*Please discuss any of these remedies with your doctor before trying them. This post contains no affiliate links.*
Winter has finally arrived here in Grand Forks. The snow is sticking, there’s ice on the roads, and North Dakota’s signature icy wind gusts are making our windows creak. Here I am, sitting on the floor, wiping my nose, and typing this blog hoping that my congested babies don’t wake up from naptime. It turns out that my family has caught the cold.
Ironically, I wanted to address easy ways to avoid catching every bug that goes around. I don’t think my whole family would be sick if I’d take my own advice! So, here are some easy-peasy ways to protect yourself and your family from the dreaded “cold and flu season.” These are only a few of the many ways to stay healthy:
1. Probiotics: We are HUGE fans of probiotics in this house. Ideally, they’d come from raw dairy and home-fermented foods, but you can always get them from high quality supplements (such as this, this, and this) and store-bought fermented foods. Did you know that a massive portion of your immune system resides in your gut? Good thing probiotics can kick it up a notch! On top of keeping your immune system in tip-top shape, beneficial gut microflora are key to reducing bloating, eliminating constipation (pun intended!), stopping diarrhea, weight management, mental hygiene, and the list goes on and on and on. Our favorite fermented foods (homemade) are milk kefir, kombucha (elderberry/rosehip kombucha is especially helpful for the cold/flu season), and sauerkraut.
2. Vitamin C and Vitamin D: Make sure you get your fill of these immune system essentials. We get our vitamin C through fresh fruits and veggies, as well as taking an ascorbic acid supplement. As it is impossible to overdose on ascorbic acid, I take high doses of it to bowel tolerance during sickness, and 1000 mg once a day when I’m not sick. I also add it to my daughter’s water; she loves the taste. I must mention that ascorbic acid is a synthetic version of vitamin C, and ideally we would only get it from whole-food sources. Here is an excellent whole-food vitamin C supplement. For vitamin D, we make sure to drink raw, pastured milk from healthy cows and also supplement with vitamin D3. Ideally, we would take fermented cod liver oil as our vitamin D supplement (very high in fat-soluble vitamins), but it is more expensive than we would like; therefore, we focus on getting our nutrient-dense healthy fats and nutrients through dairy and grass fed beef (and coconut oil, of course).
3. Elderberry syrup: I love to make Wellness Mama’s Elderberry Syrup recipe. It is absolutely delicious and has a little kick because of the ginger. Here is the recipe and dosage instructions. Please note that this recipe uses raw honey, and therefore should not be given to children under 1 year. Store-bought elderberry syrup is available if you’re short on time.
4. Nettle, rosehip, echinacea, and catnip tea: If you know me, you may be aware that I LOVE studying and using herbs to promote wellness. I make herbal “concoctions” almost every day and have found a few herbs to be particularly useful when fighting sickness: nettle leaves (reduces congestion and is highly nutritive), rosehips (high in vitamin C), echinacea (loaded with antioxidants), and catnip (fever reducer, gentle sleep aid, pain and reliever). Though I prefer to purchase bulk herbs and make teas based on our current needs, any or all of these herbs can be used to combat illness. They can be found in store-bought tea bags to make things easier. Tinctures of these herbs are also effective. Though I am comfortable using certain gentle/diluted herbs with my children, please do your research and talk to your doctor before giving any to yours.
5. Raw apple cider vinegar: The idea may seem unpalatable, but I heavily rely on raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) for general health. I’ve used to fight colds, UTIs, general digestive distress, morning sickness, skin rashes, [sugar] cravings, et cetera. It’s got endless uses! Relative to colds/the flu, I take 1-2 tablespoons 3x a day or more to combat sickness. When not sick, I only take it once or twice a day. Simply dilute it in water and drink. To cut the sour taste, add a pinch of sea salt or a dash of raw honey. Try not to let this drink touch your teeth as you sip it.
6. Magnesium: Sleep is hard to get when you’ve got body aches, your head feels stuffed up, and you can only breathe through your mouth! I speak from recent experience. However, despite the multiple discomforts of sickness, sleeping hasn’t been as bad as it could be. This is because magnesium relieves body aches, headaches, and any insomnia I may have. My favorite types of magnesium are magnesium glycinate (pill form; it’s very easily absorbed and is not a laxative), magnesium chloride (made into “magnesium oil” and applied topically to relieve body aches), and magnesium sulfate (aka epsom salt used in hot baths). Though I do not supplement my children with internal magnesium, I make sure to apply magnesium oil on their feet and backs before bedtime. The incredibly simple recipe is here.
7. Raw, local honey and cinnamon: Honey is a natural cough suppressant and a little kick from the cinnamon helps get over bugs faster. Simply mix them together to form a thick paste and eat it however you want. By itself, on toast, or in tea are some options. My daughter loves this stuff! This is not safe for children under 1 year.
8. Garlic: We use this to keep away the vampires, of course. Just kidding 🙂 It does keep my husband away, though! Smelling like a garlic clove is definitely not the latest trend, but it certainly does help with fighting infections. You can add it to your food, but simply chopping up a clove and taking it with water works wonders. If you can, do this up to 5 times a day, but 1 or 2 times will also be beneficial. However, getting kids to take raw garlic can be tricky. So, I recommend making GOOT, which is a simple garlic oil that can be applied topically to babies and children. The recipe can be found here. Apply a thin layer to the bottoms of baby’s feet (after testing a small area of skin) and cover with socks. Can be reapplied up to 3x a day.
9. Avoid sugar: Obviously, getting ample rest is essential for cold/flu prevention and treatment. However, it is not well recognized that sugar– the immune-dampening ingredient–will make you more vulnerable to sickness and promote inflammation. Avoiding all processed and added sugars is extremely important to beating any type of infection, whether that be an ear infection or an ingrown toenail. In my experience, allowing limited amounts of fruit and raw, local honey is acceptable during sickness, but I’d personally avoid any other type of sugar, including maple syrup.
One conundrum I’ve come across as a mother is what I can do to keep my young babies healthy without giving them remedies directly. All children, especially babies, are extremely sensitive to chemicals, even if they’re naturally-occurring compounds. I wish I had more information on how to help formula-fed little ones, but I have no experience with that. Here is what we have chosen to do with our babies, who were/are breastfed: I supplement myself with the treatments I want to give to my baby. This is because anything a mother takes will inevitably be passed through breast milk to the child. However, I do not recommend taking a lot of raw garlic if you’re nursing, as it can make breast milk taste funny and potentially give your baby gas.
I hope some, if not all, of these remedies can help you stay healthy this winter. It’s no fun feeling crumby when there are snow forts to build and holidays to celebrate. Stay warm, friends!
What remedies have helped you in the past? I’d love to learn about them. 🙂
Disclaimer: All information on this blog is for informational purposes only. I am not a licensed medical professional. Please discuss any dietary changes, supplements, or medical questions with your doctor.
Diane Stanislowski is a wife, mother, and researcher with the goal of restoring the practice of traditional holistic approaches to wellness and sharing evidence-based information with the public.
She lives in Grand Forks North Dakota with her husband and daughter Jane, and receives raw milk and pastured meats from Bartlett Farms.