Cold & Flu Season Isn’t Quite Over Yet… Learn Natural Cold Remedies

natural cold remedies

We’re not quite out of the cold & flu season just yet.

  • Each year, children suffer up to 5 colds and adults have 2-3 infections, leading to time off school or work and considerable discomfort. Most symptoms resolve within 1 week, but coughs often can last longer (1).
  • Figures show that direct medical costs due to the flu and cold averaged $10.4 billion annually (2). Projected lost earnings due to illness and loss of life amounted to $16.3 billion annually (2). The total economic burden of annual influenza epidemics is $87.1 billion (2).

Here are a few ideas and natural cold remedies for you in case you do get a late cold or flu.

Wash your hands:

The transmission of common cold infections is mostly through hand-to-hand contact rather than spread by droplets (1). Furthermore, cold viruses can survive on surfaces for several hours. Hands can readily become contaminated after contact with such surfaces. This makes hand washing “crucial in preventing the spread of colds” (3).

Zinc Lozenges:

Studies using high doses of zinc (>75 mg/day, as zinc acetate lozenges) consistently found that colds were shortened by 42% as a result of the zinc lozenges (4). Specifically, zinc acetate lozenges improved multiple symptoms of a cold. They shortened the duration of nasal discharge by 34%, nasal congestion by 37%, sneezing by 22%, scratchy throat by 33%, sore throat by 18%, hoarseness by 43%, and cough by 46% (5). Zinc lozenges shortened the duration of muscle ache by 54%, but there was no difference in the duration of headache and fever (5).  These studies started zinc treatment within 24 hours of the onset of a cold so it is best to use zinc lozenges at the earliest sign of a cold (5).

Zinc acetate has been proven to be most effective. A high dose of 80-90 mg is recommended in divided doses. Lozenges should have at least 18 mg zinc each and take at least 30 minutes to dissolve. Taking one lozenge every 2 hours and, in total 5 per day, for no more than 3 days in a row can dramatically lessen time with a cold. Try to avoid products with citric acid as this binds to the zinc and makes it less effective (4). Try Life Extension Enhanced Zinc Lozenges. We have found this product to be one of the few available that uses zinc acetate, avoids citric acid, takes at least 30 minutes to dissolve, and has at least 18 mg per lozenge.

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Elderberry syrup:

Elderberry syrup is a yummy and effective natural cold remedy to keep on hand during cold and flu season. Elderberry enhances and activates immune cell behavior, has antioxidant properties and is antiviral in that it can stop a virus from entering cells (6). These protective qualities enable it to inhibit the potential damage of a virus, particularly when given in the first 48 hours of a viral infection (6). Studies show that elderberry improves cold symptoms within 2-4 days instead of 7-8 days without elderberry (6). 

There are a couple of elderberry syrup products to try such as Wise Woman Herbals Elderberry Syrup and Planetary Herbals Elderberry Syrup.

Alternatively, you can make your own elderberry syrup. We like this recipe from (7):

Elderberry syrup recipe:

  1. 16 ounces of elderberry juice
  2. 4 tablespoons of lemon juice
  3. 1 tablespoon of raw honey


  • Prepare the elderberry juice. Place elderberries in a saucepan, cover them with water, and heat until the mixture starts to boil. Then, remove from heat, but leave the elderberries in the liquid for a few hours. Afterward, strain the liquid, discard the berries, and store it in the fridge.
  • Next, in a saucepan, mix the elderberry juice with lemon juice, and heat over medium heat. Bring the mixture to boil, allow to simmer for 20 minutes then remove from heat.
  • Add the honey, and drink the syrup while warm.


Studies have shown that Echinacea decreased the odds of developing the common cold by 58% and the duration of a cold by 1-4 days (8). In another study, Echinacea reduced the total number of cold episodes and the number of days people suffered from the cold (9). Cold prevention increased when people followed the protocol of taking the Echinacea over a 4-month period (9).  Another study indicated that symptoms of the cold were 23.1% less severe in people taking Echinacea vs. those who did not take Echinacea (10).


A combination of two herbs, Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) and Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), were shown to be an effective therapy “superior to conventional antiviral medications for reducing severity and duration of influenza infections” (6). Andrographis alone has been found to prevent the cold (11). In one study, it was found that there was a significant decrease in the incidence of colds when people took andrographis for a period of 3 months and that the relative risk of catching a cold was 2.1 times lower for the people taking andrographis vs. those who did not take it (11). The protective effect was 33%, suggesting that andrographis has a preventive effect against common colds during the winter period (11).


Garlic, when taken in supplemental form throughout the winter season, has been shown to result in a lower number of colds and a shorter duration of the cold (6).  You can cook with garlic and get the active anti-microbial constituent, but only if you handle it properly. The allin and a heat sensitive enzyme that reacts with allin to create allicin are stored in separate areas of the clove. If you simply crush or cut the garlic and cook with it right away, you destroy the heat sensitive enzyme and will not get much allicin. Instead crush or finely chop the garlic and let it sit on a cutting board in a condensed pile for 10 minutes. The enzyme will react with allin to make allicin. Allicin is heat stable so now you can cook with garlic and get the anti-microbial constituent.


North American Ginseng has reduced the incidence, duration and severity of colds in studies. In one study, the number of reported colds declined by 9.2%, the risk of getting a cold decreased by 12.8%, the severity of symptoms was rated to be 31% lower and the duration of symptoms was 34.5% less (6).


Ginger was found to inhibit some types of influenza (virus) and also exhibits anti-viral properties against other viruses (13, 14). Make fresh ginger juice with a juicer or fine grater and mix it with lemon and hot water to help slow viral replication. Add cayenne for a little spice and honey to soothe the throat.


Tincture or capsules of propolis can help reduce influenza virus (15). Sometimes you can get propolis mixed with honey and make a soothing hot beverage. This is great to have around for cold and flu season.

Meditation and Exercise:

Lifestyle modifications such as mediation and exercise can also be effective in reducing the cold and flu illness burden. One study found that sufficient evidence exists to justify testing the hypothesis that training in meditation or exercise can reduce susceptibility to colds and flus (12). Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that psychological stress influences susceptibility to infection (6). Given that meditation and exercise help to reduce psychological stress, they can also help to reduce susceptibility to infection.

In conclusion, try these ideas if you are unlucky enough to catch a late season cold or flu. These natural approaches can support the body’s immune system, potentially decreasing the incidence of colds and flu, shortening the duration, decreasing the intensity of symptoms and preventing possible complications.

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  • Arroll B. 2011. Common Cold. BMJ Clin Evid. 1510.
  • Molinari NA, Ortega-Sanchez IR, Messonnier ML, Thompson WW, Wortley PM, Weintraub E, Bridges CB. 2007. The annual impact of seasonal influenza in the US: measuring disease burden and costs. Vaccine.  27: 5086-96.
  • Sattar SA, Jacobsen H, Springthorpe VS, Cusack TM, and Rubino JR. 1993. Chemical disinfection to interrupt transfer of rhinovirus type 14 from environmental surfaces to hands. Appl Environ Microbiol. 59(5): 1579–1585.
  • Hemila H. 2011. Zinc lozenges may shorten the duration of colds: a systematic review. Open Respir Med. 5:51-8. doi: 10.2174/1874306401105010051.
  • Hemila H, Chalker E. 2015. The effectiveness of high dose zinc acetate lozenges on various common cold symptoms: a meta-analysis. BMC Fam Pract.  16:24. doi: 10.1186/s12875-015-0237-6.
  • Roxas M and Jurenka J. 2007. Colds and Influenza: A Review of Diagnosis and Conventional, Botanical, and Nutritional Considerations. Alternative Medicine Review Volume 12, Number 1.
  • Ding S. 2018. Elderberry Syrup Recipe to Beat Cold and Flu at any Season. Accessed March 3, 2019.
  • Shah SA, Sander S, White MC, Rinaldi M, Coleman CI. 2007. Evaluation of echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: a meta-analysis. The Lancet. 7: 473-480. Doi: 10.1016/s1473-3099(07)70160-3.
  • Jawad M, Schoop R,  Suter A, Klein P, and Eccles R. 2012. Safety and Efficacy Profile of Echinacea purpurea to Prevent Common Cold Episodes: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Hindawi. doi:10.1155/2012/841315.
  • Goel V, Lovlin R, Barton R, Lyon MR, Bauer R, Lee TD, Basu TK. 2004. Efficacy of a standardized echinacea preparation (Echinilin) for the treatment of the common cold: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Pharm Ther. 1:75-83.
  • Caceres DD, Hancke JL, Burgos RA, Wikman GK. 1997. Prevention of common colds with Andrographis paniculata dried extract. A Pilot double blind trial. Phytomedicine. 2:101-4. doi: 10.1016/S0944-7113(97)80051-7.
  • Barrett B, Hayney MS, Muller D, Rakel D,Ward A,  Obasi CN, Brown R, Zhang Z, Zgierska A, Gern J, West R, Ewers T, Barlow S, BA, Gassman M, Coe CL. 2012. Meditation or Exercise for Preventing Acute Respiratory Infection: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Ann Fam Med. 4: 337–346. doi: 1370/afm.1376
  • Mudyiwa, R, et al. “Anti-Alternaria Solani Activity of Onion (Allium Cepa), Ginger (Zingiber Officinale) and Garlic (Allium Sativum) In Vitro.” International Journal of Plant & Soil Science, vol. 10, no. 4, 2016, pp. 1–8., doi:10.9734/ijpss/2016/24488.
  • Chang, Jung San, et al. “Fresh Ginger (Zingiber Officinale) Has Anti-Viral Activity against Human Respiratory Syncytial Virus in Human Respiratory Tract Cell Lines.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 145, no. 1, 2013, pp. 146–151., doi:10.1016/j.jep.2012.10.043.
  • Shimizu, Tomomi, et al. “Anti-Influenza Virus Activity of Propolis in Vitro and Its Efficacy against Influenza Infection in Mice.” Antiviral Chemistry and Chemotherapy, vol. 19, no. 1, 2008, pp. 7–13., doi:10.1177/09563202080190010

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