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Seasonal Health

Yoga Toolkit: Herbs, Nutrition, and Other Remedies to Fight the Common Cold

Kick a cold to the curb with these holistic remedies.

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While the common cold might seem like a fairly minor health inconvenience compared to the flu (or a global pandemic), rhinovirus still produces symptoms that are no fun. We asked health and wellness experts for their tips on keeping yourself cold-free this winter—and for feeling better fast should you catch one.

Osteopathy for Colds

Some good news: The hygiene practices we’ve grown accustomed to during COVID-19—mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing, and social distancing—also help keep colds at bay, says Peter Bidey, DO, an osteopathic family physician at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

If you do catch a cold, tried-but-true home remedies really do work, Bidey says: “Your mom’s advice is still probably the best thing: lots of rest and chicken soup.” But don’t just take your mom’s word for it. Studies have shown chicken soup alleviates congestion and reduces inflammation in the respiratory tract (though researchers haven’t nailed down exactly how).

In addition, Bidey recommends eating foods rich in vitamins C and E — (citrus, leafy greens, nuts, seeds) and zinc (oysters, crab, lean meats) to give the immune system more oomph. Cold and flu viruses thrive in dry air, so keep nasal passages moist with saline spray, and run a cool-mist humidifier in your home.

While it does require an office visit, Bidey says hands-on osteopathic manipulation can speed recovery by promoting lymphatic fluid movement when colds settle in the chest or ears or encourage fluid drainage to de-stuff sinuses and nasal passages.

Nutrition for Colds

“One of the best things to do to prevent the common cold is to focus on your diet,” says integrative nutrition health coach Nina Zorfass. “A balanced, varied diet that is low in or free from added sugar and processed foods will ensure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need to keep inflammation in check and build a strong immune system.”

Crowd out empty-calorie foods by filling your plate with nutrient-rich choices that can actually help you feel better, she says. Don’t skimp on fruits, veggies and other plant-based foods. The high fiber content in these foods provides fuel for good gut bacteria. Research has shown a healthy microbiome is crucial for proper immune function.

If you don’t feel up to eating a full meal, sip caffeine-free hot tea or bone broth. Drinking hot liquids will make you feel less chilly, soothe a sore throat, and break up mucus. Zorfass likes to make her own chicken broth. She saves the bones after roasting a chicken and simmers them in water with celery, onion, and carrots. She makes sure to throw in loads of garlic, too, which has virus-fighting properties. (Other types of bone broths work, too.)

Herbs for Colds

“Herbal medicines provide the gift of both prevention and relief from symptoms associated with the common cold,” says registered herbalist Ashley Litecky Elenbaas, M.Sc. She combats a cold by making a pot of spicy tea. Add five slices of fresh ginger root, one cinnamon stick, and four cloves to five cups of water in a pot. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, then turn off the heat, and let everything steep for an additional five minutes. “Ginger is a strong peripheral circulatory stimulant and increases blood flow to the limbs of the body and to the nose,” she says. “The cinnamon and clove are both warming and antiviral.” She likes to drink cups of the concoction with honey throughout the day.

Elderberry syrup and astragalus root are her other preventive go-tos. Elderberry is high in vitamin C and may have antiviral properties. Astragalus is a traditional Chinese herb that promotes B-cell and antibody production. She recommends adults take 1–2 teaspoons of elderberry syrup three to five times a day and two droppers of astragalus tincture twice daily during cold and flu season.