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


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


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.