14 DIY Cold Remedies From Around the World


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man sitting on living room couch sick with the flu
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Grandmothers all over the world swear by home remedies to help their families feel better when a cold strikes. The therapies take different forms, but the ingredients are similar: Ginger, turmeric, and lemon are considered anti-inflammatory. Hot peppers relieve congestion, and cumin boosts immunity. None substitute for a doctor's care in the event of a serious illness, nor are they guaranteed to work, but consider trying them with bed rest and plenty of fluids. If avoiding a cold proves impossible, these remedies could save you money on cold medicines that mask the symptoms but might not cure a cold any better than ingredients already in the kitchen.

chicken broth with herbs
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Though often referred to as "Jewish penicillin," this remedy is used in practically every country and culture — probably because there are some studies that indicate it actually lessens cold symptoms. Commercially processed or takeout soup is okay but can't beat the homemade stuff. Make it with plenty of garlic and onions, which are anti-inflammatory (and delicious).

honey and onion syrup
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Loving abuelitas in the Dominican Republic prepare a cough syrup made from onions and honey. Onions have expectorant qualities that loosen the mucus that often accompanies a cold. Honey is a well-known throat soother, as well as an immune system booster. The blog Step to Health has two recipes to try.

ginger root and turmeric root on a table
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To make this tea for colds and stomach ailments, chop up fresh ginger and boil it in water for 15 minutes — 1 teaspoon per cup of water. Add an equal amount of turmeric, which contains curcumin, an anti-inflammatory that has also been shown to have antiviral effects. Sweeten with honey and lemon. You can also use powdered ginger and turmeric — one-third teaspoon for each cup of water.

milled black peppercorns on table
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In India, a few peppercorns are added to ginger and turmeric tea at the boiling stage for patients who are coughing. In addition to being an antimicrobial, black pepper is thought to lessen the severity of a cold by breaking up mucus in the respiratory tract, helping it be expelled. Black pepper is also put in boiling water so the steam can be inhaled to clear sinus passages.

hot sake being poured into cup
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A most unusual remedy comes from Japan, where sake is heated very hot and combined with raw egg and sugar, sometimes with a slice of ginger, to become a soothing and warming tamagozake (egg sake). If nothing else, it can help with the sleeplessness a cold so often brings.

carrot ginger soup with ingredients on background
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Taking the cold-curing ingredients of chicken soup and boosting them with ginger is common in China and other places. If a pot of chicken soup is too much, try takeout egg drop soup with a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger added. A recipe from Genius Kitchen can be cooked up in less than an hour.

pepper and juice
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Cayenne pepper is used as an expectorant to help break up mucus (and mixing one-eighth teaspoon in an 8-ounce glass of fresh orange juice can help alleviate a sore throat). It's a major ingredient in "immunity tea" that is claimed to prevent colds and other diseases from taking hold in the first place. Immunity tea also contains ginger and lemon. A recipe from the nutritionist Kimberly Snyder uses stevia as a sweetener, but you can use honey instead.

apple cider vinegar in jar, glass, and fresh apple
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A tablespoon of apple cider vinegar added to a glass of warm water is said to help ward off viruses by making the body more alkaline. Although there's no scientific basis for this, it could help you feel better by loosening mucus.

garlic bulbs with garlic cloves
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Some swear by whole garlic cloves for decongestion, but eating garlic is not for everyone. An old Italian remedy is more appetizing: Bring a pot of water (about a quart) to a boil. Add five or more peeled and smashed cloves of garlic and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the juice of two lemons and a bit of honey to make it palatable. Drinking this several times a day will destroy the cold in a few days, nonnas agree.

warm hot toddy with lemon bourbon and spices
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Toddies are great winter drinks even for people who don't have colds. A Genius Kitchen recipe shows how to make a mug at a time with whiskey (usually bourbon) enlivened with immunity-boosting lemon and throat-soothing honey. It's heated with boiling water to warm the bones as well as clear the sinuses. Drink enough and you briefly won't care if you're sick — but drinking too much can cause dehydration, which will make symptoms worse.

red chili peppers on wooden table
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Cumin boosts immunity, chili peppers relieve congestion, and, if it's hot enough, chili induces a good sweat, making it an ideal food for people with a cold. There are nearly as many recipes for chili as there are people who make it.

scattered cloves aromatic spice in wooden shovel on vintage textile background
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Cloves help loosen phlegm and are high in antioxidants — among other potential health benefits. Some people suggest popping a clove in your mouth at the first sign of a cough and sucking on it until the flavor is gone. Others swear by a homemade cough syrup with clove, honey, and cinnamon, which is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. (Find a recipe on the wellness blog Red & Honey.)

sea salt in bowl on wooden background
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Salt contains plenty of healthful minerals, including zinc, which is said to be anti-inflammatory and shorten the duration of some colds, although evidence is mixed. Gargling a half-teaspoon of salt dissolved in 8 ounces of warm water is an effective way to soothe a sore throat. For sinus problems and stuffed noses, mix table salt with distilled or sterilized water and use the saline solution for nasal irrigation.

apple cider with cinnamon sticks
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This potent and indeed fiery brew infuses ingredients such as garlic, ginger, onion, horseradish, and a hot pepper in apple cider vinegar. A recipe from The Kitchn won't be ready for at least three weeks, so plan to make it ahead of cold and flu season to keep on hand throughout the winter. Take a few tablespoons at the beginning of a cold, or take a shot daily through cold season to ward off illness. If it's too potent, it can be mixed with water.

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