Wonderful news: Cold and flu season has arrived. Your coworkers are beginning to cough and sneeze in unison, so it's just a matter of time until you join the phlegmy chorus.
But while it might be tempting to pump your body with unnecessary meds after the cold hits, there are more natural ways to prevent—and, yes, treat—an irritating cough and stuffy nose. “Many foods have healing properties, and every food has a specific taste, temperature, and action that can be classified into its overall benefit,” says Neka Pasquale, a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, certified Chinese nutritionist, and founder of Urban Remedy.
Here are some potent, effective cures for the common cold—many of which are probably already in your pantry.
When you think of dandelion, you probably imagine those pesky weeds you find in the grass. But the persistent plant is also a powerful cleansing herb. “Its benefits include promoting healthy digestion, improving liver function, and cleaning out toxins, reducing inflammation, and boosting the immune system,” says Pasquale. You can blend dandelion root into a green smoothie, or drink dandelion tea, which can be purchased at the grocery store.
“Turmeric has antiviral properties that make it a smart choice for flu treatment and prevention," says Pasquale. "It is also has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which make it a triple threat for colds and flu. There is also scientific evidence that turmeric can prevent certain types of cancers."
Like turmeric, ginger is also a powerful anti-inflammatory. When consumed, it also helps relieve feelings of nausea—and no, we’re not talking about ginger ale (though that’s the right idea). “Ginger is used in traditional medicine for cold and flu prevention," says Pasquale. "We use it to warm the body, thus expelling the cold."
Rather than buying any old bag of cough drops at the drugstore, grab a drop with benefits. Brands like Cold-EEZE and Zand are pretty easy to source and contain high concentrations of zinc. According to a report published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, zinc lozenges may cut the duration of colds by nearly three days, and also shorten the duration of a cough.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, supplementing with probiotics can shorten the duration of colds by two days, on average, and also reduce the severity of symptoms by about 34%. Probiotics are not only beneficial in fighting colds, but taking them daily can help regulate the bacteria in your gut and keep your body functioning optimally year-round.
If you’re feeling under the weather, swap out your morning coffee for a cup of hot water with lemon, and maybe a little honey. “Lemon has antibacterial properties making it a healthy addition to your cold and flu prevention and treatment,” says Pasquale. The honey will also help soothe any throat irritations you might have.
Your favorite pizza spice doubles as a potent antibiotic. (Who knew?) The most effective way to use it as a cold treatment is to purchase it as an oil or a tincture. You can add it to smoothies, or if you’re brave enough, place a small amount under your tongue for a few seconds and wash it down with a glass of water.
Besides being a crucial ingredient in your favorite Italian food, garlic is also a powerful natural antibiotic that has been known to help boost the immune system. Freshly chopped garlic can be swallowed whole. If that’s too intense a flavor, you can simply add it to your meals throughout the day.
The element in cayenne that gives it that fiery flavor—capsaicin—is a great natural decongestant. Kill two birds with one stone and combine cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and honey in a cup of hot water. Drink daily until your cold subsides.