Harmless cold care: Part 2 of 2

We are lucky enough to have a guest post today from Lauren Kirby, a UW-trained nurse who has spent the last year tending patients at Seattle Children's Hospital. Lauren has spent a lot of time studying herbal remedies and I love her holistic approach to wellness, so I asked her to give us some insight into more harmless cold remedies to use this winter. As I mentioned last time, please never use a blog post to diagnose or prescribe treatment - Always chat with a medical provider who knows your health history before deciding to try out a new approach. Here is Lauren's post!

As an allopathic nurse, I’ve realized there are no quick fixes or pills that will make you feel instantly better while also boosting your immunity and overall well-being. Using western medicine most times means altering the delicate balance that exists within our bodies, known as homeostasis. The health of an individual starts from within: spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. That being said, to maintain the harmonious balance between systems, not much really has to be done, but rather we are each empowered to be the caretakers of a perfect design that was born to thrive and function even under difficult conditions.

Before using a natural approach to health and wellness, if this is something that is new or uncomfortable to you, it is integral to understand that our bodies want to be healthy. Your body will take care of you, and do so surprisingly well, if you do what you can to care for it. This means not unnecessarily flooding it with harsh antibiotics and medicines that over-tax your liver, but instead preventing illness and disease (both emotional and physiological) through a toxin-free and simple nutritive approach and immune enhancing principles.

Tried and true, here are some of my go-to herbal and dietary remedies when I am feeling sick. I am sure many of you have done a few of these but I have also included a few “out there” ideas that I’d love for you to try!

*Remember, because these are natural, and often plant-based remedies, there is no major risk at hand like there can be with chemicals found in western medicines. That being said, everyone’s body is different and if you have concerns or allergies, please consult a medical doctor or naturopathic doctor to assure you are safe to ingest a certain herbal mixture.

1. For the Sore Throat:
· Slippery Elm lozenge when on the go. I buy Thayers ®lozenges that come in a bearable natural cherry flavor. Found in these little pastels is elm bark which is an oral demulcent and can be used if you are a public speaker, singer, or like me, get a sore throat when you don’t get enough sleep and are running on high stress levels. It isn’t a cure, but it really helps ease the pain. These are available at PCC, Whole Foods, and your local Herbalist shop, as well as in the Harmless Home Amazon Shop (linked to above).
· Herbal Teas that not only enhance immunity but soothe dry, irritated throats like Throat Coat ® and Breathe Easy ® (both by Traditional Medicinals). These teas help right at the onset of feeling under-the-weather and can prevent the sickness from getting worse. Throat Coat is my first tea of choice if I am plagued by a sore throat and no other symptoms, because it consists of licorice root, slippery elm bark, and marshmallow root, which have antiviral and anti-mucilaginous properties that provide immediate relief. If you are comfortable buying your own herbs, I suggest a Nettle or Echinacea based tea if your cold is mainly wreaking havoc on your respiratory system. These two herbs will enhance your body’s ability to fight off your illness, rather than offer immediate relief like licorice and elm bark do. Nettle is full of minerals and vitamins that keep your body working at its prime and it also has anti-histamine properties for those plagued by allergies. Echinacea, on the other hand, is well known for its immune-enhancing properties, working right with macrophages and all of our body’s awesome natural defenders to make us seasonal cold killing machines.
· Gargles like this Sage Gargle:
1 T dried sage leaves
1T salt
1 t goldenseal root powder (I eliminated because I didn’t have on hand)
Pinch (or more) of cayenne powder (optional, but kicks the sore throat for me!)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (essential!!)
Directions: Pour 1/2 c boiling water over sage, let steep 30 min, then strain and add rest of ingredients. Gargle this every 30 min –1 hr until sore throat goes away. *Most people probably spit it out but it is safe to swallow if you want to get all the benefits.

2. For Enhanced Immunity:
· Obviously, bundle up, rest, and sleep :)
· Echinacea tincture (that I swear by!) - A tincture is an herbal extract that is concentrated in 80-100 proof alcohol, apple cider vinegar, or vegetable glycerin. You dilute them in a beverage of your choice and, depending on acuity of illness, take about ½ teaspoon (2 ½ dropper-fulls) throughout the day. I have bought the one by Herb Pharm ® and have also made one (which is very easy). You can pick it up at PCC, Whole Foods, Super Supplements, or your local Herbalist shop. Although everyone’s body differs, at the sickest I have ever been I felt significantly better after the first day of using the tincture and each day felt tremendous amounts of my immunity return.
· Steams to enhance respiratory function! This one is so healing. Simmer water over the stove with a few drops of lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, thyme, or tea tree essential oils (I like doing lavender and eucalyptus) not only because it smells good and opens up your sinuses, but because these herbs are very antimicrobial and antiviral and fight off whatever bacteria or viral infection ails you. *For those in the Seattle area, if your illness continues to get out of hand and turns into a sinusitis, or sinus infection, call the Sinus Ninja (trust me, I did and was healed!) in Bellevue. He is a dream worker of a naturopath and you can contact him at: http://sinusninja.com/sinusitis-allergy-medicine. He will do a garlic inhalation with you to offer instantaneous sinus relief and then a procedure called nasosympatico which drains the mucus and alters your nervous systems production of mucus. For more info on this procedure visit: http://www.riordanclinic.org/patient-care/therapies/naso-sympatico/
      · Apple Cider Vinegar in the water you drink. This is just as a bonus to aid in immunity. ACV contains many enzymes, vitamins, and minerals key in maintaining that fine balance in our bodies and also has natural antimicrobial and antiseptic properties. It is great for the lymph system, promotes a balanced pH in our bodies, and cleans the blood. ACV is an easy way to stay healthy and prevent illness. Just take 1-2 teaspoons in water throughout the day. It’s nice, kind of like lemon water.
      · Honey-Onion syrup! It may sound all too disgusting but helps so much with immediate relief and enhanced immunity. When not sick, I put these onions in with my homemade Caesar salad dressing and it not only tastes great but keeps illness away. Recipe: slice 2-4 large onions into thin half moons and place in a pan. Just barely cover with honey and warm over very low heat until onions become soft and translucent (you can add chopped garlic for added health benefits but I don’t). Once done, store in a jar in the fridge and take ½ - 1t every hour or two. I actually think it’s yummy and is one of the most effective remedies, more than any cold medicine I took as a kid.

Hope some of these simple remedies offer some support and healing! It is exciting when you take your wellbeing into your own hands and revel in the power of living a centered and connected life both with the rest of nature and yourself.

*Please refer to Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide by the influential American herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar, to delve in more depth into healing through herbs (available here in the Harmless Home Amazon Shop).

Thanks Lauren! 


  1. For anyone feeling scared of the honey-onion syrup, I made some this morning because I was feeling a sore throat coming on. It is actually quite tasty! I have been eating a little every hour for the past few hours in addition to drinking apple cider vinegar water, and my throat is already feeling better. Added bonus: If you are congested, your nose will clear up from cutting and cooking the onion!

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I've spent 5+ years cleaning up my chemical act, first by researching conventional products and then by finding nontoxic solutions and making slow and steady changes. I blog about my past and current research, recommend products and DIY solutions, and present simple steps that can make a big difference in the health of your home. Harmless Home is a positive, non-judgmental place to share successes, concerns, and questions - If you're looking for entry-level ways to detox your lifestyle, then Harmless Home is for you. Welcome!