Favorite Winter Herbal Remedies: Colds and Coughs, Stomach Viruses, and Headaches
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Favorite Winter Herbal Remedies: Colds and Coughs, Stomach Viruses, and Headaches

herbal medicine

Written by Kate Tietje, Contributing Writer

It’s winter time (already! I’m still in denial!) and we’re in the thick of the “sick season.”  In fact, we’ve just gotten over our first round of “major” colds. That’s no fun.

We choose not to use any form of over-the-counter or other pharmaceutical products in our home — at least not without an excellent reason (and we haven’t found one in the last three years). Certainly we don’t for the run-of-the-mill winter blahs, like colds, flu, stomach viruses, and so on.

That doesn’t mean we suffer, though! We’ve developed some pretty effective herbal remedies that we turn to when we’re in need of a little boost.  Today I’m going to share our top choices with you!

Colds and Coughs

Nobody likes colds or coughs — runny noses, sneezing, itchy throats. Luckily, there are some good home remedies for them! We also make sure to take our fermented cod liver oil regularly to boost our immunity.

Ginger Tea — Combine 1 tbsp. dried ginger root and 2 cups water. Boil for 5 – 10 minutes. Strain. Add fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon) and raw honey to taste.

Sore Throat Tea — Boil 1 c. water and pour over 1 tbsp. elderberries and 1/2 tbsp. rosehips. Steep 10 minutes. Strain. You can drink it like this (with some raw honey added to taste), or you can mix 1/2 tsp. each slippery elm powder and fenugreek powder with a small amount of cold water, then add this to the tea and heat and stir until thickened. Add honey and serve. (I do this if I don’t have any cold syrup around.)

Cough/Cold Syrup — This seems to knock out colds in a day or less, if taken at the onset of symptoms. If taken later it seems to take a couple days but still not too long!

Homemade “Vapo-Rub” — We use this on feet at night and it actually makes for really good sleep, and helps to banish night time coughs.

Humidifier — Set up a humidifier and add 4 – 5 drops each rosemary, eucalyptus and tea tree (if desired) essential oils. Allow this to diffuse in the person’s room while they are sleeping.

Stomach Viruses

Yuck, right? We aim to get over these as quickly as possible! It’s important that after a person vomits, do not give anything by mouth for at least 30 minutes in order to let the stomach settle. Pushing liquids quickly will result in more vomiting and is not necessary in the short term to prevent dehydration. (If vomiting continues for several hours despite stomach rest, call a doctor. Don’t worry about an hour or two though.)  Once the person has gone through stomach rest, you can introduce these. OR, if vomiting is persistent, wait at least 5 minutes and then try one of these SLOWLY. (We’ve unfortunately been in that position once or twice.)

Anti-Nausea Tea — This is best used for adults. Brew double-strength black tea and add a tablespoon of raw honey. Something about the combination of caffeine, tannins in tea, and the honey seem to slow or stop vomiting. You can also choose to mix in a tiny amount of activated charcoal.

Activated Charcoal — If the person can swallow pills, take 1 – 2 at the first sign of nausea. This usually prevents vomiting. You can mix it into tea, too.

Children’s Anti-Nausea Tea — Boil 1 c. water. Steep 1 tsp. lemon balm and 1 tsp. peppermint for 5 min. Strain and add raw honey to taste.

Anti-Nausea Syrup — We often mix this into tea, but it can be taken on a spoon, too.

Anti-Virus — I really don’t know what to call this one, but it seems to really work, especially when someone is having trouble keeping anything down. Mix 1/4 c. coconut oil (melted) with 1 clove fresh crushed garlic and 4 – 5 drops oregano essential oil. Apply this mixture (warm, but not too hot) to the feet and put socks on. Sleep. All three ingredients are potent anti-virals and can boost the body’s ability to fight off whatever is wrong!

lemon balm

Image by Smoobs


Headaches are common — and in the last couple months, my husband’s experienced a lot of them. Hence, we’ve found a number of remedies. These even work for migraines in some cases. I recommend seeing a chiropractor and/or a naturopathic doctor for recurrent headaches.

Compress with oils — Get a wash cloth damp with hot or cold water (depending on the person’s preference) and put 2 – 3 drops clove or peppermint essential oil on it. Wintergreen is another option (but not safe in children/pregnancy, and neither is clove).

*Stephanie’s note: I’ve experienced many headaches this pregnancy, and my midwife/naturopath has recommend the use of rosemary essential oil in a compress or carrier oil (rubbed on the temples) as a safe pregnancy alternative, as well as taking extra magnesium, either by tablet or through an epsom salt bath.**

Headache salve — Use this to massage affected areas, especially temples and neck. It’s also good for any other sore muscles.

Arnica — Take 1 pellet of homeopathic arnica under the tongue every 10 – 15 min. until the headache subsides (good for tension headaches, but my husband tells me they work on his bad/migraine headaches too).

Heat — Use a heating pad, or a rice-filled sock. Heat in the microwave if you still have one (I don’t and this is the only use that I miss having it for!), or in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes until hot. Place on your neck or head or more sore area.

Water — Sometimes headaches are caused by dehydration. Drink extra water or make homemade electrolyte drink (like Gatorade without the junk) to help.

Epsom salt bath — This can relax tense muscles and also give you extra magnesium if you need it. Add 1 – 2 cups to a very hot bath. If you can’t/don’t want to take a hot bath, run a small amount of hot water, dissolve the salts, then add cooler water until the bath is your desired temperature.

Lavender Oil — Use lavender oil for massage, or place a drop on your pillow before you sleep.

These are our go-to remedies for illnesses! I hope you find something in there that can help you. 🙂  And as always, I’m not a doctor or other medical professional and when in doubt, contact someone who is. These are home remedies that have worked well for us, that I’m passing along for informational purposes only.

What are your favorite herbal or natural remedies?

Top image by Tracy Hunter

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    1. Hi Brianna — Any health food store should have it. I know Naturokits, one of Stephanie’s sponsors this month, also has some in their kit.

  1. Stephanie,
    I love your blog and have been a follower for several years now. I recently decided to start posting on my blog again. My first post was yesterday on preparing for illness… thank you for the wonderful herbal remedies posted on your blog… I have shared them with others through mine. It’s great to see others living a life similar to mine. Keep up the great work!

  2. thank you for sharing! i’d like to make the cold/cough syrup, but how much would i need to take and how often? how much should i give my children (2 and 4)?


    1. We usually take it right before going to sleep — night and sometimes naps. You could give it every 2 – 3 hours if the cold was really bad though. I usually give 1 tsp. to a child and 1 tbsp. to an adult. Since it’s all food-based, though, I don’t think you can really “overdose.”

    1. Any drug store should have them, or even grocery stores. They’d be in the pharmacy area, near things like bandages, hydrogen peroxide, etc. Some are concerned about some sort of contamination and only buy “high quality” ones but I haven’t really looked into this issue too much, so I’m not sure. They cost 4 – 5 times as much so for me it’s not worth it right now.

    1. I think that any herbal store would have it, and some health food stores. I have bought it at a health food store in their “bulk herb” section before. I would recommend the little granules over a big block, because they are much easier to measure and melt.

  3. Also, do you know if Evening Primrose Oil is available as an essential oil or just an oil? On Mt. Rose I can only find it as an oil. Is that going to be helpful or do I need it as an essential oil? Thanks!

    1. Hi Becky,

      I have only seen Evening Primrose oil as a carrier oil (not essential oil). That is how I have used it! Be careful though — it’s not safe in pregnancy. (I don’t know if that applies to you or not but perhaps it will to someone reading this!)

      1. Thanks! I’m not pregnant, so good there. 🙂 Can you recommend a site for good uses for evening primrose oil? Thanks so much!

  4. Love following your blog, have my own too, have you tried Mountain Rose Herbs for supplies? Get most of my herbs and ingreients there, in act Amazon puts me into their site a good share of te time. Keep it up, love learning from you

  5. Love following your blog, have my own too, have you tried Mountain Rose Herbs for supplies? Get most of my herbs and ingreients there, in act Amazon puts me into their site a good share of te time. Keep it up, love learning from you

  6. Last April our little boy had a really bad stomach flu, we tried everything…nothing worked. Finally I read an article on old time treatments. One of them that I tried was the following….it worked wonders. It’s the only thing that kept us from ending up at the hospital due to dehydration. It’s also simple:) Rice water. Cook rice with extra water and let them slowly sip the extra water. This is the first thing he could keep down….even breast milk would make him throw up. We had to do rice water for a couple days before he could begin to keep breast milk, etc. down. I just kept the rice water on the stove on a simmer and would add more water as it was needed throughout the day.

    1. Very cool! I will remember that in case the stomach yuck hits us again, especially for the small ones!

  7. So far, we’ve dodged the pukes. Sore throats and coughs we’ve got plenty. But the pukes….as kids around ours have dropped like flies….we’ve been lucky for now. Thanks for the info on a natural approach!! 🙂

  8. I saw the comment about evening primrose oil not being safe in pregancy. Can you tell me why? My sisters midwife has her patients take it at the end of pregnancy.

  9. do you know if the activated charcoal is safe while pregnant? i have caught 3 stomach bugs while pregnant and hate throwing up. i have heard about this working for a while now but haven’t tried it.

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