When I first started experimenting with home remedies I was skeptical and wanted to know – which ones really worked and which ones didn’t? Well this week I caught the cold going around and got to try them all out again. I’m going to share my favourite all-natural home remedies with you, and why they actually work!
What causes a cold?
First things first: to understand which remedies are actually backed by science, we need to understand what causes colds. Common colds are caused by a virus, NOT by bacteria. When we use the term “germ” we can be referring to both bacteria and viruses. Most viruses make us sick, but not all bacteria do (we’ve all heard about good bacteria by now, right?).
Viruses, unlike bacteria, cannot survive without a host – they have no cells of their own. What viruses do is inject their DNA into your cells, where they reproduce and spread. What actually causes our cold symptoms is not the virus but our body’s immune response to the virus hijacking our cells. Our immune system uses inflammatory processes to try and get rid of the virus, like a causing a fever to try and neutralize the virus using heat, sending fluid to the site of the infection, or coughing up stuff like phlegm (which is actually the body trying to get rid of the virus enveloped by white blood cells – cool, huh?). Because colds are caused by a virus this is why antibiotics don’t work against them (antibiotics kill bacteria).
Now that we know a little about what causes colds are you ready to hear my favourite home remedies?
Hot water with honey and lemon
If there is even ONE thing to look forward to about having a sore throat or cough it is an excuse to have lots of hot water with honey and lemon! It is an absolute favourite in my house. I add one tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice to a mug, fill it up with hot water and add then one (or more!) tablespoons of honey.The honey will coat your throat and give you a much-appreciated reprieve from coughing.
Before my research I thought the reason the lemon worked was because it killed off bad bacteria in the throat, but it turns out bacteria isn’t what causes colds at all! Some sites say that lemon helps break up mucous like it breaks up grease in the kitchen, but there’s no consensus on it.If nothing else this remedy is a delicious and comforting way to stay hydrated, and hydration is important to thin mucous. Lemon will also act as a great boost of vitamin C to help you fight off the cold though.
I have juicer with a built-in measurer that makes this super easy – depending on the size of the lemon each half will give you 1-2 tbsp.
Please note honey is not considered safe for children under one.
Gargling with salt water
Why does gargling with salt water help a sore throat? Some sites talk about salt making the environment less hospitable for bacteria – this is true, but only applies if your sore throat is caused by bacteria. Some are, but the common cold isn’t one of them.
What is true regardless is that a sore throat usually means the throat tissues are swollen with excess fluid – salt dehydrates and may help draw some of the excess fluid out. Gargling itself may also help loosen mucous. To try this remedy add ½ teaspoon table salt to an 8 ounce glass of warm water (salt will dissolve easier in warm water). It will taste as salty as the sea, and you may want to rinse with fresh water after. It blows my mind to imagine how much salt there is in seawater!
Using a Neti pot works for all the same reasons on your sinuses instead of your throat – I find this great for allergies.
Steam or a humidifier
Steam can help with blocked sinuses by moistening your respiratory passages, and by helping loosen and thin mucous so it can drain. Steaming can be done by taking a hot shower or by filling a bowl with steaming (not necessarily boiling) water and covering your head over the bowl with a towel while you breathe in the steam for 10 minutes (be very careful not to burn yourself!).
A more passive way to do this is to set up a humidifier to run while you rest (essential oil diffusers will humidify without creating steam). I love running them at night while I sleep.
Is soup really good for you when you’re sick? Soup helps a cold for the same reason a lot of the above remedies do – adding fluid to your body will help thin mucous and the steam rising off the soup is good for your sinuses. It’s also important to give your body fuel to continue to fight off the virus. Apparently some research indicates that chicken soup actually has anti-inflammatory properties but my go-to soup is pureed pea and leek. Either way soup actually can help your cold.
Okay, here’s another mind-blowing human body fact: did you know that your sinuses are actually located INSIDE the facial bones? (Here’s a really cool 3D model!). Sinuses serve as sound resonance chambers when we speak, which is why having blocked sinuses can change our voice. Massage won’t magically clear your sinuses but it will get things moving and it feels really good on your face when it feels like nothing else is helping. Here’s a good video on how to go about it.
Appreciating home remedies
I think understanding what our body is doing when we catch a cold helps us appreciate that home remedies are about trying to alleviate the discomfort brought on by symptoms, and that the only real cure for a cold is rest and time to let your body do its thing.
I hope that you’re able to avoid a cold this season, but if you aren’t then I hope these remedies bring you some relief!