More than a billion colds spread across the United States every year, setting off a storm of coughing, aches, and pains. The flu, meanwhile, affects tens of millions of Americans with fever and fatigue each winter. Although it’s nearly impossible to escape the seasonal sniffles, you can take steps to stop these illnesses from knocking you out until the new year. Try these natural methods to keep you healthy and happy during the holidays. Click ahead to find out!
1. Echinacea Antiviral and antibacterial, the traditional Native American remedy contains polysaccharides that can raise levels of infection-fighting white blood cells, among other functions. To reap those benefits, try getting in 3 grams of Echinacea daily when you’re sick, reducing the dose as you start to feel better. A recent meta-analysis in Lancet Infectious Diseases came out in favor of using the herb, so drink up!
2. Astragalus A member of the pea family, this root can be stirred into soups to bolster your immune system during cold and flu season. If you feel a cold coming on, try taking 2 to 6 grams of astragalus in capsule form daily. A 2006 study from Phytotherapy Research found that astragalus triggered even more activity in one class of T-cells than echinacea when given to a group of 16 healthy adults.
3. Yin Chiao At the first sign of sickness, practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine often prescribe a formula that contains nine cold- and flu-countering herbs. Yin chiao blends commonplace botanicals like licorice (said to heal sore throats and suppress coughs) and peppermint (known to relieve stuffiness). Try taking 60 drops of the tincture in water every two or three hours for the first two or three days of a cold.
4. Garlic A 2001 study discovered that garlic serves more of a purpose than warding off vampires or bad dates. Researchers from the Mayoclinic found that participants who popped a garlic supplement daily from November to February were less likely to get colds than those who took a placebo. When you’re sick, try downing at least three cloves of garlic daily. Besides salad dressing, try mashing up a clove and spreading it on toast; eating a few sprigs of parsley afterward will help stave off garlic breath.
5. Elderberry So sweet it’s sometimes used in lemonades and jams, elderberry is packed with an antioxidant with antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties, called quercetin. This native North American plant may also help activate the immune system, according to a 2001 study from Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Hospital. Sipping elderberry tea can also soothe flu symptoms while keeping you warm in the winter months.
6. Andrographis Long used in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine, this herb revs up the activity of natural killer cells (the immune system’s first line of defense against infection). And when paired with ginseng, andrographis may attack the flu more effectively than some antiviral drugs. For effective results, try taking 400 mg three times daily as soon as your symptoms appear.
7. GingerSo far, most ginger research has focused on the herb’s ability to tame nausea in pregnant women, post-op patients, and motion-sickness-prone travelers. But the pungent root can also act as an antihistamine and decongestant, two cold-easing effects embraced by Chinese herbalists for millennia. Tossing some fresh, chopped ginger into your stir-fry or soup can lessen cold symptoms, as can making a strong cup of ginger tea.
8. Olive Leaf Extract Heart-healthy olive oil isn’t the only gift bestowed by the Mediterranean’s most treasured trees. Anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, olive leaf extract interacts with the protein in cold and flu virus particles to halt infection, according to a report published in Alternative Medicine Review last March. Although it’s available in capsule form, try lacing three to five drops in warm water, as it makes a great gargle for sore throat.
9. Oscillococcinum As with any type of homeopathic medicine, oscillococcinum aims to restore health by delivering a highly diluted dose of a substance that produces symptoms characteristic of the illness being treated. A 1998 study from the British Homeopathic Journal showed the natural remedy lessened their symptoms and shortened the duration of sickness. If you’re intrigued by a natural approach to wellness, try using one or two tubes of oscillococcinum once or twice weekly for the flu.
10. Medicinal mushrooms A different type of magical mushroom, these Chinese and Japanese healers have understood the magic of mushrooms for centuries, using shitaki, reishi, maitake, and others to both prevent and treat a variety of ailments. Western researchers have yet to explore medicinal mushrooms’ impact on colds or flu, but several studies have shown that certain friendly fungi can stimulate immune function. Medicinal-mushroom blends, available at natural-foods stores, can be taken for illness prevention and reishi mushrooms may help treat acute cold symptoms.