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24 Helpful Home Remedies for the Cold and Flu

Tips, secrets, and other lore from Washingtonian staffers.

Many staffers swear by the healing power of pho. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

We’re in the height of cold and flu season, which, combined with the sub-freezing temperatures that have gripped the area, means almost everyone is walking around with watery eyes and a runny nose. Climate change aside, the good news is this is the first time the region has had to cope with this kind of cold since February two years ago. And the bad news? It’s wicked cold, and will be into next week, when there is an expected heatwave (50s and 60s).

But what to do for the cold and flu? We canvassed Washingtonian staff for the habits and remedies that serve them when the Purell didn’t get the job done. Did we see trends in their answers? Yes. Vitamin C, Thai food, various herbs, and booze. As for me, I rely on ginger tea, roasted garlic, and avoiding crowds. That said, even with a flu shot I got Type A influenza. So there are no guarantees—but the remedies below are worth a try.

NICHOLAS HUNT: If I wake up feeling awful I like to get a bowl of pho and load it up with Sriracha sauce. The broth hydrates, and the steam and spices really work to clear out the sinuses. Also works great for hangovers.

ANN MARIE GRILLS: High doses of echinacea and hot water with half a lemon squeezed in.

DIANA ELBASHA: Blackseed is always lying around somewhere in my Arab kitchen; eating a spoon of the stuff mixed with raw honey is ultra-healing. I also love Yogi’s Ginger tea (which I’m currently sipping): ginger root, lemongrass, licorice root, peppermint leaf, and black pepper. Equally aromatic and throat-soothing.

ERIN KEANE: I go in search of the spiciest foods I can find—usually a Thai dish like extra-spicy drunken noodles or Phuket noodles, because they instantly make my sinuses feel clearer and force me to drink a ton of water. It’s relief and prevention in one tasty step.

TRAVIS ANDREWS: I go for a short run to get my blood pumping, prepare two Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall movies, and drink hot toddies with extra lemon. I’ll throw in an Emergen-C and some green tea for good measure.

LAUREN JOSEPH: My dad swears by Xango juice and neti pots. But I just stick to Airborne on-the-go packets.

SOPHIE GILBERT: When I’m actually sick I alternate between lots of hot water with lemon, honey, and fresh ginger, and the spiciest food I can find, preferably noodle soup or curry (turmeric is supposed to have good healing powers). There’s a great British drink called Lemsip that’s like Theraflu but better, and I always get my mom to bring some over; you can actually also buy it at the British store on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington. It always makes me feel better. To stave off a cold I always carry hand sanitizer and drink as much hot tea as possible. And they say you should avoid touching your face, though that’s almost impossible.

MARIO STARKS: I once made a concoction of fresh ginger, mint leaves, sliced lemons/limes, and coconut water that I combined in a pot of water, boiled, and then dashed with a shot of whiskey and cinnamon. It was a random experiment, really, but my girlfriend and I felt cured and in great spirits the next day!

KATE BENNETT: When I feel even the slightest cold or throat tickle, I head to the garage, where I stockpile my Gatorade—grape and orange flavor. I start to drink them, one after another, for at least a 24-hour period, which for some reason seems to thwart the flu, or your general head cold, sore throat, etc. Now, that’s a lot of sugar, and a ridiculous amount of liquid, but I swear by it and have for years. As an aside, Gatorade is also my go-to hangover remedy, but that’s another post for another day.

SHERRI DALPHONSE: The minute I feel a cold coming on, I down some Emergen-C and drink lots of hot liquids—I have heard that hot liquids can help kill cold germs in your throat, although that may be an old wives’ tale. Still, so far I’ve managed to escape all the cold and flu bugs floating around.

TODD KLIMAN: The only thing I’ve found that nudges things along a little—a very little, this last time for me—is to fill up a big pitcher with water and drink it, not all at once, but over the next hour. And then an hour or two later fill up another and drink that. Wait an hour, then do it again. It’s monotonous, boring, and no fun at all. And you spend all day and maybe part of the night peeing it all out. But as I said, sometimes it does help to nudge things along a little.

KELCI HOUSE: I heard about flu ice cream this morning on the radio. Apparently it is has some Maker’s Mark, ginger, and other goodies in it.

SUSAN FARKAS: “Exercise and vodka—not together.”

OKSANA OSIPOVA: “I usually have some Emergen-C that I mix in a bottle of water, usually when I feel like I might be getting sick or when everybody around starts sneezing and coughing. My husband believes that pho is a great preventive food. Whenever he feels he is starting to get sick, we go for pho. We both like to use a lot of Sriracha sauce, which I’m sure also helps kill all the germs and clears you out pretty well too.

LESLIE MILK: I believe in the medicinal powers of that super-drug chicken soup for all respiratory illnesses. It can’t come from a can—it takes real chicken to create the magic healing. Even my doctor prescribes it. Inhale while you slurp the soup to get additional benefits.

JESSICA VOELKER: For colds, flus, and hangovers, I’m a strong believer in the magical powers of pho, ramen, or wonton soup. Also cocktails that incorporate whiskey or honey—hot or cold for me—work wonders. I use my Soda Stream a lot, too, when I’m sick, since sparkling water with lemon is so much better than the stuff straight from the tap. Reality TV marathons plus magazine and cookbook reading are also essential to the healing process.

STEPHANIE QI: I always drink homemade lemonade with lots of vitamin C when I feel like I’m getting sick. It’s simple and easy to make: just lemon and agave or honey mix with water and a little bit of cayenne pepper, which is optional.

VANESSA SCHUTZ: A hot toddy with whiskey, honey, and lemon is soothing. I also start taking doses of Emergen-C as a backup. As a child, chicken noodle soup never failed! And I find that a pain reliever helps soothe a sore throat more than numbing sprays can.

MARY YARRISON: I like to think that I have an immune system of steel, but on the rare occasion I do get really sick, the last thing I want to do is eat. Instead, I go for mint tea with honey and lots and lots of sleep. Also a good, scalding-hot shower always makes me feel better.

MIKE JOHNSON: Zicam … as soon as I feel the bug approaching.

ALISON KITCHENS: For the past few weeks I’ve been drinking the same smoothie almost every night. Not sure if it’s a flu remedy, but I haven’t gotten sick yet! Ingredients: frozen peaches, frozen pineapple, orange juice, strawberries, Greek yogurt, spinach, and a squeeze of honey.

CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: Paul and I swear by Alka-Seltzer Cold and Flu. Every four hours. It is painful and disgusting going down, but it cures everything.

HARRY JAFFE: At the first sign of a scratchy throat, I eat a clove of raw garlic, throw down 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C, and start taking two aspirin every four hours. The garlic keeps away anyone who might get infected by my bug; the pills can fend it off completely. And I drink quarts of orange juice. Thankfully, I have not had a scratchy throat leading to cold or flu in many years.

MELISSA ROMERO: I swear by hot tea with honey and water, water, water to flush out the toxins. Chicken noodle soup doesn’t necessarily cure the flu, but it’s a great comfort and reminds me of my mom taking care of me as a kid. Plus as much sleep and reruns of a favorite TV show as possible.

It should be noted that all home remedies are just that, and if you feel symptoms of the flu you should go to the doctor to take a flu test. If you are diagnosed within the first 48 hours of onset you may qualify for Tamiflu, a prescription antiviral that is said to reduce the duration of flu. Doctors don’t absolutely swear by it, but for some patients it does the trick.

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