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-inflammatories. Hot peppers relieve congestion, cumin boosts immunity, and garlic is antibacterial. 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 the stuff already in the kitchen.
Though often referred to as "Jewish penicillin," this remedy is used in practically every country and culture -- probably because there's some proof 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-inflammatories and add another boost of health to the deliciousness.
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.
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. Powdered ginger and turmeric can also be used at one-third teaspoon for each cup of water.
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 believed to lessen the severity of a cold, black pepper is thought to break 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.
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. This recipe from Genius Kitchen can be cooked up in less than an hour.
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 by blogger Kimberly Snyder uses stevia as a sweetener, but honey can be used instead.
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.
Toddies are great adult winter drinkseven for people who don't have colds. A recipe posted on Food.com 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.
Cloves loosen phlegm and get the crud out of your system. Some people suggest popping in a clove 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 antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant. TheHealthSite suggests dry roasting and grinding the clove into powder; the blogger behind Red and Honey simmers instead.
Salt contains plenty of healthful minerals, including zinc, which is said to be an anti-inflammatory that can shorten the duration of colds, although evidence is mixed. Gargling a half-teaspoon of salt dissolved in 8 ounces of warm water is effective in soothing sore throats. For sinus problems and stuffed noses, mix table salt with distilled or sterilized water and use the saline solution for nasal irrigation.
This potent and, indeed, fiery brew infuses ingredients such as garlic, ginger, onion, horseradish, and a hot pepper in apple cider vinegar. The Kitchn says it should be made at least three weeks ahead of time and kept 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.