Having a cold can make you feel utterly miserable. Between the stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing, sneezing and headaches, it's no fun at all. While there is no cure for the common cold, there are plenty of natural home remedies that can help reduce symptoms and speed up recovery time. Here are 11 of the most effective natural remedies you can try:
Zinc is a mineral that plays an important role in immune system function. Numerous studies have found that zinc lozenges or nasal gels can shorten the duration of cold symptoms when taken within 24 hours of first experiencing symptoms.
Zinc works by interfering with cold virus replication. Look for zinc lozenges or nasal gels that provide 10-25mg of elemental zinc per day while you have cold symptoms. Be aware that zinc can cause nausea if taken on an empty stomach, so take with food. Zinc is generally considered safe when used short-term, but long-term high doses may cause negative side effects.
Vitamin D plays an important role in immune function and many people are deficient, even in sunny climates. Getting adequate vitamin D from sun exposure, foods or supplements may help prevent colds and reduce severity/duration if you do get sick.
One review found that people who took vitamin D supplements of about 800-1000IU daily experienced fewer cold/flu episodes and less school/work absenteeism due to respiratory infections. Food sources include fatty fish like salmon, tuna, eggs and fortified foods. If supplementing, aim for 2000-4000IU per day during cold/flu season.
Astragalus is an herb that has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to support immune function. Research has found that astragalus may help prevent and shorten colds when taken regularly during cold/flu season.
One study gave astragalus capsules containing 250mg of extract to participants for 12 weeks during winter. Those taking astragalus experienced fewer colds, less fever and fewer missed days of work/school compared to a control group. Look for astragalus capsules or teas and follow dosage instructions on the product.
Garlic has powerful anti-microbial and anti-viral properties that can help fight the viruses and bacteria associated with colds. Eating garlic or taking an aged garlic supplement may help prevent colds from taking hold or shorten their duration.
One review looked at data from 11 studies and found aged garlic extract shortened common cold duration by about 1 day. Raw garlic may be most effective but can be hard on the stomach, so try mixing minced fresh garlic into foods or make roasted garlic for spreads. Supplements provide odorless options as well.
Vitamin C is one of the most popular remedies for colds because it supports immune cells needed to fight infection. While studies on high-dose vitamin C for colds have had mixed results, it still may offer benefits.
A review found that taking 200mg/day of vitamin C shortened cold duration by 8% in adults and 14% in children. Food sources high in C include citrus fruits, bell peppers, kiwi and broccoli. Many adults don't get the recommended 75-90mg/day, so supplementing may help. Opt for 500-1000mg/day at first signs of a cold.
As one of nature's oldest cold remedies, honey has antimicrobial properties that can soothe sore throats and fight infection. It's especially good for coughs since the thickness of honey helps coat the throat.
Research shows that honey works as well or better than over-the-counter cough suppressants for coughs in children over 2 years old. Look for raw, unprocessed honey and take 1-2 teaspoons as needed for a sore throat. Honey can also be added to hot tea with lemon for a soothing cold drink.
Echinacea is an herb commonly used to prevent and treat colds based on its immune-stimulating polysaccharides. However, research on its effectiveness has had mixed results.
One meta-analysis found that preventively taking echinacea at the first signs of cold symptoms reduced the risk of developing a full-blown cold by 58%. It also reduced the average duration of colds by 1.4 days. Look for echinacea root or aerial parts in capsules and follow dosage suggestions.
Ginseng's long history of use in East Asia as an immune booster makes it another popular cold remedy option. Some research has found it may reduce cold symptoms and duration when taken at the onset of symptoms.
A recent study gave participants either Korean red ginseng or a placebo during cold/flu season. Those taking ginseng supplements had significantly fewer colds, less severe symptoms and shorter episodes compared to the placebo group. Try powdered ginseng mixed into liquids or look for ginseng supplements.
Ginger contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols that can help reduce common cold symptoms like nausea, coughing and congestion. Its warming properties also make it very soothing for sore muscles, chills and headaches.
Research shows ginger helps control nausea and vomiting associated with colds. For a cold, try chopping fresh ginger root into hot water or tea with honey for sipping. Ginger supplements or candied ginger can also provide relief.
Elderberry fruit contains antioxidants called anthocyanins that have anti-viral properties and may help fight cold and flu viruses. Some research suggests elderberry syrup or capsules can reduce cold/flu duration by about 3 days.
Look for elderberry syrup, lozenges or capsules that provide at least 500mg of elderberry extract per dose. Take at the first sign of symptoms and continue use throughout the illness according to package directions. Elderberry is a very popular, natural remedy that’s easy to add to a daily supplement routine during winter.
The aromatic eucalyptus leaf and oil have decongestant, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that make it effective for reducing nasal congestion associated with colds.
Add a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil to a bowl of steaming hot water. Tent a towel over your head and the bowl to inhale the steam for 5-10 minutes at a time, 2-3 times per day. The steam helps thin and loosen nasal and chest congestion. Be aware that too much eucalyptus oil internally can cause side effects, so save it for inhalation purposes only.
While colds are typically mild and self-limiting, trying home remedies can provide comfort and help you feel better faster. Look for remedies providing well-studied nutrients like zinc, vitamins C and D, ginger and honey. Herbal options like echinacea, ginseng and elderberry are also popular choices. Experiment to see which remedies work best for each individual cold. Always consult a healthcare practitioner before using remedies long term or in high doses. Following good hand hygiene and getting adequate sleep also supports immune defenses against colds and flu.