See also Part I – Cuts, Scrapes, Bruises and Burns. It has the long version of my disclaimers: I am not a doctor, this is not medical advice, please see a professional. Natural does not automatically mean safe. I am not opposed to Western medicine.
Sore Throat, Cough, Stuffy Nose
Basically, “common cold” type symptoms, or potentially those that come with allergies. In other words, those non-life-threatening symptoms that wipe you out and make you miserable and want to sleep for a week. If you have a fever that lasts more than a week, or if it climbs above 102, please seek medical help. If your symptoms come with a rash or unexplained pain, or just seem “not quite normal”, seek medical help. As always, if you’re taking any medications, see a pharmacist or other professional before taking any herbal remedies.
Hot Liquids. One of the things that makes people miserable when they have a cold is that they often feel like they can’t breathe. Any form of warm liquid drink will help with this. Use a mug instead of a bowl if you choose soup, as that allows the steam to get up to your face where it does some good. Hot tea with honey and lemon is a great choice, as is something nutritious like broth or soup, since often when one has a cold, food is the last thing that sounds good.
Chicken Soup. Along with being a hot liquid and therefore soothing and decongesting, chicken soup does indeed have some anti-inflammatory properties, like gramma always said (or in my case, my mother. Hi mom.) Not all brands are created equal, but homemade is probably best for taste and nutrition. In a pinch, though, don’t be afraid to grab your favorite canned variety, or pick up a container of “semi-homemade” in the deli section of a grocery store.
Spicy Foods. It won’t cure your cold, but it will help clear out your sinuses. The hotter, the better. Doesn’t really matter what kind of food, so if you’re partial to spicy Thai, or prefer Ethiopian, or hot Szechuan, go for it. Grab the chili peppers and clear your head. Do note that some people experience a reaction where they actually rebound with more severe congestion after the initial clearing effect, so if your condition seems to worsen, choose a different remedy.
Steam. As above with the hot liquids, steam helps open up the sinuses, and the warm, moist air feels good on scratchy throats and helps ease bronchial spasms. My favorite application is to go into the bathroom and crank the shower all the way to blistering with the door shut and the lights off, and just sit until I feel thoroughly saunified. Bonus from that is that all the excess humidity goes into the rest of the house when I open the door, which is good. If you want to waste a little less water, you can turn on the sink to boiling hot, drape a towel over the back of your head to make a little tent over the sink, and lean in and breathe the steam. Less humidity for the rest of the house, but less water wasted. Conserve even more water by putting a pot of water on the stove to boil and leaning over to breathe that steam. Be careful if you choose that method, as boiling water can splash and burn, and the steam can be scalding hot. If you have a child you want to benefit from steam, I would recommend the first method so as not to put them near scalding hot water.
Neti Pot. This is a small pot that looks like a miniature teapot, with a long spout. Warm water with a saline solution is put into the pot, and then poured up one nostril to flow out the other nostril. It takes a bit of getting used to, both because it feels weird and because it takes some weird angling to get your head in the right position. Does not work if one nostril is completely plugged! It works by flushing all the mucous and allergens out of your sinus cavity. Some people recommend it daily, but I only use it when I’m sick, on the theory that the mucous is in my nose for a reason most of the time. You can make your own saline solution for the neti pot – dissolve 1/4 teaspoon of non-iodized salt in 8 ounces of distilled water. Add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. Warm slightly, to body temperature, for maximum comfort before using. Here, though, I have had more luck with the OTC brand. The homemade stuff made my sinuses burn. I’d blame the tap water I used, but I used it for the OTC powder mix too, so I don’t know.
Honey. Honey’s good for everything. Really. A spoonful of it coats your throat and helps quiet coughs, and it has enzymatic and antibacterial properties. Again, choose unfiltered, raw, local honey for the best results. (And the best taste. And the least likelihood that there’s corn syrup or other non-honey ingredients in the honey.)
Salt. Mix 1 Tablespoon salt with a cup of hot water, and gargle for sore throats. Tastes appalling, though I think less so than the next mixture. It is more for curing the throat and flushing the germs than pain relief. Use this first, then use the next one.
Honey, Cayenne Pepper, Lemon Juice. Combine 1 Tablespoon honey, a dash of cayenne pepper, and a teaspoon of lemon juice with one cup of hot water, and mix thoroughly. Gargle with it for sore throats. It tastes truly horrifying, but it’s very effective short-term pain relief. Don’t swallow it, just gargle as far back in your throat as you can and then spit it out. Repeat as often as you like. Or as often as you can stand it.
Clove, Ginger, Cinnamon. Combine a clove, 1/4 teaspoon powdered or 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger, and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon. Cover with 2 cups boiling water and steep 5 minutes. Strain, cool slightly, add some of that wonder sweetener honey, and sip. Clove is mildly analgesic and will soothe sore throats, as well as being slightly antiseptic. The ginger will soothe any stomach upset, and is mildly anti-inflammatory, as is cinnamon.
Catnip Tea. Harvest catnip flowers and leaves, and dry in a dehydrator or by hanging upside down somewhere warm and dry. Crush up the leaves and steep as a tea. Add honey if you like. Catnip is good for chest congestion and loosening phlegm, plus it’s relaxing and mildly sedating like chamomile (and in my opinion, tastes a million times better than chamomile.)
Horehound. Dry the leaves as for catnip. Steep a handful of leaves into a tea, add a bit of honey. Good for minor respiratory problems and cough, horehound has been used as a folk remedy for hundreds of years. Bonus if you grow it: you get to tell people you have a plant called “horehound”.
Thyme. A good antiseptic herb, it can be steeped and cooled for use as a gargle, or added to foods (like the chicken soup!) to help quiet coughs. You can also make a tea out of it, just like you would with looseleaf tea. Add honey to taste. May not be as palatable as some of the other tea choices, though!
And this isn’t a remedy, but if you’re dealing with mucous in your throat, lungs, or sinuses, it probably isn’t necessary to avoid dairy products. Studies have shown that for most people, milk and dairy products do not in fact increase mucous production. (My personal experience definitely says otherwise, but I’ve been told by a doctor that I might just be special that way. Lucky me.)