11 Popular Natural Remedies for the Common Cold

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The research on using alternative treatments to treat the common cold is mixed. Still, some people swear by natural remedies for cold symptoms like runny nose, cough, nasal congestion, sore throat, sneezing, watery eyes, headache, fatigue, and body aches.

Some of the most popular natural cold remedies include:

  • Zinc
  • Vitamin D
  • Astragalus
  • Garlic
  • Vitamin C
  • Honey
  • Echinacea
  • Ginseng
  • Ginger
  • Elderberry
  • Eucalyptus

This article goes over what research has found about the safety and effectiveness of each of these, as well as some things you should consider before trying them.

Popular Natural Cold Remedies
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Alternative medicine are not a substitute for standard care for any health condition, including a cold. Ask your healthcare provider before using any alternative treatments or natural remedies.

Zinc Lozenges

Zinc is an essential mineral that is required by more than 300 enzymes in your body. It’s naturally found in foods such as meat, liver, seafood, and eggs.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for zinc is 12 milligrams (mg) for women and 15 mg for men. Those amounts are found in a typical multivitamin.

Zinc lozenges can be purchased at health stores, online, and in drugstores. They're often marketed as cold remedies.

Some studies have shown that zinc may help reduce the duration of cold symptoms, especially if people start taking it within 24 hours after cold symptoms appear. Zinc may also reduce the severity of cold symptoms and decrease the duration of symptoms by three to four days.

The zinc lozenges may work by blocking the cold virus from replicating, which prevents it from spreading. They might also prevent the cold virus from getting into cells in the nose and throat.

While the research looks promising, many zinc studies are flawed. Better-quality studies are needed to determine whether zinc really works for colds.

Here are a few points to consider about zinc research:

  • The zinc lozenges used in the studies contained a minimum of 13.3 mg of elemental zinc. The lozenges were taken every two hours during the day starting immediately after the onset of cold symptoms.
  • The studies that found zinc to be ineffective may have used a dose of zinc that was too low or had taste-enhancing compounds known to decrease the effectiveness of zinc, such as citric acid (found in citrus fruit), tartaric acid, sorbitol, or mannitol.
  • Zinc lozenges usually contain either zinc gluconate or zinc acetate and provide 13.3 mg of elemental zinc in each lozenge. It's typically recommended that people take one lozenge every two to four hours during the day for a maximum of six to 12 lozenges a day.

Zinc Side Effects and Risks

  • Side effects of zinc may include nausea and an unpleasant taste in your mouth.
  • Zinc lozenges are not recommended to prevent colds or for long-term use. Taking high doses of zinc supplements for a long time can interfere with the absorption of the mineral copper and lead to copper deficiency.

Vitamin D

You can get vitamin D from foods, sunshine, and supplements. Some studies have suggested that vitamin D might help reduce cold symptoms and make colds shorter.

There is also some evidence that people with lower levels of vitamin D might be more likely to get colds. However, more research is needed to determine if vitamin D could help prevent or treat colds.


Astragalus root has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to strengthen immunity and prevent colds and flu.

Studies in animals and people have suggested astragalus might have an effect on the viruses that cause colds. Other studies that looked at upper respiratory infections did not find evidence that it can prevent them.

Astragalus is also an antioxidant and has been suggested for conditions such as heart disease. It's being investigated as a possible herbal treatment for people with health conditions that weaken their immune systems.

You can get astragalus in a capsule, tea, or extract form at health food stores. While it's harder to find, the dried root can often be found in Chinese herbal shops and some health food stores.

Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners usually recommend taking astragalus to prevent colds and to treat symptoms if you're already sick. For example, you could have a bowl of soup boiled with astragalus root once or more per week during the winter to stave off colds.

There are some risks of taking astragalus if you have certain health conditions or take medications:

  • Astragalus may increase the potency of antiviral medications such as acyclovir or interferon, which would worsen the potential side effects of these drugs (including kidney failure).
  • Astragalus may counteract immunosuppressant drugs such as cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar) or corticosteroids. It may also lower blood sugar (glucose) or blood pressure levels, which could increase the effects of blood pressure or diabetes medications.


Garlic is one of the more popular home cures for colds. Many cultures have a home remedy for a cold that uses garlic—whether it’s a recipe for chicken soup, a drink made with raw crushed garlic, or just eating garlic as part of a meal.

The cold-fighting compound in garlic is thought to be allicin, which has demonstrated antibacterial and antifungal properties. Allicin is what gives garlic its distinctive hot flavor.

To maximize the amount of allicin in your garlic, get it fresh and raw. Then, chop or crush it. Garlic supplements are also available in pill form.

In a 2014 study, 146 participants took either a garlic supplement or a placebo for 12 weeks between November and February. The people who took garlic lowered their risk of catching a cold by more than half. The study also found that garlic reduced the recovery time in people who did catch a cold. However, more research is needed to corroborate these results.

Garlic does have some possible side effects and safety concerns. Bad breath and body odor are the most common side effects, but dizziness, sweating, headache, fever, chills, and runny nose have also been reported. Consuming large amounts of garlic can irritate the mouth and digestive tract.

You should not use garlic if you:

  • Have bleeding disorders
  • Will be having surgery (you should avoid garlic for two weeks before and after surgery
  • Are taking "blood-thinning" medications such as Coumadin (warfarin) or supplements believed to affect blood clotting (e.g., vitamin E or ginkgo biloba)
  • Are pregnant
  • Are allergic to plants in the lily family (e.g., onion, leeks, and chives)

Garlic may lower blood glucose levels and increase the release of insulin. It should be used with caution if you're taking drugs that lower blood sugar.

Vitamin C

In 1968, Linus Pauling, PhD, proposed the theory that people had individual requirements for various vitamins and that some needed amounts higher than the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs).

Pauling proposed that 1,000 mg of vitamin C daily could reduce the incidence of colds for most people. Since then, vitamin C has become a popular cold remedy.

A 2013 review by the Cochrane Collaboration examined whether vitamin C supplements in doses of 200 mg or more a day could reduce the incidence, duration, or severity of the common cold.

The researchers analyzed 30 previously published studies (involving a total of 11,350 participants) that met their quality criteria. They found that vitamin C did not appear to prevent the common cold. There was a slight reduction in the length and severity of cold symptoms, however.

Vitamin C appeared to reduce the risk of catching a cold in people who were doing brief, intense physical activity (such as marathon running or skiing), or in people exposed to cold temperatures.

However, taking more than 2,000 mg of vitamin C may cause diarrhea, loose stools, and gas.


Honey is a popular home remedy for coughs and colds in many cultures. In 2007, a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine provided some of the first evidence that honey could help to calm children's coughs and help them sleep better.

The researchers gave 105 children with colds either honey, honey-flavored cough medicine, or no treatment. All of the children got better, but honey consistently scored best in parents' rating of their children's cough symptoms.

According to the authors of the study, honey may work by coating and soothing an irritated throat and it’s believed to have antioxidant and antibacterial effects. Dark-colored honey, such as the buckwheat honey used in the study, is particularly high in antioxidants.

More recent research on using honey to treat colds and other kinds of upper respiratory infections has also suggested that it might be useful for symptom relief.

Honey is not recommended for infants under 1 year old because of the risk of botulism. Regular use of honey at night may also promote dental cavities.


Researchers have questioned the usefulness of echinacea for colds and flu, but it’s still one of the most popular herbs used today.

Here is what studies have shown:

  • A 2005 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that echinacea did little to prevent or shorten the common cold. There were many critics of the study, who said the results should not be used as evidence that echinacea does not work.
  • In 2006, the Cochrane Collaboration conducted a review of 15 studies on echinacea and found that it was no more effective than a placebo at preventing colds.
  • In 2010, another study failed to find evidence that echinacea could "change the course" of a cold.
  • Another Cochrane review done in 2014 only found weak evidence that some echinacea products could potentially be useful as cold treatments. Overall, the research did not support echinacea for preventing or treating colds.

Although there are several types of echinacea, the above-ground parts (the leaves, flowers, and stems) of Echinacea purpurea have been researched the most.

Herbalists often recommend taking echinacea every two to three hours with a total daily dose of 3 or more grams per day at the first sign of symptoms. After several days, the dose is usually reduced and continued for the following week.

Echinacea is also an ingredient in Airborne, an over-the-counter (OTC) supplement containing vitamins and herbs.


There are many types of ginseng, but one cultivated in North America called Panax quinquefolius (North American ginseng) has become popular as a remedy for colds and flu. Compounds called polysaccharides and ginsenosides are thought to be the key active parts of ginseng.

While it's a popular cold remedy, a review of research on various herbal remedies for colds published in 2014 did not find evidence that ginseng is beneficial.

In 2020, researchers concluded there are not enough quality studies to make any firm conclusions about the usefulness of ginseng for treating or preventing respiratory illnesses in healthy adults.

Products with ginseng can also have risks. For example, there are concerns that ginseng may reduce the effectiveness of blood-thinning (anticlotting or antiplatelet) drugs such as Coumadin (warfarin) and aspirin.

Ginseng may also interact with other prescription drugs, including:

  • Diabetes medications
  • Some antidepressants (MAO inhibitors) and antipsychotic drugs
  • Drugs that stimulate the central nervous system (e.g., those used to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, narcolepsy, obesity, and heart conditions)
  • Estrogen replacement therapy and birth control pills

Ginseng root is thought to have estrogen-like properties and is usually not recommended for people with hormone-related conditions such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and cancers of the breast, ovaries, uterus, or prostate.

People with heart conditions, schizophrenia, or diabetes also should not take ginseng root unless their provider tells them to.


Ginger root is another folk remedy for coughs, colds, and sore throats. It's used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat mild symptoms like a runny nose with a clear nasal discharge, headache, neck and shoulder aches, and a white tongue coating. In Ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India) ginger is also used for coughing and colds.

Hot ginger tea is a popular home remedy for cold symptoms and sore throat. Honey and lemon are sometimes added.

Although normal amounts of ginger in food rarely cause side effects, excessive amounts may cause heartburn and indigestion.

People with gallstones, bleeding disorders, and people taking "blood-thinning" (anticlotting and antiplatelet) medications such as aspirin and Coumadin (warfarin) should ask their provider before taking ginger.

Ginger should be avoided two weeks before or after surgery.


Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is a herb that has a long history of use as a folk remedy for colds, sinus infections, and the flu.

In preliminary lab studies done in the early 2000s, elderberry extracts were found to fight off influenza A and B viruses. Since then, there has not been as much research done and most studies have looked at flu viruses or COVID-19, not cold viruses.

Researchers have proposed that compounds found naturally in elderberries called anthocyanins could be the active component that strengthens the immune system and blocks the flu virus from sticking to cells.

Health food stores carry elderberry juice, syrup, and capsules. Side effects, although rare, may include mild indigestion or allergic reactions.

Only use commercially prepared extracts of elderberry berries. Fresh leaves, flowers, bark, young buds, unripe berries, and roots contain cyanide. Ingesting them could potentially lead to cyanide poisoning.


Eucalyptus may have health benefits, including relieving cold symptoms. For example, inhaling steam with eucalyptus oil can help thin mucus in the respiratory tract.

Some studies have suggested that eucalyptus might also have antiviral benefits. However, whether or not eucalyptus is beneficial as a treatment or prevention for any condition, including a cold, is to be determined.

Eucalyptus oil is also included in many OTC cold and flu remedies.


The research to back up claims that natural remedies can help with the common cold is mixed. It's possible that some ingredients in alternative cold symptom relief products, like vitamin C and eucalyptus, could have some health benefits.

However, using herbal remedies also comes with risks and can interact with other prescription or OTC medications you take.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.