are, in no particular order:
- Prioritizing a nutrient-dense diet – Avoiding refined grains, sugars, and other highly starchy foods ensures that the body is functioning at peak immunity should it encounter a virus or bacteria.
- Optimizing vitamin D levels – Studies show that optimizing vitamin D goes a long way to preventing and shortening the duration of illness. Since this is a fat soluble vitamin, it is important to test levels and work with a qualified practitioner to supplement if they are low.
- Getting enough sleep – 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 movement – Consistent exercise has also been shown to reduce the number of times a person gets ill per year and the duration. I like to do this simple kettlebell routine at home.
Granted, these are things to do consistently when you are well (no exercising when the flu comes on!). Of course, we can do these and still potentially get sick — although it certainly won’t happen as often — so don’t worry, there are natural ways to heal faster!
What to Do When Illness Strikes: Natural Remedies for Cold, Flu, & Fever
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, as some of the most readily prescribed options can have serious side effects. I’ve included my whole bag of tricks below, so pick and choose what works for you.
MOM TIP: I recommend keeping many of these remedies in a basket or box where they are easy to find and printing out a list of how each one can be used. This way, if you happen to be the one who gets sick, someone else can help get them for you too!
Essential Home Remedies (You Already Have)
- Garlic – This health-boosting powerhouse is naturally antibiotic, anti-fungal, and antibacterial, garlic can tackle almost any illness. Read more about its benefits here. For the most potent effect, I finely mince 1-2 cloves of 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. In addition, garlic can thin the blood and slow blood clotting, so anyone on blood thinning medications (anticoagulants) should review with their physician.
- Hydrogen peroxide – At the first sign of sinus infection or ear infection, I put a dropper full of diluted 3% hydrogen peroxide into each ear.
- Hot liquids – This one is pretty instinctive, but we load up on 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. Lemon is also a great natural source of vitamin C.
- Cinnamon – Good for more than just stabilizing blood sugar, cinnamon is an effective antiviral and antibiotic. Read about why it works and how to use it here. 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.
- Face steam – In a pinch, make this herbal steam treatment with kitchen herbs. Boil 1-2 cups of water in a large pot. Remove from heat, add 2 teaspoons each of thyme, some 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.
- 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 homemade chicken soup (or keep a quality store-bought broth on hand for a shortcut version) and drink hot liquids to keep strength up.
- 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!
Homemade Herbal Remedies to Help Cold and Flu
You may not have these around the house (at least not yet!) but they are great additions to a natural “medicine” cabinet. I’ve written about how herbs support the body when healing from an illness and the ones in this list are my go-to choices. I recommend buying these from a trusted source online (I’ve suggested some I use below) or growing them yourself, though you can find some of them in supplement stores.
- 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 herbals, it makes a powerful immune supporting and illness preventing remedy. Here is how to use nettle leaf for better health.
- 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.
- 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. Read more about its benefits here.
- 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. Yarrow 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.
- 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.
- 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. This herb 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. Read more about the benefits of peppermint and how to use it here.
Supplements for Cold and Flu Treatment
- Genexa Remedies– I always keep Genexa Cold Crush and Flu Fix on hand. These natural and safer remedies are very much kid-approved in my house and are lifesavers for small illnesses.
- Probiotics– We take Just Thrive Probiotics regularly, but I make sure to give these at first sign of any illness, especially any digestive illness.
- Activated Charcoal– Another first line of defense for digestive upset and stomach bugs. I mix a small amount of coconut activated charcoal into juice or applesauce for the kids.
- Propolis Spray– A miracle worker for sore throat and any kind of sinus or cold symptoms. Propolis is the substance bees use to keep the hive sanitary and healthy and it helps speed recovery from almost any illness. I always use this bee propolis spray when traveling or at the first sign of illness.
- 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 IUs a day while sick can help speed recovery. Blood tests can help determine any underlying deficiency. This is what I take.
- Vitamin C– Perhaps the best vitamin for cold and flu, vitamin C in large amounts can greatly speed recovery. We take a real food form from camu camu and acerola cherry. Read more about the benefits of vitamin C here.
- Zinc– Healthy levels of zinc can reduce the severity of a cold or flu virus and can help shorten the duration of illness. Here’s why and what we do to boost immunity with zinc.
- Colloidal Silver- Studies have shown that silver has antibacterial properties when applied externally to wounds or used as a sinus rinse. In addition, it may be effective in treatments of acute diarrhea. Because colloidal silver does have some side effects, do your research carefully before trying this remedy, especially if on medications. This the brand I use (externally or in a sinus rinse). You can read my full post on how I use colloidal silver here (as well as what I don’t use it for).
- Essential Oils– I use certain Plant Therapy essential oils in a diffuser or topically to help with illness, especially from their kid-safe line. I keep Calming the Child, Germ Destroyer, Immune Boom, Nighty Night, Sweet Dreams, Sniffle Stopper and Tummy all Better on hand.
Natural Antibiotics and Antivirals for Illness
There are several potent natural antibiotics that in some cases work much better than store-bought varieties, in my opinion. The following are ones I keep around at all times:
- Oregano and oregano oil – Oregano oil is a potent natural antibiotic and antiviral. I diffuse this as needed during illness or use a tiny amount (diluted 1 part oregano to 4 parts carrier oil) on the feet. I like this brand.
- Thyme and thyme oil– An herbal 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. NOTE: Pregnant women and small children should not use thyme.
Other Effective Natural Remedies
- 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. This is my go-to brand.
- 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.
- 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 of apple cider vinegar (the raw unfiltered kind) 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.
A Natural Remedy Reference
There are a lot of options in natural illness treatment, so what do you actually do when illness hits? This is my reference sheet that I keep taped to the inside of my cabinet for reference whenever anyone in the family starts to show signs of illness. (It’s very useful for when Dr. Mom is down and out for the count too!)
Make Your Own Natural Fever, Cold, and Cough Medicine (for Kids Too!)
If I only have time to do one thing, it’s give this homemade herbal tincture. Even if I get sick myself, I can crawl the cabinet and pull this out for immune support at the ready.
It is simple to make but it does need to steep for at least 2 weeks (up to 2 months), so don’t wait! I have even found it to work better than Tylenol or cough syrups. (Bonus: It is healthier too!)
NOTE: Use for everyone in the family over the age of 2.
Herbal Tincture Ingredients
- 2/3 cup dried chamomile flowers
- 2/3 cup dried peppermint leaf
- 2/3 cup dried catnip herb
- 100 proof vodka
Herbal Tincture Instructions
- Put all herbs in 1 quart mason glass jar.
- Pour 80-100 proof vodka over herbs, filling jar.
- Let steep at least two weeks, but preferably 2 months, shaking daily.
- Store in cool, dark place.
- After 2 weeks to 2 months, strain liquid through cheesecloth and store in glass dropper bottles for easy use. Store in a cool, dark place and it will last indefinitely.
- Use 8-10 drops for kids over age 2 whenever ill.
Disclaimer: As always, 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 that helps me keep the site going (and it does not increase the cost 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.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Michelle Sands, ND. She is double board certified in Integrative Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine and is also a Board-Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and competitive endurance athlete. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
What natural remedies do you use to help beat the flu or other illness? Share below!