What are the best upper respiratory infection home remedies?

There are several home remedies that have stood the test of time including chicken soup and clear, hot broths. Soups of all kinds are a great way to pack a lot of healthy ingredients into a nourishing meal while also helping with hydration. Ingredients to consider adding besides your favorite vegetable or preferred meats include garlic, cayenne, ginger, and other warming spices. Root vegetables and other plant fibers–including fermented vegetables–also help support your gut flora, which impacts your immune system signaling in numerous ways.

In general, when fighting a cold it’s a good idea to avoid “cold foods,” which are foods that are harder for your body to digest, like dairy, and increase your intake of warming foods, like soups or teas. Spicy foods, in particular, are great at improving blood flow, which can help increase the movement of mucus as well. All in all, it’s important to distinguish that there is no way to “cure” a cold, either with natural remedies or prescribed medicines since colds are caused by viruses that constantly mutate. Rather, natural home remedies can help reduce the time of infection, keep our bodies strong, and better manage symptoms. 

Echinacea and medicinal mushrooms are helpful immune system modulators that can work to prevent infections. Specifically, some medicinal mushroom supplements work by creating an inflammatory response that keeps the immune system healthy and strong. They also have a chemical structure that allows the various components of the immune system to better communicate with each other. As a result, increasing your mushroom intake in general or simply when you’re sick will go a long way in regards to boosting your immune system. 

Ginger is another great food to ingest when you’re unwell. Drinking ginger tea or adding a bit of ginger to your soups is warming and drying and may help with a cough. Ginger has potent antiviral properties as well, which are best harnessed when drunk as a juice. For a sore throat, drinking hot tea with honey will help, as the honey will provide a little bit of coating on the irritated tissue. Lozenges, for their part, can also be useful because they help keep your throat moist, as can demulcent herbs like slippery elm, which a common ingredient in teas and lozenges.

Additionally, there are several supplements that I use frequently and recommend to my patients. One I always have around is elderberry (Sambucus nigra), which has antiviral properties. Typically taken as a syrup, elderberry not only boosts antiviral activity against many of the common cold viruses, but it also has been shown to be efficacious against the influenza virus. So, if you’re in the early stages of infection and it's not clear yet whether or not you have a cold or the flu, elderberry syrup may be an effective remedy to help you fight either infection. 

Zinc and Vitamin D also both deserve mention here. Studies on zinc showed mixed evidence, and it looks like the preparation of zinc (and with which ingredients it is mixed) matters almost as much as dose. Because there isn’t an obvious standard, zinc is one to consider if you feel it has worked for you in the past. Vitamin D isn’t often thought of for colds, but it does in fact impact the immune system significantly, and we all are more at risk of vitamin D deficiency in the winter, so cold season is a good time of year to be increasing your vitamin D in supplemental form.

For nasal congestion, the best home remedy is a saltwater rinse, done either with a neti pot or a sinus rinse kit. A steam tent can also be helpful and is an easy thing to do at home. Simply boil some water in a pot and put a towel over your head as you inhale the hot steam. You can do this with plain boiling water or boiling water with some drops of essential oil, like eucalyptus.