Boost your immune system with these homemade cold remedies
As winter closes in, we can find ourselves surrounded by cold and flu germs, but there are plenty of natural helpers to come to the rescue. Over the years I’ve researched and written about many immune-boosting and homemade cold remedies, but here are three of my favourites that I turn to time and time again.
Natural homemade cold remedies
Let’s start with everyday garlic (Allium sativum), a member of the Allium or onion family, closely related to onions, chives and leeks. Unlike their vegetable cousins, the humble garlic bulb is a highly concentrated source of interesting health-giving compounds, such as diallyl sulfide, shown to be a hundred times more powerful than popular antibiotics at combatting Campylobacter bacterium. Garlic’s health-giving properties have been shown to help improve many disorders, from lowering rates of heart disease, blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, to even improving some lung cancer outcomes and cases of hip osteoarthritis. In terms of warding off the seasonal lurgies, studies published in American Family Physician show a daily dose of garlic can decrease the frequency of colds in adults. The best way to get the benefits from garlic is to eat it raw, as heat (i.e. cooking) reduces its benefits. Purists maintain nothing beats munching a raw clove of garlic each morning, but this inevitably leads to serious dragon-breath (although mixing with milk in the mouth before swallowing has been shown to reduce this). My preferred option for optimum health benefits – without the halitosis – is to take a daily garlic supplement.
Sambucus, from the Adocaceae flowering plant family, is often found in hedgerows (unless their flowers have been raided earlier in the year for elderflower cordial) and the glossy black berries that cluster on long reddish stalks are ripe for the picking in the autumn. Too bitter to eat raw, I make my own elderberry syrup by cooking up handfuls of ripe berries with a little sugar to sweeten, straining and bottling in small, clean bottles or jars, then storing in the fridge to enjoy, a spoonful at a time, each morning. Reputed to help stave off flu (and reduce its duration if you do succumb), allergies and general respiratory ailments, I’ve personally found elderberry syrup to be helpful. Whether this is due to its high levels of vitamin C (more than oranges) or other plant chemicals, such as immune-boosting anthocyanins, is not entirely clear. When not making my own, I especially likePukka’s organic elderberry syrup and I also use Sambucol which you can find as both syrup and handy capsules on Amazon. If you have any berries left over, they also make a wonderful elderberry jelly, a densely dark confection with a taste much like bramble or blackberry conserve.
One of the world’s healthiest wonder-foods, ginger comes from the root of the plant Zingiber officinale, a plant that shares its family tree with other medicinal botanicals including turmeric and cardamom. Possibly better known for its anti-nausea properties (excellent at helping to prevent travel and morning sickness), ginger has powerful natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show it to be helpful in some cases of osteoarthritis, but I use ginger more for its immune-boosting abilities. Ginger is so concentrated that a little of the fresh root goes a long way. Being a root, it is relatively easy to store and keeps for several weeks in a cool dark pantry or bottom of the fridge. Ginger also freezes well and I keep slices of the root for up to six months in the freezer so there’s always a slice at the ready when required. I then make bug-beating tea by steeping a small slice in a mug of hot water, adding a squeeze of lemon juice (for vitamin C) and a spoonful of Manuka honey to taste (for sweetness plus additional antibacterial properties). If you really don’t like the taste but value the benefits, you can also find ginger root capsules in most health food shops.
- With garlic supplements, look out for ‘allicin potential’ or ‘allicin yield’ on the pack as good formulations will contain this more stable form of the health-giving compound
- Keep a piece of ginger root in your cupboard for a reviving slice in hot water, sweetened with a little lemon and honey to taste