Along with cosy nights in, roaring fires and Christmas, winter also brings us a lot of coughing, sniffling and sneezing. Though it's not truly understood why the chilly season sees an uplift in people catching a cold (some researchers have suggested that spending more time inside in small, warm spaces means that viruses spread more easily, though this has not been widely proven), there are many much-tested ways for relieving one.
Whether you're suffering from the sniffles right now, or whether you're looking for a way to prevent becoming infected in the first place, discover the best natural remedies for fighting the common cold. Forget over-the-counter cures, this lot can all be dispensed at home this winter.
Ginger is one of the most benefit-packed roots on the planet and its healthy properties have been heralded for centuries. Gingerol is the main bioactive compound in ginger and it is responsible for many of its medicinal properties. Full of anti-oxidants and an anti-inflammatory, ginger can relieve nausea as well as reduce the effects of a cold and influenza. Its potent spiciness also acts as a great decongestant.
How to use it: Put three thumb-sized slices of fresh ginger into your traditional honey and lemon, or simply add it to a mug of hot water by itself. Remember, hot drinks will loosen congestion in the chest and head, and the liquid will replenish what's lost in sweat and a runny nose.
If you didn't know already, garlic is jam-packed with nutrients. Yes, those little white cloves are filled with antioxidants (thanks to something called allicin), antimicrobial properties (which fight against nasty microbes), antiviral properties and antibiotic properties. But that's not all, garlic also contains vitamin C, selenium and sulphur, which boost the body's immune system. While garlic's many nutrients help us fight off a cold (as summarised by the University of Maryland Medical Centre), its strong fumes act as a decongestion for stuffy noses and clogged chests too.
How to use it: For the brave, chew on a few raw cloves whole. Otherwise, crush or finely chop it and eat it on bread or crackers. Don't heat the garlic though, cooking it removes the antioxidant-harbouring allicin key to killing off your cold.
A few teaspoons of the sweet, sticky stuff will help anyone suffering with a cold or cough. Why? Buzzing with antioxidants, honey is made up of antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that help attack bad bacteria, viruses and fungi. Its natural ingredients will not only aid the symptoms of a cold but also help build up your immune system and allow you to shift it quickly. The syrup-like texture of honey is also great for relieving a tickly, scratching cough. A few years ago The Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine published a study claiming that honey relieved children's colds and soothed chesty coughs.
How to use it: For an annoying cough, eat honey straight off a warm teaspoon. For a sore throat, gargle it with hot water, and for a general cold, eat it on brown bread or mix with lemon and hot water.
Native to Central America, the chilli pepper has many healing properties. Not only do chillies contain a huge amount of vitamins (vitamin A, B and C) and minerals (potassium, iron and magnesium), but they're also known to contain capsaicin, which has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetic properties. For a cold, these properties aid the body's immune system and help fight off the virus. It's also capsaicin that gives the chilli its hot spice, which of course is great for helping to clear a blocked nose or stuffy head.
How to use it: A few teaspoons of chilli powder (whichever heat you can handle) mixed into a small glass of fruit juice or stirred into warm water will soothe a sore throat and help loosen a blocked nose and sinuses.
Though a metal, small amounts of zinc are key to our health. Zinc helps boost the immune system and can be found in common foods like beef, oysters, chickpeas, seeds, nuts and spinach. When suffering from a cough or cold however, zinc lozenges or supplements could help you fight off the virus quicker. A study in the 2011 Open Respiratory Medicine Journal claimed that taking zinc lozenges during a cold could speed up recovery by up to 40%.
How to use it: Zinc lozenges and tablets can be bought from pharmacists and health food stores.
Looking for more health tips? For ingredient inspiration and tasty meal ideas this winter, see our food and nutrition hub page.