As the calendar turns toward winter, we start to hear it: The sniffles from the person in the next cubicle. The dreaded middle-of-the-night coughs from a child. It’s the cacophony of cold season, and we are headed into the throes of it.
Step away from the Sudafed.
While colds, flus, allergies and other seasonal ailments are bad news for us, the sounds that accompany them are as sweet to pharmaceutical companies and drugstores as coins clinking into a piggy bank. Last winter was one of the worst cold seasons in a decade, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which Advertising Age Magazine reported led to a 38 percent sales increase for Johnson & Johnson and a 9 percent increase for Procter & Gamble, according to Advertising Age magazine.
But many studies show conventional treatments are not as effective or have the same effectiveness rate as classic home remedies, and the overuse of them can actually lower effectiveness moving forward.
Some home remedies have withstood the test of time, like chicken soup and good local honey. Reports from the Mayo Clinic have shown chicken soup relieves congestion, limits inflammation (due to inhibiting the movement of neutrophils, an immune system cell), and speeds up the movement of mucus in the body. Protective cilia, tiny hair-like structures in the nose that block germs and other contagions from entering the body, get a boost in function from chicken soup as well, according to the November 1998 issue of Coping with Allergies and Asthma. There is no scientific data on the effectiveness of matzo ball versus noodles in chicken soup, though surely your grandmother has ideas and opinions.
A more adult cold cure-all is the hot toddy. Much like chicken soup’s vapors help with congestion, the same is true with a hot toddy. The alcohol in a toddy can dilate blood vessels, helping mucus and white blood cells fight infection, and can also provide a mild sedative, making for a good night’s sleep when slumber is elusive due to cold symptoms.
Writer William Faulkner, a known hot toddy enthusiast, would prescribe toddies to cure everything from “a bad spill from a horse to a bad cold, from a broken leg to a broken heart.” A good base recipe for a toddy is ﾼ cup whiskey, a squeeze of lemon, 1 tablespoon of honey and ﾽ cup boiling water or hot tea. Combine all ingredients in a mug and drink while still hot.
A key ingredient in the toddy is honey. Honey, particularly raw honey, is full of antibacterial and antimicrobial properties and sulfur, which help to soothe sore throats and speeds the get-well process of illness. Honey can be boiled down with essential oils to create homemade cough drops or lozenges for at-home healing on the go.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises caregivers to avoid giving children younger than 2 years, and in some cases age 6, over-the-counter cold medicine (as reported in an August 2007 statement). Pediatricians and parents alike turn to natural remedies to combat sniffles and stuffy heads. While there is some relief found in pharmaceutical treatments, the side effects that often come with relief (high blood pressure, dehydration, and more) are more harmful that the actual illness, deterring their use by adults and children alike.
While previous generations turned away from homeopathic options in favor of commercially produced “convenience” medications, knowledge of the natural healing properties of honey, herbs, essential oils and extracts, spices, saline and more is re-emerging. The popularity of the kitchen cabinet pharmacy rises with each cold and flu season.
HOMEMADE COUGH DROPS
3 inches peeled ginger root, sliced in 1/2-inch pieces
3 cold and flu tea bags or other therapeutic tea (optional)
4 cups water
1 cup raw honey
10 drops food-grade peppermint essential oil
Boil ginger, tea (if using) and water together. Reduce to about 1 cup by simmering on low. Strain and reserve liquid.
Heat honey and tea mixture together in a thick-bottomed pot over medium heat. Do not allow to boil over (adjust temperature as needed). Stir constantly until the mixture reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat.
Add the peppermint oil — be careful, it may smoke a little, but that is normal. Stir rapidly to incorporate. Pour immediately into small candy molds or onto a cookie sheet that’s been lined with a Sil-Pat mat or parchment paper and dusted with confectioners’ sugar.
If not using candy molds, let the mixture rest after pouring for a few minutes, then cut into 1-inch-by-ﾽ-inch rectangles with a well-greased knife. Once cooled completely, dust each drop with confectioners’ sugar, wrap with wax paper, and store in an airtight container or zip-top bag for up to three months. Use whenever illness or a sore throat occurs.
1 cup coconut oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
30 drops peppermint essential oil
30 drops eucalyptus essential oil
15 drops rosemary or tea tree essential oil
15 drops clove or cinnamon essential oil
In a double-boiler, melt the coconut and olive oils. Once melted, add in the essential oils and stir. Pour into a heat-safe container and allow to cool. Store at room temperature and use liberally on chest and feet to help clear stuffiness and congestion.
SHOWER VAPOR TABS
Essential oils (peppermint, eucalyptus, rosemary, tea tree)
In a bowl, combine enough baking soda and water together to form a paste the consistency of peanut butter. For every cup of paste, add 90 drops of essential oils of your choice. Pour paste into paper-lined muffin tin cups, making each tab about ﾾ inch thick. Allow to air-dry overnight. Store in an airtight bag or container until ready to use.
To use, remove one tab from the paper liner and place in the bottom of the shower. As the hot water splashes the tab, it releases vapors and opens up congestion.
Deanna Fox is a frequent contributor to the Albany Times Union. Find her at twitter.com/SillyGooseFarm or blog.timesunion.com/eatlocal.