Natural Cold and Flu Remedies

This season, shorten your family’s cold and flu recovery times with elderberry syrup, medicinal mushrooms, aromatherapy and more natural remedies.

  • Tasty shiitake mushrooms add an immune-boosting kick to soups or stir-fries.
    Photo by iStock
  • Many natural cold and flu remedies can be made from common household items.
    Photo by iStock

It’s no wonder we get sick. Many of us are busier than ever and we often don’t take enough time to care for ourselves. “Colds and flu, both viral infections, often occur when too much is going on in our lives,” says Brigitte Mars, an herbalist and co-author of The Country Almanac of Home Remedies. “Natural remedies help to bring you back into balance by bolstering immunity, strengthening the body and encouraging it to heal itself.”

Unlike prescription or over-the-counter drugs that are often used to suppress symptoms, natural remedies help make us more resistant to infection and improve our overall health so that when we do get sick, we rebound more quickly. Natural remedies are also easy to find: Many are probably in your own kitchen or garden, or at your favorite health-food store. As with any health treatment, talk with your doctor before making changes.

Medicinal Mushrooms

Why it works: Medicinal mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake and reishi are used to help boost immunity and fend off illness. These versatile fungi have antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, and also contain immune-boosting polysaccharides, which can help strengthen the body’s defenses.

What the research says: Research is promising when it comes to medicinal mushrooms’ ability to improve immune function. Maitake mushrooms, for example, have been shown to stimulate phagocytes, which are cells that kill bacteria. Extracts of maitake and the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha are often combined to ease stress and boost immunity.

How to use it: Medicinal mushrooms are available in capsules or as a liquid extract from health-food stores; follow package directions. You can also find fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms at grocery stores. Add them to soups, scrambles, stir-fries or pasta dishes twice weekly. Although medicinal mushrooms are generally considered safe, consult your health-care practitioner before using them, especially if you have an autoimmune condition.

Elderberry Syrup

Why it works: Elderberry syrup (Sambucol is a common brand sold in health-food stores) contains antioxidants and compounds that have an anti-inflammatory effect. It’s been shown in some studies to decrease inflammation, aches and pains, sinus congestion, chills, headache and respiratory infections; and may help stop the spread of the cold and flu virus.

9/23/2014 2:09:19 PM

Also, probiotics! I used to get a horrible flu, every year. It would turn into a 6 to 8 week event, with several trips to the doctor, and several prescriptions. About 3 years ago, I started taking probiotics every day. Since then, I've had only two colds, and they were both gone in a week, without any visits to the doctor.

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