Last Updated on September 7, 2020
Learn how to fight a cold using simple ingredients from your kitchen. You can prevent a cold from taking hold or get over a cold fast with these food-based remedies!
It’s that time of year, when every doorknob is full of viruses threatening to take you down with another miserable cold. You can help your immune system fight them off with some (or all!) of these easy home remedies for fighting colds.
Since my eldest entered the public school system, cold season has begun in September and gone right through May. I’ve gotten a lot of practice fighting off colds!
We do what we can to prevent them — getting plenty of sleep, reducing stress when possible, drinking fluids, TONS of hand washing, and so on — and I’ve gotten more careful about including foods that give our immune systems the nutrients they need to function well.
(It takes some effort! Check out my post on the nutrients that support your immune system to find out what your diet might be missing.)
If, in spite of all your healthy habits you still feel that telltale tickle in the back of your throat, try some of these strategies to fight back before a cold can take hold. Here are the ways I’ve found most effective for keeping an oncoming cold at bay.
While there isn’t much hard scientific data to back up some of these cold-fighting remedies, folk wisdom often points us to methods that work. And while some popular remedies may not yet have been sufficiently studied to say definitively that they work, there isn’t scientific evidence to say they don’t, either.
Plus some research suggests that merely believing something will be effective can help us stay healthy!
1. How to Fight Off a Cold with Elderberries
Elderberries have been shown to combat flu, and lots of people swear by them for fending off illness. My family’s favorite ways to get elderberries are with elderberry tea and gummies. We also make these delicious elderberry overnight oats, which incorporate a lot of ingredients that help support immune function.
You can buy pre-made syrups, but you’ll save a lot of money making your own. Here are the elderberries we use in my research-backed homemade elderberry syrup recipe. Elderflowers can also help stimulate the immune system and they taste divine.
2. How to Fight Off a Cold with Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (known by its devoted fans as ACV) is pretty amazing stuff, good not only for fighting colds, but conditioning your hair, deodorizing, and a host of other uses. A probiotic-rich fermented liquid, ACV is thought to help fight off viruses pretty effectively.
Some people drink it diluted in water. I like to use it in salad dressing or splash it into soups. Try to take a couple tablespoons in water per day a few times when you feel like you’re fighting something off. I use this brand of apple cider vinegar.
3. How to Fight a Cold with Garlic
Not just great for repelling vampires, garlic’s great at scaring away viruses also. (As well as friends and family if you overdo it!)
If you can stand to eat it plain, go for it. I find it helps to crush it and drink it in some hot broth.
For cold-fighting purposes, don’t cook the garlic. Cooking will destroy some of the compounds thought effective in battling colds.
Crushing garlic and letting it sit 10 minutes before eating will increase them. Adding raw or cooked garlic to your meals regularly is a good idea, too. Here’s more on the impressive health benefits of garlic.
Garlic breath tip: Eat an apple! I found out after my last overdose of raw garlic that apples drastically reduce garlic odor, fast.
Note that people on blood thinners may need to be cautious about garlic. Discuss it with your doctor.
Grow your own endless supply of garlic with these simple instructions for how to grow garlic.
4. How to Fight a Cold with Coconut Oil
Coconut oil contains a compound called lauric acid, which its proponents say has potent antiviral qualities. Though there isn’t data to say whether or not coconut oil can ward off your cold, coconut oil devotees say it helps.
(Coconut oil may be effective for lots of other health issues, though — check out this extensive compilation of research.)
If you can stand it, you can eat a little spoonful of plain coconut oil. (Organic virgin coconut oil is pretty tasty if you like coconut. If you don’t, buy refined instead.)
If you don’t want it straight, stir some in your coffee, use it in baked goods, or stir fry with it.
5. How to Fight Off a Cold with Bone Broth
The minerals and compounds like glutamine in bone broth are thought to help reduce inflammation, which is not only helpful for fighting colds, it can also improve arthritis and may benefit allergy sufferers.
Bone broth also has its skeptics, who think it’s been over-hyped.
Note that most commercially-prepared stocks don’t have the same compounds and can contain other ingredients like MSG that may actually harm health rather than support it. Read labels carefully so you know what you’re getting.
Chicken broth, a beloved and proven cold remedy, still has its place, just don’t conflate it with bone broth.
You can buy bone broth, but it’s pretty expensive, and it’s really easy to make your own. Just save the bones from the meats you use, add some vegetables, and simmer.
You can save up bones in the freezer if you need to, but a whole roast chicken should provide you with plenty for a nice batch of broth. I follow these instructions for homemade bone broth from Sarah at Nature’s Nurture and make multiple batches in my slow cooker as she did.
I recommend using a Vitaclay or Instant Pot so you avoid non-stick coatings or ceramic coatings that may contain lead. (You can also contact the company if you’re looking for a ceramic crock pot, or test your own with a home lead test, though I’m not confident about the accuracy of such tests for intact surfaces containing lower concentrations than the test is calibrated for. More details here.)
Use organic ingredients and filtered water and store your broth in glass rather than plastic, so you’re not assaulting your already-strained system with plasticizing chemicals. Here’s how to choose an effective water filter.
6. Fight a Cold with Ginger
Ginger is considered a top choice for fighting off colds and relieving cold symptoms. Try a delicious cup of ginger tea the next time you’re feeling a little under the weather, and you might be surprised how much better it makes you feel. Or add a bunch on ginger along with your garlic to a steaming cup of bone broth. Take that, viruses!
7. Fight a Cold with Mushrooms
Many varieties of mushroom have antiviral effects, including the widely-available shitake. Other mushrooms worth checking out include maitake, cordecyps, and enoki.
Try these immune-boosting recipes to help fight off colds!
♦ Here’s a great recipe from The Herbal Spoon for a tasty and immune-boosting popsicle that includes probiotics, coconut and some immune-supporting herbals.
♦ Some folks tougher than me whip up some spicy fire cider reputed to be pretty effective at stopping colds in their tracks. Definitely worth trying!
If you do come down with a cold, try some of these get-better-quickly remedies:
♦ Homemade Honey Lemon Cough Drops from Fit as a Mama Bear
♦ Homemade Cough Drops and Cough Drop Lollipops from The Pistachio Project
♦ Instant Pot Calming Cough Syrup from These Lovely Acres
♦ Cinnamon Honey Remedy from The Pistachio Project
♦ Super Tonic Cold Remedy from Healthy Christian Home
♦ Flu Fighting Popsicles from The Pistachio Project
♦ Pine Resin Salve from Learning and Yearning
How do you fight off colds? What natural remedies for colds do you turn to when you feel one coming on?
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Disclaimer: I’m a healthy food enthusiast, not a medical professional. Content on this website is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to provide personalized medical advice. I draw on numerous health sources, some of which are linked above. Please consult them for more information and a licensed professional for personalized recommendations.
Photo credits: frgetmenot, steve p2008, Isabel Eyre, Veganbaking.net, Mealmakeovermoms, Dan via Flickr
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.