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Complementary and Alternative Medicine - Cam

Search Health Information    Common Cold/Sore Throat (Holistic)

Common Cold/Sore Throat (Holistic)

About This Condition

Coughing. Aching Sneezing. Take a few simple actions to knock out the annoying common cold. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.
  • Drink those fluids

    Get plenty of water and other clear fluids to help thin mucus.

  • Take extra vitamin C

    Studies have shown 1 to 4 grams a day may make your cold shorter and less severe.

  • Shorten sick time with echinacea

    At the first signs of a cold, take 3 to 5 ml of this herb as a juice or tincture every two hours to make your cold less severe.

  • Use zinc lozenges

    Use lozenges containing zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, or zinc acetate, providing 13 to 25 mg every two hours, to help stop the virus and shorten the illness.

  • Try andrographis or Kan Jang

    Take a standardized extract providing at least 48 mg per day of andrographolides, with or without eleuthero extract (Kan Jang) to reduce the severity of cold symptoms.

  • Be sure to rest

    Give your body some down time to help it fight off the cold.

These recommendations are not comprehensive and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or pharmacist. Continue reading for more in-depth, fully referenced information.
  • Keep your hands clean

    Wash your hands frequently to avoid bringing viruses into close contact.

  • Fight stress with vitamin C

    Take at least 500 mg per day if you have a physically demanding lifestyle.

  • Go with garlic

    Take a daily extract containing stabilized allicin for fewer colds and illness days.

  • Take American ginseng

    Use 400 mg per day of a freeze-dried extract to reduce the risk of catching a cold.

These recommendations are not comprehensive and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or pharmacist. Continue reading for more in-depth, fully referenced information.

About

About This Condition

The common cold is an acute (short-term) viral infection of the upper respiratory tract that may be spread through the air (by sneezing, for example) or by contact with contaminated objects.

A note about children’s cold medicine:

Concerns in the news about the safety of cough and cold medicines have left many parents confused about the safest ways to treat their children’s cold symptoms. At a hearing, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that, until more research shows safety and efficacy, these medicines should not be given to children under two years old unless instructed by a healthcare provider. For parents who may want to continue giving over-the-counter cold medicines to their children, the FDA has the following recommendations:

  • Read all of the information in the “Drug Facts” box on the product label.
  • Do not give children medicine more often or in greater amounts than what is listed on the product label and use only as directed.
  • Do not give children medication that is intended for adult use.
  • Be aware that using various cough and cold medicines in combination may pose health risks; parents should ask a doctor whether or not it is safe to use products in combination.
  • Use appropriate measuring devices; parents should contact their doctor or pharmacist if they do not understand the dosing directions.

Symptoms

The common cold often causes runny nose, sore throat, and malaise (vague discomfort). Sore throat is sometimes a symptom of a more serious condition distinct from the common cold, such as strep throat, which may require medical diagnosis and treatment with appropriate antibiotics. Since colds are caused by a viral infection , antibiotics are not effective against the common cold.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

One study found that a daily saltwater nasal rinse may be beneficial for children with colds.1 The children who used saline nasal rinses (six times per day initially and three times per day during the rest of the 12-week study) had fewer nasal and throat symptoms, they were healthier, and fewer of them used medications to manage their symptoms than the children who did not use the rinses. They were also less likely to have been sick again, and they missed less school. The nasal rinse was a standard 0.9% saline (sodium chloride) solution with trace elements and minerals in concentrations similar to those in seawater. Neti pots (small pots for nasal rinsing) and mineral salts to use  with them are now widely available. Lifestyle habits that may support the immune system and speed recovery include the following:

  • Drink plenty of fluids in order to maintain water balance and to thin secretions.
  • Eat raw garlic, which has antibacterial and antiviral properties. Crush a clove or two and add to foods like soups and grains just before serving.
  • Gargling with plain water three times a day removes mucus and keeps bacteria and viruses from sticking around.
  • A warm, humid environment created by a humidifier may provide some comfort while riding out a cold.

Eating Right

The right diet is the key to managing many diseases and to improving general quality of life. For this condition, scientific research has found benefit in the following healthy eating tips.

Recommendation Why
Eat healthfully
Opt for fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, as excessive sugar, dietary fat, and alcohol have been reported to impair immune function.

Excessive sugar, dietary fat, and alcohol have been reported to impair immune function , although no specific information is available on how these foods may affect the course of the common cold.

Try some honey
Raw honey has antimicrobrial properties and can soothe irritated mucous membranes. It should not be given to children younger than 12 months old.

One study found that children who received a single dose of raw buckwheat honey had less coughing and fewer sleep difficulties than children who received either a dose of honey-flavored dextromethorphan or no treatment.2

Honey has antimicrobial properties and can soothe irritated mucous membranes. As it may contain bacteria harmful to infants, honey should not be given to babies under 12 months old.

Supplements

What Are Star Ratings?

Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by some in the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.

For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.

3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.

2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.

1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.

Supplement Why
3 Stars
Andrographis
100 mg of a standardized extract two times per day
Andrographis contains bitter constituents that are believed to have immune-stimulating and anti-inflammatory actions.

Andrographis contains andrographolides that have demonstrated immune-enhancing qualities in preliminary studies.3 , 4 Double-blind trials have shown that common cold symptoms improve5 , 6 and recovery is faster7 when andrographis extract containing 48 to 60 mg andrographolides is taken in three or four divided doses daily, beginning as soon as possible after symptoms appear. In addition, preliminary research in Russia suggests andrographis extract may be effective for the treatment of influenza.8 This extract was also tested for preventing colds in a double-blind study of teenagers.9 After three months, the group taking 5 mg of andrographolides twice daily had only half the number of colds experienced by the placebo group.

3 Stars
Vitamin C
1 to 4 grams daily
Studies have shown that taking vitamin C may make your cold shorter and less severe.

A review of 21 controlled trials using 1 to 8 grams of vitamin C per day found that “in each of the twenty-one studies, vitamin C reduced the duration of episodes and the severity of the symptoms of the common cold by an average of 23%.”10 The optimum amount of vitamin C to take for cold treatment remains in debate but may be as high as 1 to 3 grams per day, considerably more than the 120 to 200 mg per day that has been suggested as optimal intake for healthy adults. A review of 23 controlled trials found that vitamin C supplementation produces a greater benefit for children than for adults.11 The same review found that a daily amount of 2 grams or more was superior to a daily amount of 1 gram at reducing the duration of cold symptoms.

3 Stars
Zinc Lozenges
Use 13 to 25 mg as gluconate, gluconate-glycine, or acetate in lozenges every two hours
Zinc lozenges used at the first sign of a cold have been shown to help stop the virus and shorten the illness.

Zinc interferes with viral replication in test tubes, may interfere with the ability of viruses to enter cells of the body, may help immune cells to fight a cold, and may relieve cold symptoms when taken as a supplement.12 In double-blind trials, zinc lozenges have reduced the duration of colds in adults but have been ineffective in children.13 , 14 , 15 , 16 Lozenges containing zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, and, in most trials, zinc acetate17 , 18 have been effective; most other forms of zinc and lozenges flavored with citric acid,19 tartaric acid, sorbitol, or mannitol have been ineffective.20 Trials using these other forms of zinc have failed, as have trials that use insufficient amounts of zinc.21 For the alleviation of cold symptoms, lozenges providing 13 to 25 mg of zinc (as zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, or zinc acetate) are used every two hours while awake but only for several days. The best effect is obtained when lozenges are used at the first sign of a cold.

An analysis of the major zinc trials has claimed that evidence for efficacy is “still lacking.”22 However, despite a lack of statistical significance, this compilation of data from six double-blind trials found that people assigned to zinc had a 50% decreased risk of still having symptoms after one week compared with those given placebo. Some trials included in this analysis used formulations containing substances that may inactivate zinc salts. Other reasons for failure to show statistical significance, according to a recent analysis of these studies,23 may have been small sample size (not enough people) or not enough zinc given. Thus, there are plausible reasons why the authors were unable to show statistical significance, even though positive effects are well supported in most trials using gluconate, gluconate-glycine, or acetate forms of zinc.

2 Stars
American Ginseng
400 mg per day of a freeze-dried extract
In a double-blind study, supplementing with American ginseng significantly reduced the number of colds that people experienced over a four-month period.

In a double-blind study, supplementation with American ginseng significantly reduced by 27% the number of colds that people experienced over a four-month period, compared with a placebo.24 The amount used in this study was 400 mg per day of a freeze-dried extract.

2 Stars
Garlic
Follow label instructions to take a product containing stabilized allicin
In one study, taking garlic during the winter months reduced the occurrence and duration of colds.

In a double-blind trial, participants took one capsule per day of a placebo or a garlic supplement that contained stabilized allicin (the amount of garlic per capsule was not specified) for 12 weeks between November and February. During that time, the garlic group had 63% fewer colds and 70% fewer days ill than did the placebo group.25 In another double-blind study of healthy volunteers, supplementing with 2.6 grams per day of an aged-garlic extract for 90 days decreased by 58% the number of days on which severe cold or influenza symptoms occurred.26

2 Stars
Geranium
Take a product containing stabilized allicin and follow label instructions
Geranium is an herbal remedy used in Germany, Mexico, Russia, and other countries in the treatment of respiratory tract and ear, nose, and throat infections.

Geranium (Pelargonium sidoides) is an herbal remedy used in Germany, Mexico, Russia, and other countries for the treatment of respiratory tract and ear, nose, and throat infections . In a double-blind study of children with acute tonsillitis/pharyngitis that was not due to a Streptococcal infection, participants given an extract of geranium had significantly more rapid resolution of symptoms, compared with those given a placebo.27 The amount of the geranium extract used in this study was 20 drops three times per day for six days.

2 Stars
Probiotics
Refer to label instructions
A double-blind trial showed that daily supplementation with with a probiotic may decrease the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections in children.
In a double-blind trial, daily supplementation with Lactobacillus GG (a probiotic organism) for 3 months decreased the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections by 34% in children attending daycare centers.28 Another double-blind trial found that a probiotic preparation taken for 3 months during the winter decreased the incidence of common infectious diseases in children aged 3-7 years.29 The product used in that study contained Lactobacillus helveticus R0052, Bifidobacterium infantis R0033, Bifidobacterium bifidum R0071, and fructo-oligosaccharides.
2 Stars
Throat Coat Tea (Marshmallow Root, Licorice Root, and Elm Bark)
5 to 8 ounces of tea, four to six times per day, for two to seven days
In one study, Throat Coat tea was effective in providing rapid, temporary relief of sore throat pain in people with acute pharyngitis.

In a double-blind study, a proprietary product containing marshmallow root , licorice root , and elm bark (Throat Coat) was effective in providing rapid, temporary relief of sore throat pain in people with acute pharyngitis.30 Throat Coat was taken as a tea in the amount of 5 to 8 ounces, 4 to 6 times per day, for two to seven days.

2 Stars
Vitamin D
300 IU per day for three months in winter
Research suggests that supplementing with vitamin D may prevent upper respiratory tract infections in people who are deficient in the vitamin, but not in those who have normal vitamin D status.
In a double-blind trial, supplementation with 300 IU per day of vitamin D for three months during the winter decreased the frequency of upper respiratory tract infections in Mongolian children with vitamin D deficiency.31 However, in a double-blind study of healthy adults in New Zealand, vitamin D supplementation did not reduce the incidence or severity of upper respiratory tract infections. The participants in that trial had either normal vitamin D levels or mild vitamin D deficiency (depending on which definition of vitamin D deficiency is used).32 These results suggest that vitamin D supplementation can prevent upper respiratory tract infections in people who are deficient in the vitamin, but not in those who have normal vitamin D status.
2 Stars
Zinc Oral
For prevention: 15 mg daily; for treating colds: 30 mg daily at the onset
In one study, oral zinc supplementation significantly reduced both the incidence and duration of the common cold.
Zinc interferes with viral replication in test tubes, may interfere with the ability of viruses to enter cells of the body, may help immune cells to fight a cold, and may relieve cold symptoms when taken as a supplement.33 In double-blind trials, zinc lozenges have reduced the duration of colds in adults but have been ineffective in children.34 , 35 , 36 , 37 Lozenges containing zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, and, in most trials, zinc acetate38 , 39 have been effective; most other forms of zinc and lozenges flavored with citric acid,40 tartaric acid, sorbitol, or mannitol have been ineffective.41 Trials using these other forms of zinc have failed, as have trials that use insufficient amounts of zinc.42 For the alleviation of cold symptoms, lozenges providing 13 to 25 mg of zinc (as zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, or zinc acetate) are used every two hours while awake but only for several days. The best effect is obtained when lozenges are used at the first sign of a cold.

An analysis of the major zinc trials has claimed that evidence for efficacy is “still lacking.”43 However, despite a lack of statistical significance, this compilation of data from six double-blind trials found that people assigned to zinc had a 50% decreased risk of still having symptoms after one week compared with those given placebo. Some trials included in this analysis used formulations containing substances that may inactivate zinc salts. Other reasons for failure to show statistical significance, according to a recent analysis of these studies,44 may have been small sample size (not enough people) or not enough zinc given. Thus, there are plausible reasons why the authors were unable to show statistical significance, even though positive effects are well supported in most trials using gluconate, gluconate-glycine, or acetate forms of zinc.

In a double-blind study of children in Turkey, oral zinc supplementation significantly reduced both the incidence (by 29%) and the duration (by 11%) of the common cold. The amount of zinc used in this seven-month study was 15 mg per day for children with an average age of 5.6 years. The amount of supplemental zinc was doubled at the onset of a cold, and this higher amount was continued until symptoms resolved.45

1 Star
Asian Ginseng
Refer to label instructions
Adaptogens such as Asian ginseng are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally.

Herbal supplements can help strengthen the immune system and fight infections. Adaptogens, which include eleuthero, Asian ginseng , astragalus , and schisandra , are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally. They have not been systematically evaluated as cold remedies. However, one double-blind trial found that people who were given 100 mg of Asian ginseng extract in combination with a flu vaccine experienced a lower frequency of colds and flu compared with people who received only the flu vaccine.46

1 Star
Astragalus
Refer to label instructions
Adaptogens such as astragalus are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally.

Herbal supplements can help strengthen the immune system and fight infections. Adaptogens, which include eleuthero, Asian ginseng , astragalus , and schisandra , are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally. They have not been systematically evaluated as cold remedies. However, one double-blind trial found that people who were given 100 mg of Asian ginseng extract in combination with a flu vaccine experienced a lower frequency of colds and flu compared with people who received only the flu vaccine.47

1 Star
Blackberry
Refer to label instructions
Blackberry leaves contain astringent tannins that are helpful for soothing sore throats.

Red raspberry , blackberry , and blueberry leaves contain astringent tannins that are helpful for soothing sore throats.48 Sage tea may be gargled to soothe a sore throat. All of these remedies are used traditionally, but they are currently not supported by modern research.

1 Star
Blueberry
Refer to label instructions
Blueberry leaves contain astringent tannins that are helpful for soothing sore throats.

Red raspberry , blackberry , and blueberry leaves contain astringent tannins that are helpful for soothing sore throats.49 Sage tea may be gargled to soothe a sore throat. All of these remedies are used traditionally, but they are currently not supported by modern research.

1 Star
Boneset
Refer to label instructions
Boneset is an immune stimulant and diaphoretic that helps fight off minor viral infections, such as the common cold.

Boneset is an immune stimulant and diaphoretic that helps fight off minor viral infections, such as the common cold. Several double-blind trials have found that echinacea root tinctures in combination with boneset, wild indigo , and homeopathic arnica reduce symptoms of the common cold.50 In addition, linden and hyssop may promote a healthy fever and the immune system’s ability to fight infections . Yarrow is another diaphoretic that has been used for relief of sore throats, though it has not yet been researched for this purpose.

1 Star
Chinese Artichoke
Refer to label instructions
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners use Chinese artichoke for colds and flu.

Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners use Chinese artichoke (Stachys sieboldii), a species similar to wood betony (Stachys betonica), for colds and flu.51 It is unknown whether wood betony would be useful for people with the common cold.

1 Star
Elderberry
Refer to label instructions
Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and may benefit some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold.

Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and thus may be useful for some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional diaphoretic remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold.52 , 53

1 Star
Eleuthero
Refer to label instructions
Adaptogens such as eleuthero are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally.
Eleuthero contains eleutherosides that appear to have immune-enhancing effects according to preliminary studies.54 , 55 Human research, some of it double-blind,56 , 57 has shown benefits for treating the common cold using Kan Jang, a combination of andrographis extract (48 to 60 mg andrographolides per day) and an eleuthero extract containing 2.0 to 2.4 mg per day of eleutherosides.
1 Star
Eucalyptus Oil
Eucalyptus oil
Eucalyptus oil is often used in a steam inhalation to help clear nasal and sinus congestion.

Eucalyptus oil is often used in a steam inhalation to help clear nasal and sinus congestion. It is said to work similarly to menthol, by acting on receptors in the nasal mucous membranes, leading to a reduction of nasal stuffiness.58 Peppermint may have a similar action and is a source of small amounts of menthol.

1 Star
Goldenseal
Refer to label instructions
Goldenseal root has antimicrobial and mild immune-stimulating effects. It soothes irritated mucous membranes in the throat, making it potentially useful for sore throats.

Goldenseal root contains two alkaloids, berberine and canadine, with antimicrobial and mild immune-stimulating effects.59 However, due to the small amounts of alkaloids occurring in the root, it is unlikely these effects would occur outside the test tube. Goldenseal soothes irritated mucous membranes in the throat,60 making it potentially useful for those experiencing a sore throat with their cold. Human research on the effectiveness of goldenseal or other berberine-containing herbs, such as Oregon grape , barberry , or goldthread (Coptis chinensis), for people with colds has not been conducted.

Goldenseal root should only be used for short periods of time. Goldenseal root extract, in capsule or tablet form, is typically taken in amounts of 4 to 6 grams three times per day. Using goldenseal powder as a tea or tincture may soothe a sore throat. Because goldenseal is threatened in the wild due to over-harvesting, substitutes such as Oregon grape should be used whenever possible.

Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and thus may be useful for some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional diaphoretic remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold. Horseradish has antibiotic properties, which may account for its usefulness in easing throat and upper respiratory tract infections. The resin of the herb myrrh has been shown to kill various microbes and to stimulate macrophages (a type of white blood cell). Usnea has a traditional reputation as an antiseptic and is sometimes used for people with common colds.

1 Star
Goldthread
Refer to label instructions
Goldthread contains berberine, an alkaloid with antimicrobial and mild immune-stimulating effects.

Goldenseal root contains two alkaloids, berberine and canadine, with antimicrobial and mild immune-stimulating effects.61 However, due to the small amounts of alkaloids occurring in the root, it is unlikely these effects would occur outside the test tube. Goldenseal soothes irritated mucous membranes in the throat,62 making it potentially useful for those experiencing a sore throat with their cold. Human research on the effectiveness of goldenseal or other berberine-containing herbs, such as Oregon grape , barberry , or goldthread (Coptis chinensis), for people with colds has not been conducted.

Goldenseal root should only be used for short periods of time. Goldenseal root extract, in capsule or tablet form, is typically taken in amounts of 4 to 6 grams three times per day. Using goldenseal powder as a tea or tincture may soothe a sore throat. Because goldenseal is threatened in the wild due to over-harvesting, substitutes such as Oregon grape should be used whenever possible.

Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and thus may be useful for some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional diaphoretic remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold. Horseradish has antibiotic properties, which may account for its usefulness in easing throat and upper respiratory tract infections. The resin of the herb myrrh has been shown to kill various microbes and to stimulate macrophages (a type of white blood cell). Usnea has a traditional reputation as an antiseptic and is sometimes used for people with common colds.

1 Star
Horseradish
Refer to label instructions
Horseradish has antibiotic properties, which may account for its usefulness in easing throat and upper respiratory tract infections.

Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and thus may be useful for some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional diaphoretic remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold. Horseradish has antibiotic properties, which may account for its usefulness in easing throat and upper respiratory tract infections. The resin of the herb myrrh has been shown to kill various microbes and to stimulate macrophages (a type of white blood cell). Usnea has a traditional reputation as an antiseptic and is sometimes used for people with common colds.

1 Star
Hyssop
Refer to label instructions
Hyssop may promote a healthy fever and the immune system’s ability to fight infections.

Boneset is another immune stimulant and diaphoretic that helps fight off minor viral infections, such as the common cold. In addition, linden and hyssop may promote a healthy fever and the immune system’s ability to fight infections . Yarrow is another diaphoretic that has been used for relief of sore throats, though it has not yet been researched for this purpose.

1 Star
Linden
Refer to label instructions
Linden may promote a healthy fever and the immune system’s ability to fight infections.

Boneset is another immune stimulant and diaphoretic that helps fight off minor viral infections, such as the common cold. In addition, linden and hyssop may promote a healthy fever and the immune system’s ability to fight infections . Yarrow is another diaphoretic that has been used for relief of sore throats, though it has not yet been researched for this purpose.

1 Star
Mallow
Refer to label instructions
Herbs high in mucilage, such as malvia, are often helpful for relief of coughs and irritated throats.

Herbs high in mucilage, such as slippery elm , mallow (Malvia sylvestris), and marshmallow , are often helpful for symptomatic relief of coughs and irritated throats. Mullein has expectorant and demulcent properties, which accounts for this herb’s historical use as a remedy for the respiratory tract, particularly in cases of irritating coughs with bronchial congestion. Coltsfoot is another herb with high mucilage content that has been used historically to soothe sore throats. However, it is high in pyrrolizidine alkaloids—constituents that may damage the liver over time. It is best to either avoid coltsfoot or look for products that are free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

1 Star
Marshmallow
Refer to label instructions
Herbs high in mucilage, such as marshmallow, are often helpful for relief of coughs and irritated throats.

Herbs high in mucilage, such as slippery elm , mallow (Malvia sylvestris), and marshmallow , are often helpful for symptomatic relief of coughs and irritated throats. Mullein has expectorant and demulcent properties, which accounts for this herb’s historical use as a remedy for the respiratory tract, particularly in cases of irritating coughs with bronchial congestion. Coltsfoot is another herb with high mucilage content that has been used historically to soothe sore throats. However, it is high in pyrrolizidine alkaloids—constituents that may damage the liver over time. It is best to either avoid coltsfoot or look for products that are free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

1 Star
Meadowsweet
Refer to label instructions
Meadowsweet is reputed to break fevers and to promote sweating during a cold or flu. It also has a mild anti-inflammatory effect and a pain-relieving effect.

Meadowsweet has been used historically for a wide variety of conditions. It is reputed to break fevers and to promote sweating during a cold or flu. Meadowsweet contains salicylates, which possibly give the herb an aspirin-like effect, particularly in relieving aches and pains during a common cold. While not as potent as willow , which has a higher salicin content, the salicylates in meadowsweet do give it a mild anti-inflammatory effect and the potential to reduce fevers during a cold or flu . However, this role is based on historical use and knowledge of the chemistry of meadowsweet’s constituents; to date, no human studies have been completed with meadowsweet.

1 Star
Mullein
Refer to label instructions
Mullein has soothing and mucus-expelling properties, which accounts for its historical use as a remedy for irritating coughs with bronchial congestion.

Herbs high in mucilage, such as slippery elm , mallow (Malvia sylvestris), and marshmallow , are often helpful for symptomatic relief of coughs and irritated throats. Mullein has expectorant and demulcent properties, which accounts for this herb’s historical use as a remedy for the respiratory tract, particularly in cases of irritating coughs with bronchial congestion. Coltsfoot is another herb with high mucilage content that has been used historically to soothe sore throats. However, it is high in pyrrolizidine alkaloids—constituents that may damage the liver over time. It is best to either avoid coltsfoot or look for products that are free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

1 Star
Myrrh
Refer to label instructions
The resin of the herb myrrh has been shown to kill various microbes and to stimulate macrophages (a type of white blood cell).

Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and thus may be useful for some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional diaphoretic remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold. Horseradish has antibiotic properties, which may account for its usefulness in easing throat and upper respiratory tract infections. The resin of the herb myrrh has been shown to kill various microbes and to stimulate macrophages (a type of white blood cell).63  Usnea has a traditional reputation as an antiseptic and is sometimes used for people with common colds.64

1 Star
Peppermint
Refer to label instructions
Peppermint, a source of small amounts of menthol, is believed to work by acting on receptors in the nasal mucous membranes, leading to a reduction of nasal stuffiness.

Eucalyptus oil is often used in a steam inhalation to help clear nasal and sinus congestion. It is said to work similarly to menthol, by acting on receptors in the nasal mucous membranes, leading to a reduction of nasal stuffiness.65 Peppermint may have a similar action and is a source of small amounts of menthol.

1 Star
Red Raspberry
Refer to label instructions
Red raspberry leaves contain astringent tannins that are helpful for soothing sore throats.

Red raspberry , blackberry , and blueberry leaves contain astringent tannins that are helpful for soothing sore throats.66 Sage tea may be gargled to soothe a sore throat. All of these remedies are used traditionally, but they are currently not supported by modern research.

1 Star
Sage
Refer to label instructions
Sage tea may be gargled to soothe a sore throat.

Red raspberry , blackberry , and blueberry leaves contain astringent tannins that are helpful for soothing sore throats.67 Sage tea may be gargled to soothe a sore throat. All of these remedies are used traditionally, but they are currently not supported by modern research.

1 Star
Schisandra
Refer to label instructions
Adaptogens such as schisandra are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally.

Herbal supplements can help strengthen the immune system and fight infections. Adaptogens, which include eleuthero, Asian ginseng , astragalus , and schisandra , are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally. They have not been systematically evaluated as cold remedies. However, one double-blind trial found that people who were given 100 mg of Asian ginseng extract in combination with a flu vaccine experienced a lower frequency of colds and flu compared with people who received only the flu vaccine.68

1 Star
Sea Buckthorn
Refer to label instructions
Sea buckthorn has been shown in animal studies to have immune system-enhancing and anti-inflammatory properties, though a clinical trial did not find benefit.
Sea buckthorn has been shown in animal studies to have immune system-enhancing and anti-inflammatory properties that might help prevent or relieve the common cold.69 However, in a double-blind trial,70 healthy people who consumed 28 grams per day of pureed sea buckthorn berries for three months had the same number and duration of common cold episodes as a group consuming a placebo puree. Sea buckthorn does not appear to be effective for preventing or relieving the common cold.
1 Star
Slippery Elm
Refer to label instructions
Herbs high in mucilage, such as slippery elm, are often helpful for relief of coughs and irritated throats.

Herbs high in mucilage, such as slippery elm , mallow (Malvia sylvestris), and marshmallow , are often helpful for symptomatic relief of coughs and irritated throats. Mullein has expectorant and demulcent properties, which accounts for this herb’s historical use as a remedy for the respiratory tract, particularly in cases of irritating coughs with bronchial congestion. Coltsfoot is another herb with high mucilage content that has been used historically to soothe sore throats. However, it is high in pyrrolizidine alkaloids—constituents that may damage the liver over time. It is best to either avoid coltsfoot or look for products that are free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

1 Star
Usnea
Refer to label instructions
Usnea has a traditional reputation as an antiseptic and is sometimes used for people with common colds.

Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and thus may be useful for some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional diaphoretic remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold. Horseradish has antibiotic properties, which may account for its usefulness in easing throat and upper respiratory tract infections. The resin of the herb myrrh has been shown to kill various microbes and to stimulate macrophages (a type of white blood cell).71  Usnea has a traditional reputation as an antiseptic and is sometimes used for people with common colds.72

1 Star
Wild Indigo
Refer to label instructions
Wild indigo appears to stimulate immune function and is considered a strong antimicrobial agent. In tinctures with echinacea, boneset, white cedar, and homeopathic arnica, it also has prevented and reduced colds.

According to test tube experiments,73 wild indigo stimulates immune function , which might account for its role in fighting the common cold and flu . In combination with echinacea, boneset, and homeopathic arnica, wild indigo has prevented and reduced symptoms of the common cold in double-blind research. Wild indigo is traditionally considered a strong antimicrobial agent, though it has not yet been investigated as an agent against cold viruses.

1 Star
Wood Betony
Refer to label instructions
Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners use Chinese artichoke, a species similar to wood betony, for colds and flu.

Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners use Chinese artichoke (Stachys sieboldii), a species similar to wood betony (Stachys betonica), for colds and flu.74 It is unknown whether wood betony would be useful for people with the common cold.

1 Star
Yarrow
Refer to label instructions
Yarrow is a diaphoretic herb that has been used for relief of sore throats.

Boneset is another immune stimulant and diaphoretic that helps fight off minor viral infections, such as the common cold. In addition, linden and hyssop may promote a healthy fever and the immune system’s ability to fight infections . Yarrow is another diaphoretic that has been used for relief of sore throats, though it has not yet been researched for this purpose.

0 Stars
Zinc Nasal Spray
Not recommended due to a potenially serious side effect
Zinc nasal sprays appear to be effective at shortening the duration of cold symptoms, however, some people have experienced long-lasting or permanent loss of smell after using the spray.

Caution: Using zinc nasal spray has been reported to cause severe or complete loss of smell function. In some of those cases, the loss of smell was long-lasting or permanent.75

Zinc interferes with viral replication in test tubes.76 The beneficial effect of zinc nasal sprays should be weighed against the potentially serious side effect of loss of smell. Since zinc supplements are also effective and do not carry such a risk, it is more advisable to take zinc orally. 

A double-blind trial showed a 74% reduction in symptom duration in people using a zinc nasal spray four times daily, compared with the 42 to 53% reduction reported in trials using zinc gluconate or zinc acetate lozenges.77 The average duration of symptoms after the beginning of treatment was 2.3 days in the people receiving zinc, compared with 9.0 days in those receiving placebo. However, in another double-blind study, zinc nasal spray was no more effective than a placebo; in both groups the median duration of symptoms was seven days.78

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