As so many people have gotten hit with colds and flus this season (myself included), I thought this would be a helpful article for all of us! This has been a uniquely long flu season, and there are many over-the-counter medicines that are wonderful for symptom relief.

But let’s take a look at some natural remedies that could be a benefit in addition to – or as a replacement for – what you may already have. Most are right in your kitchen!  

Historically, the word “influenza” was in use by the late 1700s, but it was more commonly called the “contagious catarrh.” According to Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861), wrapping your chest in a flannel blanket dipped in boiling water and sprinkled with turpentine (a kind of oil used to mix paint as well as wood varnish) will relieve the hoarsest of coughs. 

Modern chest vapor rubs use the same idea, but we’ve traded up from turpentine to menthol. Mustard has been used as a cure for the cold since ancient Roman times. Spreading a mustard paste between two pieces of clothes and laying it on your chest was a go-to flu remedy. One of the strangest ideas was when the English would use leeches on the skin to lower temperature, believing they would help the overheating. Ouch!  

Today there are many natural cold remedies. For coughs, one of the easiest to come by is simply mixing two teaspoons of honey with either warm tea or water and lemon. You can also eat the honey plain. For some, it’s as effective as any cough medicine. 

Another popular one for respiratory illnesses is thyme to help relieve coughing as well as short-term bronchitis. You can make thyme tea at home by using two teaspoons of crushed thyme leaves and one cup of boiling water. Cover and steep for ten minutes and strain.   

For sinus congestion there are several very useful natural remedies. On the top of the list is water, water, water. It will help to thin the congestion and generally help the body recover. Eucalyptus and peppermint oil are both useful for breaking up mucus as well and can be used in a humidifier or simply in a pot of hot water as you breathe in the steam with a towel over your head. 

One I haven’t tried, but will work well for spicy food lovers, is to make a mucus dissolving elixir by mixing horseradish or cayenne pepper with lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. 

— Sara Lemons Vaules is the founder of Lemon and Light, which offers consulting, products and strategies for moving with ease into an organic, chemical-free lifestyle.