The People's Perspective on Medicine

Is There a Natural Herbal Remedy for Colds?

Colds at this time of year can be really bad. If you have high blood pressure it can be challenging to find the right remedy. What about immune boosters?

Colds that hit late in the season can be especially nasty. This reader has really suffered:

Q. I have a terrible time with colds and flu symptoms all the time. No sooner do I get over one cold than I come down with another. Tests haven’t shown why I get sick so often. I eat well and sleep well and exercise regularly.

Because of high blood pressure I worry about taking over-the-counter cold remedies. I never know which ones are safe.

Do you have any herbal recommendations that might help my immune system ward off these infections and relieve my symptoms?

A. One Chinese herb, Andrographis paniculata (Kan Jang), has been tested in double-blind trials and found to shorten the duration of cold symptoms. Another, Astragalus, has a long tradition of use against colds.

Zinc has also been tested and found to shorten colds, though the results are somewhat confusing and conflicting.

Vitamin C has gotten bad press of late, but we still think there are data supporting Linus Pauling’s approach to the common cold. Here is a link to an article in the journal CMAJ (Feb. 18, 2014) that discusses vitamin C, zinc, probiotics and a number of other remedies for the common cold.

People’s Pharmacy Hypothesis About the Failures of Traditional Cold Studies:

One of the reasons health professionals often look askance at natural approaches to treating the common cold is that the data are not always consistent. We have a hypothesis to explain that. There are over 200 different viruses that cause the so-called common cold. What we are really talking about, of course, are upper respiratory tract infections. Although they have similarities, there is also a lot of variability from the symptoms produced by one virus when compared with another.

We have always thought it was short-sighted to assume that vitamin C might ward off complications of every single virus that causes an upper respiratory tract infection. Ditto for zinc or Chinese herbs. Sometimes zinc seems to work like a charm and other times it fails miserably. Perhaps the reason is not the remedy but rather the nature of the infection itself.

In other words, some viruses may be especially vulnerable to zinc. Other viruses may trigger symptoms that respond well to vitamin C. We are speculating, but we think this could be a plausible explanation for the tremendous variability people report in response to various home remedies.

You can learn more about a diversity of natural approaches to colds in Our Guide to Colds, Coughs and Flu. Some of the remedies that are mentioned tell how to make helpful ginger or thyme tea.

Beware OTC Treatments with Decongestants!

Watch out for oral decongestants in the ingredient list of any over-the-counter cold medicine. Drugs like phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine could make your blood pressure rise. They may also keep you awake at night, which would be counterproductive since sleep is a great way to boost your immunity.

Rate this article
4.9- 28 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Colds, Coughs & the Flu

Download 8 pages of natural approaches to treating colds, including zinc, vitamin C and herbs. Recipes for ginger tea, hot toddies and a powerful chicken soup.

Colds, Coughs & the Flu
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

Showing 20 comments
Add your comment

My husband used to have a lot of problems with colds and bronchitis and his doctor pointed out it was most likely related to allergies (his nasal passages appeared inflamed on exam). A corticosteroid nasal spray helped, but then he developed a yeast infection after a year or two. He has been using a Neti-pot for several years since and now rarely gets sick.

Sambucol dissolving lozenge, followed by a Cepacol max strength sore throat lozenge. Sambucol is made from black elderberry. My throat stopped hurting immediately and feel good to have some soup now. The aching is not gone completely but wow feel like it is tolerable. Fever is down a bit. Going to try this next time on first day. Been 2 days sick. Got flushot a couple months back but not sure it worked for 2015-16 season.

So many good advises – wealth of life experience of combating of the common cold. Thank you. Here is my addition.
When we feel a cold coming on, most important – do not delay your response. I never meet anyone who was unable to get to normal overnight. For this at evening – do not take shower or bath. Drink 2-3 cups your favorite hot drink – for me it is linden flowers tea with honey (do not dissolve honey in hot liquid). Obtain good unprocessed honey from your local beekeeper and ask someone to perform honey massage on your front and back chest. Yes it will be sticky. Wear 2-3 tee shirts and go to the bed. You will sweat profusely and most likely needs change of close. In morning – check your skin – you’ll love it. Do not forget to compare your feelings to previous evening.

Another vote for vitamin d3. Not only do I not have colds, but my energy levels have increased. Initially, I was taking 5000 i.u daily (through last winter). Now I take 2000 i.u. 3 times a week.

I used to have trouble with colds grandkids would infect me all the time! I started on zinc for my skin so I can’t say much about that but what I can say is apple cider vinegar! Our body’s need a good ph balance if it’s goes alkaline our immune system goes out of whack and we have a better chance of getting colds or other ailments. I take a tablespoon or two in 16oz of water every morning before anything else. If I need a boost throughout the day I do another 16oz. I haven’t had a cold in 2 yrs. that’s good enough for me! You can get ph paper strips at your local health food store! I also use 3% hydrogen peroxide. Check out this link. Type in : the many benefits of hydrogen peroxide it will take you right to it. Read it up and start living the healthy life. Also check out the links to MMS. Jim Humble.

Much better results can be achieved if you add your local honey. Find several local beekeepers( check for local bee club) and find honey which is most pleasant for your taste. Add to above mixture amount of honey which is pleasant for you. Do not worry about your weight – this recipe will surprise you.

Take a couple 1000 mg of Vit C at the first sign of a cold. And then follow up with more , it will knock it right out!

I have a routine the minute I feel a cold coming on, and I haven’t been sick with a cold in years. I too take 5000 units of vitamin D. I also wash my hands when I come home from wherever. But occasionally I feel a sniffle and this is what I do.
Put a few drops of peroxide in each ear, one at a time for 5min each. I also gargle with peroxide. This keeps the cold from going into my chest. It also kills a fever. (don’t ask me why) Load up on vitamin C, every couple of hours for 1/2 day. 1000mg at a time. Load up with vitamin B 12. I usually feel tired for the day and its gone the next morning. Try it!

I’m a firm believer in chicken broth. I buy organic chicken broth and start drinking a couple glasses a day at the first sign of a cold. In three or four days, all signs are gone. I also use a neti pot twice a day.

When we feel a cold coming on, in addition to the additional Vitamin C (pills or drinks) we gargle with and swab our nostrils with a half & half mixture of cider vinegar and water. Seems to combat the germs quickly. Also I make a big pot of rose hip tea, (rich in vitamin C) to sip during the day.

Last cold? 2002. Working w/ recently immigrated Chinese colleague, I complained of beginning cold symptoms — slight fever, ticklish throat, mild sneezing. She, wife of physician & mother of two toddlers, said colds lasting more than a day were unnecessary. “Drink 16 ounces of water every 30″ until symptoms pass & then for balance of day thru bedtime”. For 14 years this simple remedy has worked for me.
P.S. Colas, milk, juice, etc. are not substitutes for water.
Being mindful of physical discomfort is essential to arresting symptoms early.
May this help you!

16 OZ every thirty minutes? My stomach would not hold that much water. I don’t know how anyone could.

Agree VD3 and C. I have had success with Sambucol elderberry cough mixture, the immune support mixture and lozenges

I was in Trader Joe’s last weekend, and they were giving out samples of juice. I took one, and my sore throat felt immediately better. I bought a bottle, and it is the most effective thing I have ever taken. It is their own brand of lemon, ginger and echinacea. It is not the most delicious juice that I have ever had, but it is palatable, and it sure got rid of the cold.

I would advise this reader to do an “audit” of their cross-contamination prevention protocol: Do they touch door knobs, phones, elevator buttons, escalator railings, etc., and not wash or sanitize their hands? Many people don’t realize how easy it is to cross-contaminate: they touch a railing on a public staircase or escalator, then touch their eyes/nose or even in their own house they cross-
contaminate. My husband does this all the time and I’ve only been reminding him for 17 years…. !

I had colds, flu, bronchitis, all the time ending with pneumonia two years ago (my fifth bout with pneumonia in the last 35 years. If someone sneezed, I caught it! I started taking about a tablespoon of extra virgin coconut oil spread on toast in the morning. I have not had one cold or flu since. I also take 2000 IU of of vitamin D-3 about three times weekly. I attribute my health to the coconut oil because I have not done anything differently.

In a lot of your articles you mention long names for drugs like (phenylephirne) please start giving the names of of the drug without having to look these up. Thank you

I used to get terrible colds with a cough that would last for at least two weeks. I now take 500 mg of Vitamin C every day (in addition to my multi-vitamin). I also take 400 mg. of echinachea daily. If I feel like I am coming down with a cold, I’ll take zinc for a couple of days. I haven’t had a cold in several years.

A couple of decades ago I was getting colds frequently in the winter and extra vitamin C didn’t seem to help any more. I started taking 5,000 i.u. of vitamin D every day. Since then my colds have been infrequent, and I often don’t get sick when people around me are sick. A couple of times a year I feel as if a cold is coming on and I take Coldeez, homeopathic zinc, and the symptoms almost always go away right away.

I am intrigued by Judy’s idea that vitamin D might help prevent colds. I have taken a lot of vitamins for about 30 years, and got about one cold a year. But about 3 years ago I started taking high doses of vitamin D because of bone issues (and I tested very low for levels of vitamin D). Since I started taking 10,000 iu’s of vitamin D, I have not gotten a single cold. I also don’t bother with flu shots and haven’t gotten the flu. Do NOT take this much D, however, without getting tested to see what your blood levels are. D is a fat soluble vitamin and does not get flushed out the way water-soluble vitamins do, so very high doses are potentially toxic.

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^