Natural remedies to tackle the scourge of colds and sniffles

Fiann Ó Nualláin says there are many common herbs that can boost the immune system and fight infection.

WE are fully in that season again — sniffles and coughing sounds around every corner. And it’s only a matter of time before you are under the weather too.

But how do you know if it’s a cold or the flu? Okay, most over-the-counter treatments claim to tackle both colds and flu and so we often think of the flu as a stronger version of a cold, or the common cold as a type of flu.

The truth is they do have similar symptoms — congestion, sore throat and sneezing, but they are different viral infections and have different impacts. The flu, apart from exhibiting these shared symptoms with more intensity, is also attended by a high fever, body aches, weakness and fatigue. Colds develop slowly but flu symptoms are much more abrupt and debilitating.

The common cold/rhinoviruses

A cold is really an immune-system reaction to an airborne viral infection of the nose and throat — hence its medical definition as a rhinovirus. Sneezing, runny nose, coughing and a sore throat are symptomatic. It can also occasion congestion of the chest and fatigue.

While there is no cure, there are plenty of options for alleviation of symptoms. 

Rest, hydration and immune support is the best course of treatment to tackle the causative factor of a rhinovirus. 

Colds typically last from three to 10 days, with an incubation period of two to three days before that first sniffle or scratchy throat.

By way of some easy self-help, a cup of mint/peppermint tea is stimulating — a pep-up to unwellness and it is also naturally pain-relieving for neck ache and tension headaches that can accompany a cold.

The aroma of mint alone can help clear congestion and even address tiredness and poor concentration.

 Elderberry, in jam or supplement form, is particularly effective against respiratory viral infections — it interrupts their reproduction mechanisms and will also boost overall immunity as it is also loaded with vitamin C.

We all know about vitamin C but the zinc in seasonal nuts and pumpkin seeds, acts similarly to break infection and speed recovery. 

Hydration is the key, but beyond sipping water, try a green tea, which, apart from being antioxidant and rejuvenating to your system, actually stimulates the liver to secrete interferon — our most potent natural anti-infection agent.

The flu/influenza

Flu is caused by an airborne strain of either A, B or C version of the the influenza virus infecting the upper and lower respiratory tract. 

With virus C, once contracted, we self-immunise against repeat infections, but A and B are constantly mutating and so can be contracted repeatedly. Incubation is typically one to two days.

Symptoms last two to five days. They include fever, headache, wearying aches and pains, chills, sore throat, cough, nausea and vomiting, dehydration and sometimes diarrhoea. And while for some that’s a good weekend — for the rest of us, it’s something we can do without.

The thing is, that when we get the flu, our immune system dispatches two types of white blood cells. 

The first type is a set of T and B lymphocytes, which support antibodies to wrap themselves around the virus and prevent it from adhering to a cell wall or replicating itself. Elderberry cordial or tincture acts in a similar way. The second type — known as a macrophage — will ingest and destroy the debilitated virus. There are many common herbs that boost that activity.

So in terms of some self-help, sage tea is good for many of the symptoms, such as sweating, chills and sore throat, and we can boost our immunity to virals via echinacea, astragalus, chamomile, goldenseal, milk thistle, pau d’arco, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric and aforementioned, elderberry.

Barley water is good to reduce a fever and settle the stomach. Ginger tea or grated ginger in meals can help the body perspire and eliminate toxins.

A great tip is to gargle with cooled thyme tea which helps kill off residual viruses and soreness in the mouth and throat. 

Add thyme to your meals too as it contains the antimicrobial thymol and the antiviral thujanol — both amazing at halting flu viruses in their tracks — and thyme also has an affinity with white blood cells, boosting their production and efficiency.

Hedge your bets

If you are not fully sure which one has your nose running? Then think an apple a day until you’re in the clear — a single apple has an antioxidant effect within

the human body equivalent to 1,500 mg of vitamin C.

Think too, of soaking in a soothing bath of apple cider vinegar and Epsom salt (cup of each) which is not just some thrifty DIY
balneotherapy but actually helps eliminates toxins and refreshes tired muscles.

On a smaller scale, a foot soak using a tablespoon of mustard powder and a few drops of lavender essential oil helps drain congestion from the head.

And finally a catch all — Immuno-Catalyst Honey and Lemon Syrup — from my book, The Holistic Gardener — natural cures for common ailments (Mercier Press): Simply mix equal parts by volume of lemon juice and honey (both potently antimicrobial) and fold into yoghurt or use as the base of a cordial, (add sparking water), or a hot beverage, (simply add hot water).

Not only does this boost your immune system but its helpful with the tickly throat too. And it tastes great.


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