Natural Remedies to Ease Cold and Flu Symptoms Fast
Sore throats, sickness, viruses, oh my!
So goddamn annoying and unsettling and always with their notoriety for showing up at the worst possible time. They like to rock up when we’re busy, we’re finally getting “our shit” together, we have a whole weekend of awesomeness planned, in the lead up to a big event or just when we feel like we’re at our healthiest.
This Tuesday morning started wonderfully enough. A rousing yoga practice and the promise of a squash game with my beloved later that afternoon. Close to lunchtime, I began to feel fatigued and squeamish and decided to lay down. As my head hit the pillow, a scratchy thickness stole sneakily into my throat. There was a feeling constricted tightness and “puffiness” in my neck so subtle I thought I was imagining it.
I hoped I was imagining it.
I woke up from a restless nap, feeling as though while I slept someone had placed a razorblade into my mouth and I had just tried to swallow it.
And so it begins.
No squash. I could hardly summon the energy to get through work and I had a busy day ahead.
The virus had worked its way into me at the worst possible time just to be an asshole.
As much and all as I know that the presence of sickness in the body is a gentle sign that it needs nurturing, and is to be taken as a positive sign that the immune system is functioning perfectly, I hate being sick. I don’t have time to be sick, which is why I purposefully make the time for health and fitness.
There is notoriously no cure for viral infections and they are stubborn little buggers to avoid, even for a healthy individual with a bolstered immune system. They can survive all the hand sanitiser and Glen 20 you can douse your household surfaces with, and the only “cure” is time of an indeterminable length and allowing your immune system to do its job.
Although in the grand scheme of things, they usually (and hopefully) only hang around for a couple of days, these unwanted guests in your body can make life pretty damn uncomfortable in the meantime, especially when you really don’t have time for their shit right now.
Fortunately, you can speed up the healing process by supporting your immune system and giving yourself a little self comfort, even when you’re busy, and you don’t have to simply mask the discomfort with painkillers, cold and flu tablets or those sickeningly sweet cough drop lollies.
Here’s how I deal:
FOOD & MAGIC POTIONS
STAY AWAY FROM DAIRY | As much as possible. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, dairy is mucous forming, encouraging the growth and spread of all that lovely phlegm and congestion you’re rocking right now.
GARGLE | If you can handle salt water, add two tablespoons of Himalayan salt to a glass of warm water and gargle every two hours to kill the bacteria in your throat. Me personally, it just seems to make me nauseous when I’m sick BUT here’s what I do instead: I gargle with Listerine. It numbs my throat, prevents the spread of bacteria and clears out that thick, musty feeling in your mouth (“the bottom of a birdcage”, as my dad would say). Just don’t swallow. The other option is to gargle with a steep brewed infusion of sage, rosemary and fennel (steep in boiling water, allow to COOL to room temperature and gargle for one minute). Works wonders, trust me.
SPEAKING OF INFUSIONS…| brew yourself a strong, hot herbal infusion of sage, raspberry leaf, rosemary, fennel, burdock root, cinnamon and peppermint and sip long and deep throughout the day. These herbs are known to reduce fever, ease sore throats and have antibacterial and antiviral properties.
SWALLOW RAW GARLIC AND RAW GINGER | Yes, it tastes disgusting. Yes, it really, really works. Garlic and ginger are antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial and will work to kill whatever bug is trying to ruin your life right now. Follow with a honey chaser in need. Ginger is especially soothing on a sore throat and if you’ve got a little bit of nausea going on, it will settle your stomach.
VITAMIN C | Choose buffered, your belly will thank you. Ingest regularly. The body can’t store vitamin C. Take it as soon as possible to when the first inkling of illness threats, or better still, as soon as someone else in your household starts complaining of feeling sick. Other things I swear by to reduce the duration/severity of cold and flu symptoms include olive leaf extract, a good vitamin B complex, and elderberry extract. But remember, for these to work properly, take them as soon as you get the first inkling of impending sickness, or as soon as you’re exposed to a sick person.
CINNAMON LEMONADE | Deeply healing on both a detoxification and symptomatic level, this has been a game changer when I am sick. Mix 2 tbsp hot water, 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar, 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, a dash of cinnamon and 2 tbsp honey. Shot it down. For added zing to your nightcap, add a shot of warm rum. In the morning, repeat (sans the rum) and add more hot water and sip like a tea as needed. It’s as strong tasting as it sounds, but oddly not unpleasant. In fact, when you’re sick, it’s actually surprisingly more-ish.
YET ANOTHER DRINK | Sore throat? No voice? I got you, girl. I got you. Take 1/2 cup of cardamom seeds, chop up a 2-3 inch piece of ginger and juice half a lemon. Add to 2 cups of water and boil until the mixture reduces by half. Strain and drink hot. This tastes like burning but you’ll get your voice back and soothe your sore throat. Permission granted to add some organic Manuka honey to sweeten the deal.
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE | Broken record much, I know, but keeping hydrated is important to reduce your fever, flush out the infection faster and prevent dehydration, which can exacerbate and worsen symptoms, delay immune system efficiency and make you sicker. If the thought of swallowing plain water has your stomach doing somersaults, add the juice of half a lemon and some fresh lemon rounds to your pitcher, which will add a pleasant flavour to the water. The added benefit is that the lemon will soothe your throat and contains lots of vitamin C to combat the infection. Win-win. Also, both Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese medicine advise steering away from cold water as these aggravate mucous production and symptoms. Room temperature is best.
AVOID SUGAR | which according to TCM and Ayurveda create heaviness and damp in the body, which just add to the mucous situation you’ve got going on all up in your sinuses.
NATURAL COUGH SYRUP | If your cough is keeping everyone from your partner to the neighbour’s dog awake at night, the most effective cough remedy I have found (natural or pharmaceutical) is eating pineapple. Pineapple is a lytic agent, so it thins out mucus, making it easier to move up off your chest. It also contains the enzyme bromelain (an anti-inflammatory), as well as high amounts of vitamin C, beta carotene, copper, zinc, and folate which boosts the immune system as well as your energy levels. Plus it tastes amazing. Naturally, the most effective way to reap the benefits is by eating the fruit fresh, but if you can’t handle solids right now, or if fresh pineapple isn’t available, the next best thing is juice: choose no added sugar varieties.
BONE BROTH | This is my go-to when I feel my body needs any form of restoration, comfort, or self care. There’s a reason why it has been used since ancient times as a cold and flu remedy. It is high in amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and collagen, and has powerful anti-inflammatory and healing properties. Plus, it tastes quite mild and is easy to sip on even when you have no appetite, helping you to keep your calories up and providing your body with the essential nutrients it needs to heal fast.
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LISTEN TO YOUR BODY | If you’re sick, but don’t feel like lying in bed all day, don’t. If you feel like resting, don’t feel guilty about it, do it. Listen to what your gut (and not what your “shoulds”) are telling you to do as much as possible. You intuitively know what to do to promote healing, so just do it. Have you been burning the candle at both ends? Maybe this is your body’s way of telling you to slow down a little. Been neglecting your daily workouts or eating a little bit crappy the last few weeks? Give your body lots of nourishment and go for a walk in the sunshine. Really listen to what your body is asking for here and give it what it needs to heal.
YOUR THOUGHTS ARE CREATING YOUR ENERGY | And your energy creates your reality, so be careful. “I hate being sick”, “Stupid sickness”, “I’m so run down”, “I can’t catch a break with viruses this year”, “I feel like shit”. Watch your vibration doesn’t become full of these thoughts, because guess what you’ll keep getting more of? When these thoughts become a constant dialogue through your day when you’re sick, they keep you stuck in that sickness mentality. When you focus on being sick, you feel TERRIBLE. And when you feel terrible on a consistent enough basis, the Universe sends more of it. Remember, the Universe responds to vibration and feeling, NOT what we deserve or “want”. When you catch yourself in a sickness thought, take two deep breaths and do something healing.
AFFIRMATIONS | “My immune system works perfectly”. “My body knows just how to heal itself in the perfect way in the perfect time”. “My body runs itself perfectly”. Say it with conviction. Open your body up and stretch as you say it, pulling your physiology out of the hunched in sickness default. Stand or sit up tall like a healthy person, look upward to pull yourself up out of kinaesthetic, “feeling” mode and repeat these affirmations as needed.
MEDITATION | Sometimes just being present with your breath can provide beautiful relief from icky symptoms – even though right now you’re breathing like a pug dog. I recommend having your eucalyptus oil burning while you do this for added benefit.
SHOWER | Sprinkle eucalyptus oil and a touch of tea tree oil in your shower. Breathe in the steam for five minutes of bliss. Add a few drops to a carrier oil like coconut oil or olive oil for your own homemade Vix to rub on your chest for a good night’s sleep.
SPEAKING OF EUCALYPTUS OIL | and tea tree oils, if you have an oil diffuser, crank that shit and breathe deep, my friends.
MOVE | Don’t feel like the gym right now? Sister, I feel you. If you’re feeling like you still want to show up for yourself and sweat it out, try hanging out on your yoga mat with this lovely lady. Adriene has designed an incredible gentle and restorative yoga sequence to heal and nourish you while you’re sick. This has become my go-to and has me going from feeling yucky to yummy in 20 short minutes.
FRESH AIR | Shutting up the windows (unless it’s super cold) only keeps the germs contained in the same space you’re breathing. Ew. Eu de sick person parfum does nothing to help you feel better, so find ways to get some fresh air. Even getting a good hit of vitamin D with a gentle walk in the warm sunshine for 10 minutes can brighten your mood and help you breathe easier. Ahhh….
WARMTH | Your fave Uggs, your comfiest shawl and your softest blanket. Get yourself as comfortable and warm as possible. Don’t have the air con on too cold if you unluckily get hit in summer, like I just have.
ALL-IN-ONE FACIAL, DETOX AND SINUS RELIEF | Fill a bowl with hot water. Add drops of eucalyptus, tea tree and peppermint oil. Put a towel over your head and the bowl, lean over it and breathe deep for 5 to 10 minutes. This will help to clear out the sinuses, detox your upper respiratory tract and – added bonus – give you a nice facial. What better time to pamper and lavish yourself with a little self love than when you’re sick?
Being sick sucks and it takes down even the healthiest and most robust individuals from time to time. But there is SO much you can do to support and speed up the process of healing, bolster your immunity AND alleviate symptoms without having to raid the cold and flu section of your pharmacy.
What are your favourite ways to heal when you’re sick? I’d love to hear from you. Please share your tried and tested tips in the comments below and if you found this article helpful, I invite you to share.
NB: If symptoms worsen or persist, if you are in a high risk group or if high fever, persistent cough, chest pain and/or nausea and vomiting are present, you should see your local doctor to rule out possible complications or bacterial infections, which may require antibiotics or important medical treatment. This article is not intended to replace or substitute medical, health, or other professional advice. Also consult your doctor before trying these remedies if you are pregnant/breastfeeding or for children under 12.