Five natural cold or flu remedies and why they (probably) work

Natural cold or flu remedies relieve symptoms according to anecdotal evidence. Find out what researchers have to say about the healing potential of five natural remedies, and the pros or cons of using them. Photo: M. Martin Vicente

CHICAGO - November 3, 2012 - You cannot breathe through your nose, and your throat is scratchy, or maybe it feels as if you are drinking broken glass when you swallow. Your head and muscles ache, and you might feel hot or chilled. It is a rare person who has not experienced the discomfort of cold or flu symptoms. 

When we are sick, symptom relief is available on drug store shelves. Over the counter medicines can help us get through another workday, despite the good sense of resting at home and keeping our germs to ourself. However, though all cold and flu sufferers want relief, not all wish to use OTC medications.  

Natural or home remedies for cold and flu symptoms have been helping people feel better for centuries. An increasing amount of research is being done to prove their effectiveness and discover their specific healing properties. 

Though you may be satisfied with anecdotal evidence of a natural remedy’s curative powers, many of them have cons as well as pros that you should be aware of.   

Five Natural Remedies Backed by Promising Research 

Olive Leaf Extract 

The olive leaf is power-packed with healing properties. Though there is not enough research to claim olive leaf extract treats or prevents colds, there is evidence that it stimulates our immune system and lowers the virility of viruses. The olive leaf also has anti-inflammatory qualities that may reduce the stuffiness that comes with colds. 

Cautions: A few people using the extract experience headache, vomiting, and diarrhea, but this remedy is considered safe. Still, children and pregnant women should consult with a physician before taking it. 

Green Tea Beverages 

Enjoying green tea beverages may prevent the common cold and relieve its symptoms. However, there is not yet enough research data for scientists to say more than, “It shows promise.”  

Green tea demonstrates equal promise in fighting influenza. Besides antioxidants and polyphenols, which positively affect our health, organic compounds in green tea may have antiviral properties that help the body stave off strains of the flu. 

Cautions: People who are diabetic, anemic, hypertensive, or pregnant should not use green tea as a supplement before consulting with their doctor. The tea might also have incompatibility with antibiotics, birth control pills, and drugs used to treat the liver, cancer, and asthma. 


A bit of research evidence indicates that the elderberry has antiviral properties and can help conquer flu viruses. It seems to strengthen the immune system, making it more effective in reducing symptoms and length of illness.  

Because of its boost to our immune system, it may also provide cold relief but there is no scientific data supporting elderberry as a cold preventative. 

Cautions: Uncooked elderberries can cause nausea, vomiting, and volcanic diarrhea. Some people’s stomachs are sensitive to products made from the plant’s flower. Pregnant women and children should avoid elderberry supplementation, and if you are on medication, talk to your doctor before using it. 

Lemon and Honey 

Although both lemon and honey can inhibit the growth of infectious microbes, there is not enough study data to support the idea that either can shorten the duration of a cold, or prevent one.

The immune system is strengthened by the vitamin C in lemons, and honey may prove to have antiviral properties. Research validates honey as an effective cough suppressant and sleep aid, particularly with children. 

Cautions: Babies less than a year old should not be given honey. It may contain spores that are toxic to the very young. Lemon juice is acidic and prolonged use can cause nausea, skin irritations, and loss of tooth enamel. 

High Lactoferrin Whey Protein (HLWP) 

Science has not determined that HLWP prevents or treats colds. However, HLWP has anti-inflammatory and antiviral qualities. It appears the lactoferrin protein in milk pumps-up our immunity against several strains of virus. 

Cautions: Whey protein supplements are safe for short-term use. Extended use can cause bone loss and kidney problems. Pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, and infants should not take whey supplements unless their doctor recommends it. 

Those with milk allergies may have a nasty reaction to whey supplements, and it can alter the effectiveness of some medications and medicinal herbs.

Get more scoop on a long list of natural remedies at

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Jacqueline Marshall

Jacqueline Marshall is a writer for Help For Depression, and freelances primarily in the areas of psychology and personal development. She has a MA in Counseling Psychology and is a licensed therapist living near Chicago.

Jacqueline has experience helping those diagnosed with severe, persistent mental illness, and in providing general therapy services for individuals, couples, and families. Prior to counseling, she worked in graphic design and music education.

When not writing or counseling, Jacqueline enjoys reading literature and math-less books about quantum physics. She is a published poet, and has studied animal communication and energy healing.  


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