Kitchen Medicine: Colds and Flus Part 1


This blog post is part of a series on home remedies for symptom relief found right in our very own kitchens.

There are so many remedies for the discomfort caused by colds and flus sitting right in our homes and gardens! All we have to do is know how to use them. Some of them I have written about before, such as wet sock therapy for respiratory congestion and breaking fevers, or adding herbs to bone broth to boost it’s therapeutic value. This blog post will discuss onion ear muffs, nutrients for immune support, and how to make a homemade tea to soothe a sore throat and calm a spasmodic cough.

Onion ear muffs are helpful for reducing congestion of the eustachian tubes. It can be used anytime your inner ear feels painful or congested. It is also safe to use with children. You can use any type of onion, but I recommend avoiding red onions as their color can stain. Begin by cutting an onion in half. Store half of the onion for later use. Take the remaining half, and microwave or steam it until it is hot. You should be able to smell it and likely see steam rising off of it. Wrap it in a thin cloth or towel so that the cut side has a single layer of fabric over it, and the round side is fully covered, and the heat trapped. Check the temperature for tolerance, you will need to be able to place it against your skin for several minutes without burning to complete the therapy. Lie down on your side with the affected ear facing up. Then, place the cut side of the warm, cloth covered onion over the ear and allow the heat and evaporating onion juices to permeate into your ear. Leave on until the congestion or pain is relieved or the onion is cool. You can repeat with the other half of the onion if needed. If it doesn’t clear up, your hearing is significantly affected, or it becomes extremely painful, ask your primary care physician to give it a quick peek and see if you need more significant treatment to speed healing and protect your hearing.

There are a handful of specific nutrients that aid immune function during exposure to colds and flu viruses. For people with typical immune function, you can get most of these in adequate amounts by eating a whole foods and veggie rich diet and taking a *quality* multivitamin at the recommended daily dose. The nutrients are: A, C, D, E, selenium, and zinc. There are tons of online resources to find foods rich in these nutrients if you want to dig deeper. I recommend people who are breastfeeding or pregnant, elderly, or immune compromised make an appointment for guidance on safe nutrient supplementation. Do not try to double or triple the recommended dose of your multivitamin thinking it will make you invincible because it won’t, but it may make you ill in other ways.

Garlic is a food found in the kitchen that is wonderful for its antimicrobial properties. The powerful constituent allicin is activated when the clove is crushed and allowed to stand for a minute before eating. Allicin degrades at a fairly rapid rate, so this only works when the garlic is freshly crushed. If you make up 8 cups of hummus or pesto and then put most of it in the fridge, you’ll lose the medicinal activity. It’s better to make only what you’ll eat in one sitting.

In addition to gargling salt water, tea can be very soothing to a sore throat. The right herbs in a tea can help provide nutrition and medicine. Thyme is especially wonderful, as the constituent thymol gives it antimicrobial and antispasmodic properties. Rosemary or sage can be substituted for thyme, but they do not have antispasmodic properties. Green tea contains EGCG which is a potent antiviral. Lemon juice has loads of vitamin C, and ginger is another fabulous antimicrobial. Optional additions include blue or black elderberries (antiviral), turmeric (anti-inflammatory), mint (respiratory soother, antimicrobial) and lemon balm (antiviral).

Here is how I make my favorite tea in my home kitchen for soothing a sore throat and cough. You’ll notice I say 2-4 Tbs of thyme. The higher the amount, the more antispasmodic it is. However, it has a strong flavor that isn’t to everyone’s palate, so if you are just looking to soothe a sore throat, it is ok to use a smaller amount. The other thing to keep in mind is the age of your spices in your cabinet. If your herbs are greater than one year old, they have lost some of their therapeutic value and you will need more to have an effect.

Add 2-4 Tbs of dried thyme and a 1” slice of fresh ginger chopped into tiny bits to a quart jar that can withstand high heat, like a mason canning jar. If you have any of the optional ingredients, you can add a bit of them to the jar as well. Fill the jar half full with boiling water. Cover and steep for 15 minutes. Strain out the herbs and put the liquid back in the jar. Add 2 tea bags of green tea (regular or decaf) to the jar as well and fill it almost full. Leave about an inch from the opening. Allow to steep for 3 minutes and then remove the tea bags. Add the juice of 1 lemon (about 2-3 Tbs) and 2 Tbs honey and stir. Pour off a mug and refrigerate the rest until you are ready for another cup. You may add a bit more honey to your mug if you like, and even a dash of cayenne, apple cider vinegar, or a crushed garlic clove for even more therapeutic value. I recommend gargling a bit with the tea to get it in full contact with your pharyngeal tissues. Depending on your symptoms, you may prefer the feel of it on your throat at room temperature, or cold. It can also be frozen into popsicles. The refrigerated jar keeps for up to 3 days, but it’s likely you’ll finish it before then.

Feel free to experiment with these recipes for tea and nutrient rich foods! It’s ok if you don’t have the same spices and foods listed above or are missing an ingredient. The beauty of kitchen medicine is you use what you have on hand to improve your health, one meal or cup of tea at a time.

I hope you have found this information helpful! As usual, this blog is for information only, and does not constitute personal medical advice. Please make an appointment for a personal consult if you would like to learn more about home treatment of colds and flus with nutrient and botanical medicines.

Happy Healing,

Dr. Alicia Tremblay, ND



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