11 Popular Natural Remedies for the Common Cold

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The research on using alternative home remedies for colds is mixed. Still, some people swear by natural treatments 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

If you're interested in giving them a try, be sure you are aware of potential side effects, interactions, and contraindications before you do.

This article goes over what research has found about the safety and effectiveness of each of these, as well as what you need to know before using these remedies.

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 beef, pork, turkey, lentils, and some fortified cereals.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for zinc is 8 milligrams (mg) for women and 11 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.

Possible 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.
  • Long-term use of high doses of zinc supplements can interfere with the absorption of the mineral copper and lead to copper deficiency.

Vitamin D

You can get vitamin D from sunshine, supplements, and a few foods, like fatty fish, milk, and foods fortified with vitamin D. 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.

Possible Side Effects and Risks

  • Excessive doses of vitamin D can be harmful, causing nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, kidney stones, and more.
  • Vitamin D supplements can interact with some medications, including Alli (orlistat), cholesterol-lowering statins, prednisone, and thiazide diuretics. Talk with a healthcare provider before taking vitamin D supplements if you take these medications.


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

Studies on 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 natural 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 one or more times a week during the winter to stave off colds.

Possible Side Effects and Risks

If you have certain health conditions or take certain medications, astragalus may:

  • Increase the potency of antiviral medications such as Zovirax (acyclovir) or interferon, which could worsen the potential side effects of these drugs (including kidney failure)
  • Counteract immunosuppressant drugs such as Cytoxan or Neosar (cyclophosphamide) or corticosteroids
  • Lower blood sugar (glucose) or blood pressure levels, which could increase the effects of diabetes and blood pressure medications


Garlic is one of the more popular home cures for colds. Many cultures have a home remedy using garlic for a cold—whether it’s a recipe for chicken soup, a drink made with raw 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 (fake treatment) 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 confirm these results.

Possible Side Effects and Risks

Garlic does have some possible side effects and safety concerns.

Bad breath and body odor are the most common ones. Far less often, garlic may cause:

  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Runny nose

Consuming large amounts of garlic can irritate the mouth and digestive tract.

You should not use garlic if you:

  • Have a bleeding disorder, take anticlotting or antiplatelet drugs (blood thinners), or take supplements believed to affect blood clotting (such as vitamin E and ginkgo biloba)
  • Have an upcoming surgery (avoid garlic for two weeks prior)
  • 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 of 30 published studies involving a total of 11,350 participants found that vitamin C (in doses of 200 milligrams or more) slightly reduced the length and severity of cold symptoms, but did not prevent the common cold.

Vitamin C has been shown 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.

Possible Side Effects and Risks

  • Taking more than 2,000 mg of vitamin C daily may cause diarrhea, loose stools, and gas
  • Vitamin C supplements might interfere with cancer treatments. If you are being treated for cancer, check with your healthcare provider before taking vitamin C, especially in high doses.


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 was honey consistently the top-scoring treatment in terms of symptom improvement (per parents' ratings of their children's coughs).

According to the authors of the study, honey may work by coating and soothing an irritated throat.

It is also 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.

Possible Side Effects and Risks

  • 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. Brushing teeth after taking honey could help prevent 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, a study failed to find evidence that echinacea could "change the course" of a cold.
  • A 2014 Cochrane review found only 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 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 three 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, a popular over-the-counter (OTC) supplement containing vitamins and herbs.

Possible Side Effects and Risks

Although the short-term use of echinacea appears to be safe, the safety of long-term use is unknown.

The most common side effects of taking echinacea:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain

Some people have allergic reactions to echinacea, including some instances of children developing rashes.

The risk of drug interactions with echinacea is low.


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 2014 review of research on various herbal remedies for colds did not find evidence that ginseng is beneficial.

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

Possible Side Effects and Risks

American ginseng is likely safe when taken short term. Doses of 100 to 3000 mg/day have been used safely for up to 12 weeks. Side effects might include headaches, but it's usually well-tolerated by generally healthy people.

However, ginseng isn't recommended in several situations, including:

  • Pregnancy or breastfeeding
  • Hormone-sensitive conditions such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and cancers of the breast, ovaries, uterus, or prostate
  • Heart conditions, schizophrenia, or diabetes unless approved by a healthcare provider.

Ginseng supplements and products may interact with medications, including:

  • Blood-thinning drugs like Coumadin (warfarin) and aspirin
  • Diabetes medications
  • Some antidepressants (MAO inhibitors) and antipsychotic drugs
  • Immunosuppressant medications
  • Drugs that stimulate the central nervous system (e.g., those used to treat conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, narcolepsy, obesity, and heart conditions)


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 coughs and colds.

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

Possible Side Effects and Risks

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

You should not use ginger supplements if you:

  • Have an upcoming surgery (avoid for two weeks before and after surgery)
  • Have a bleeding disorder

Due to possible drug interactions, people with gallstones or people taking blood-thinning medications should ask their healthcare provider before taking ginger.


Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is an 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 much research done on the herb. Most studies that have been conducted looked at flu viruses or COVID-19, not cold viruses.

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

Possible Side Effects and Risks

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

Use only commercially prepared extracts of elderberry berries. Fresh leaves, flowers, bark, young buds, unripe berries, and roots contain cyanide. Ingesting them could cause 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 still to be determined.

Possible Side Effects and Risks

Eucalyptus oil is included in many OTC cold and flu remedies. It is considered safe in products that contain small amounts.

Possible side effects of eucalyptus oil in these products include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Eucalyptus should be taken as directed. Taking pure eucalyptus oil should be avoided.

Poisoning is possible, the symptoms of which can cause:

  • Stomach pain
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Feelings of suffocation
  • Drowsiness
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Taking less than one teaspoon of pure eucalyptus oil can be fatal.


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.

As with any dietary or herbal supplement, talk with a healthcare provider before taking the supplement to be sure it's safe for you.

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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.