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DIY Remedies for Winter's Biggest Ailments

Photo: Hannah Burkhalter

The struggle of the winter season: you don’t feel quite well enough for work but you aren’t technically sick enough to stay home. We feel you on those wintertime blues. Take care of your body and quiet your symptoms with simple, natural remedies like cough drops, tea, and immunity-boosting foods.

Winter is officially in full swing, and with colder weather comes a series of circulating ailments, like dry skin, sore throats, congestion, and body aches associated with the common cold. People with arthritis often experience flare-ups in joint pain, and the cold air can trigger asthma symptoms. There’s always someone at the office going home with the flu, too. While we all appreciate a break from the heat, the holiday season, and cozying up with our favorite blankets, we’ve got to stick together when it comes to dealing with winter’s aches and pains. 

If you’ve found yourself with a cold that you just can’t shake, use natural remedies to soothe your symptoms and clear your sinuses. While there’s no magic cure for the common cold, here are some of our favorite remedies that make the winter season a little bit more comfortable.

Photo: Hannah Burkhalter

1. Homemade Cough Drops

Some foods naturally ease the pain of a sore throat, so why not combine them in a cough drop? These coconut-oil and honey-based drops are creamy and gentle, with a hint of cinnamon for its antiviral benefit. 

You will need: 1/2 cup coconut oil; 1/4 cup of raw (preferably local) honey; 1 tsp cinnamon; parchment paper

Directions: Scoop room temperature coconut oil into 1/2 measuring cup and dump into a medium-sized bowl. Use an electric mixer to whip the oil until fluffy. Add honey and cinnamon and mix until well combined. Use a teaspoon to scoop cough drops on to parchment paper. Dip the teaspoon into cold water after each drop to keep the oil from sticking. Place the cough drops into the refrigerator or freezer until hardened.

*If you use a teaspoon, you should end up with about 24 cough drops. If you prefer a larger cough drop, use a tablespoon measurement, but that will result in fewer drops. 

Photo: Hannah Burkhalter

2. Sinus-Clearing Shower Bombs

A warm shower does wonders for a clogged nose. Clear your sinuses with a relaxing warm shower infused with peppermint and eucalyptus. Go ahead and have your spa moment—aromatherapy has never been so inexpensive.

You will need: 1 cup baking soda; 1/3 cup water; peppermint, eucalyptus, or lavender essential oil

Directions: Pour baking soda into a bowl. Add water a little at a time, until a crumbly, moldable consistency is achieved. You may need more or less water depending on the humidity level where you live. The mixture should not be wet or pourable. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of the mixture into a muffin tin. Press and pack the mixture so that it is about 1/4-inch thick. You should have enough to make about 9 bath bombs.

After pressing the mixture into the muffin tin "mold," let the shower bombs dry out and harden. To speed the drying process, preheat the oven to 200°F degrees and heat the shower bombs for 15-30 minutes. This time will vary depending on your oven and the water content of your shower bomb mixture. When the shower bombs are dry, pop them out of the muffin tin and add 3 to 4 drops of your choice of essential oils. Store in an airtight container for about 2 weeks.

*You could also make a bath salt out of Epsom salt, baking soda, and essential oils if you prefer a soak to a shower.

Photo: Hannah Burkhalter

3. Cold-Fighting Tea

Fix a cup of chamomile tea when the head cold is just too much. Inhaling chamomile-infused steam is helpful in treating common cold symptoms and drinking chamomile tea might increase antibacterial activity. Chamomile flowers have large amounts of bioactive phytonutrients, like terpenoids and flavonoids, that have been studied for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

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Take your tea to the next level by adding ginger, cinnamon, and/or honey. The health perspectives of ginger are well-known; it has been shown to boost immunity, and certain compounds within ginger can stop the production of inflammatory molecules. Though there aren’t strong studies that support it, cinnamon has long been considered a remedy for respiratory ailments. Honey has been documented in old medicinal literatures for its antibacterial properties and physically soothing texture. It also has phytonutrients. (And if you need to take the edge off, a small shot of bourbon can certainly help when you're really over fighting a cold.)

You will need: 1 chamomile tea bag; 1 cup of water; Optional: honey, ginger, cinnamon, and/or bourbon

Directions: Heat a cup of water in a small sauce pan. Just before the water boils, add honey and ginger (if you're using freshly grated ginger). Whisk until the honey dissolves. Add the tea bag, and steep according to package directions. Pour one ounce of bourbon into a mug, if desired. Strain tea into mug.

Photo: Hannah Burkhalter

4. Healthy Dishes to Support Immunity

Certain foods are promoted for their immunity-boosting effects. Specifically, these foods are praised for their vitamins, minerals, and/or bioactive ingredients. A healthy immune system can most certainly shorten a cold’s duration, so when you feel a cold coming on, boost your diet with better-for-you foods.

  • Eat foods rich in zinc, like fish, oysters, poultry, eggs, milk, and unprocessed or ancient grains, to fight infection. We love simple Broiled Salmon with Lemon, Honey-Sesame Chicken Breasts, and Stewed Bulgur with Broccoli Rabe.
  • Other nutrients that are important for immune function include vitamin C and beta carotene, which are antioxidants. Chose citrus fruits, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and sweet potatoes to increase those vitamins in your diet. Try a smoothie packed with plant power, or try Sweet Potato Medallions or Garden Minestrone Soup for dinner.
  • Aim for a healthy intake of good bacteria, through fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha
  • Though the exact mechanisms are not known, polyphenols (also called phytonutrients) in many fruits and vegetables have shown to exert antioxidant action and support immune function. Eat plant foods like berries, teas, beets, onions, legumes, apples, cranberries, bell peppers, and Brussels sprouts to get the benefits of flavonoids, a specific type of phytonutrient. 
  • Turmeric has curcumin, a phytochemical that has earned the attention of researchers for its natural anti-inflammatory properties and immune system support. Top your turmeric milk or Golden Milk with pepper, which helps make the good compounds in turmeric more available to the body.