6 natural cold remedies to try this winter

by Kaiser Permanente |
Someone enjoying a cup of tea on the couch

Ah, yes, the dreaded common cold. While not as severe as the flu, coming down with a cold can make basic day-to-day activities more challenging. The sneezing, stuffy nose, and sore throat are never fun to deal with.

So, what can you do to ease some of the pain? Here are 6 natural cold remedies to consider.

Practice prevention

One of the best ways to manage a cold is to avoid getting sick in the first place. Easier said than done, right? While it’s impossible to avoid ever catching a cold, there are a few things you can do to minimize your risk, like:

  • Protect your immune system by staying healthy. Exercise regularly. Eat healthy foods — especially dark green leafy vegetables. And take good care of your mental health.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your face. Cold viruses can live on your hands for up to 24 hours and they can enter your body through your nose, mouth, and eyes.
  • Stay away from people who are sick.

Stay hydrated

Proper hydration can help your body fight infection. To make sure you’re staying hydrated, try to:

  • Drink lots of fluids. This can include water, decaffeinated tea, juice (but skip anything with too much sugar), and soup.
  • Avoid beverages that dehydrate you — like sodas, alcohol, or coffee.
  • Set yourself reminders to drink water.
  • Fill up a water bottle in the morning and make sure to sip it throughout the day.

Get some good rest

Fighting an illness can take a toll on your body. Giving your body the rest it needs can help your immune system fight off the cold virus. Here are a few ways to let your body naturally heal itself:

Ease your sore throat

A sore throat can be a constant irritation when you have a cold. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to soothe it.

  • Make your own honey, lemon, and ginger cough drops. There are several recipes available online — find one that works for you.
  • Sip warm tea with honey and lemon.
  • Gargle with warm saltwater.
  • Drink warm, clear broth.
  • Enjoy a cold treat like a fresh fruit ice pop.

Reduce congestion

When mucus builds up in your nasal passages and lungs, it causes congestion and a general feeling of stuffiness. Most congestion from a cold will clear up on its own over time, but you can sometimes reduce it if you:

  • Use a cool mist vaporizer.
  • Run a hot, steamy shower.
  • Try a sinus rinse with saline solution.
  • Place a warm compress on your face.
  • Prop up your head with pillows before bed. This may allow some of your congestion to drain from your nose while you sleep.

Spice up your food

When your body is building defenses against a cold virus, inflammation can occur. Try adding some spices to your food to potentially reduce inflammation* — while giving your meal an extra kick of flavor:

  • Add some turmeric, ginger, and garlic to soup.
  • Sprinkle some cinnamon and clove in decaf tea.
  • Use a dash of cayenne pepper in a dish to help temporarily clear a stuffy nose.

When to see a doctor

The old saying is true: There’s no cure for the common cold. So keep in mind that the above remedies are meant to help treat the symptoms, not the infection. The only thing that will truly make colds go away is time, and they typically last 1 to 2 weeks.

However, if you still aren’t better after a week or 2, start to feel worse, or develop serious symptoms — like persistent high fever, shortness of breath, or extreme weakness and lightheadedness — seek medical attention right away.

*Kunnumakkara et al., "Chronic diseases, inflammation, and spices: how are they linked?" Journal of Translation Medicine, January 25, 2018.