Tips to Treat Flus and Colds

It seems everyone I know is getting a cold, flu or cough these days; some of them pretty nasty lingering for months. There are natural supplements and ‘home remedies’ that can ‘ease the pain’ and shorten duration of many of these nasty ‘bugs’.

Supplements to help with symptoms of Upper Respiratory Conditions:

N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a precursor of reduced glutathione, has been in clinical use for more than 30 yrs. It has been used in the therapy and/or prevention of several respiratory diseases.

In studies NAC was well tolerated and resulted in significant decrease in the frequency of flu-like episodes, severity and length of time confined to bed.

Administration of NAC during the winter appears to significantly reduce influenza and influenza-like episodes, especially in elderly high-risk individuals. Research has found that taking NAC for 2-4 months leads to prolonged strengthening of the immune defenses. Based on the many potential benefits and few or no side effects, it is time to add it to our daily health program

Vitamins C, E, D, and zinc are considered to be essential in preventing and treating of acute respiratory infections.  Vitamins C and E shortened duration and reduced severity of common cold. Zinc improved clinical deterioration and pneumonia duration. Vitamin D can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection.

Nin Jiom for coughs, has been my recommendation to patients over the years – it tastes great compared to other cough remedies and it is effective.

Echinacea extracts have been used traditionally in North America for the control of symptoms of colds, influenza. In studies, all strains of human and avian influenza viruses tested, as well as herpes simplex virus, respiratory syncytial virus, (RSV) and rhinoviruses (colds), were very sensitive to a standardized Echinacea purpurea preparation.

Goldenseal is a popular natural treatment for upper respiratory infections, including the common cold. Preliminary studies suggest that berberine, one of the main active compounds in goldenseal, may help fight infections caused by bacteria and viruses.

Oregano oil – Carvacol in oregano oil has broad antimicrobial properties

Usnea for sore throat is really effective- warning – this herb tastes absolutely gross and I haven’t found a way to disguise it.

Basic Home Remedy Tips Include:


Hydration is always critical, and appropriate rehydration during illness is key. Water is part of every cell in your body, making it essential to everyday health. That’s why making sure you stay well hydrated is crucial when your body is trying to fight a virus. Proper hydration helps decrease nasal irritation when coughing, sneezing and even just breathing. It is important to get the right balance of electrolytes sodium, chloride, potassium and glucose to ensure the best rehydration possible. Speak to the knowledgeable staff at The Vitamin Shop.


AVOID Sugar and refined foods.

If you have an appetite stick to light foods, like chicken soup, broth with steamed vegetables and avoid mucus causing foods like dairy products and grains especially with cough and cold. Add ginger to soups or broth and drink ginger and lemon tea (fresh ginger, lemon and honey). Rice congee is also very easy to digest and is filling and there are recipes available on the internet.


Steaming with eucalyptus, tee tree, peppermint and lavender can help relieve congestion in nasal passages and lungs.

The old standard we even used when I was a child is Vicks Vapo rub which contains camphor, eucalyptus and menthol also relieves upper respiratory congestion. 

Vicks on the chest and rub on the feet at night (especially for a cough).

Directions: Put boiling water in a bowl, add your choice of essential oils or Vicks, cover your head and bowl with a towel and breathe deeply.

Hydrotherapy: If you have a sore throat – a form of hydrotherapy can help: soak a cotton sock ice cold water, wring out and you can also put in freezer for 5 minutes to make it really cold. Then wrap the sock around your throat and tie a woolen scarf around it and wear it during day or throughout the night.  IF the wet sock becomes warm, repeat the process. Sounds weird right – the cold damp sock brings blood to the area and can enhance healing. You can do the same for your chest with a cold T-Shirt then cover with wool sweater.

Gramma’s Mustard Plaster – this is a powerful medicinal treatment for lung conditions.

I used to dread it when my gramma used these, but when youngI was susceptible to bronchitis. I eventually stopped complaining because the plasters worked.

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, was the first to introduce the mustard plaster. They work extremely well for conditions such as pneumonia, lung infections, coughs, bronchitis, colds and flus. It works by creating somewhat of an irritation to the skin above the area being treated (such as the lungs) and attracts blood and increased circulation to the area – similar in principle to the hydrotherapy neck sock. It helps break up and clear congestion, draws out toxins, relieves cough, and stimulates the immune system to fight infection.

It is effective, quick and simple to make.

Ingredients: Mustard powder, all-purpose flour, warm water, tea towel, wool blanket or bath towel, facecloth, coconut or olive oil

1. Mix 1 part (4 tbsp) mustard powder with 1 part (4 tbsp) all-purpose flour. Add warm (not hot) water to the mix until it turns into a thin paste (similar to pancake batter).

2. Lay out a tea towel flat onto a hard surface. Spread the paste onto 1/4 of the tea towel onto the area on the towel that will cover the treatment area (ie. enough area to cover the chest of the person being treated). 

3. Fold the towel in half and then half again to cover the mustard plaster mix. Slightly fold over the sides of the towel to ensure the mustard preparation doesn’t seep out. 

4. Apply coconut or olive oil to the area of the skin where the mustard plaster will be applied *This is critical to help avoid burning or blistering of the skin by the plaster. 

5. Apply the folded mustard plaster over the area being treated. Ensure the actual mustard plaster mix lays closest to the skin and not the side of the tea towel folded into multiple layers.

6. Cover the mustard plaster with a wool blanket or bath towel to help contain the heat and warmth within the area.

At this point, within minutes, the skin will begin feeling hot, ‘prickly’ and ‘red’. This is the expected response the mustard plaster will have on the skin in order to create its medicinal actions.

*Lift the side of the mustard plaster every 1-2 minutes to ensure the skin is not beginning to blister. Continue checking the skin every couple of minutes while maintaining the application on the skin for 15 minutes, and to a maximum of 20 minutes only. 

Once complete, remove the mustard plaster, and thoroughly wash the remaining oil off the treated area with a wet facecloth to ensure all mustard oil is fully removed and doesn’t continue to burn the skin following treatment.  

Repeat the mustard plaster on your back (over the lungs), if necessary. 

If hesitant, adjust the initial treatment ratio from 1:1 mustard powder to all purpose flour to 1:2 (2 tbsp mustard powder to 4 tbsp all-purpose flour), then work your way up to 1:1.

For small children who can’t communicate how the plaster feels on their skin, you can add an extra tea towel (folded in half) between the skin and the mustard plaster. 

It is normal for the skin to remain red for hours following the treatment.

For best results, repeat every 4-6 hours (or at least 1 time per day for 3 consecutive days), preferably at night before bed, and followed by a hot bath or shower and relaxation

The staff at The Vitamin Shop can provide valuable additional information to help you with general health as well as acute conditions.


Karen Jensen was in clinical practice for 25 years and although she is retired, she continues to write books and educate on the naturopathic approach to wellness. She is author or co-author of seven books, her most recent is Women’s Health Matters: The Influence of Gender on Disease.


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