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Spice Rack Remedies for Cold and Flu Season

Affiliate Disclosure | in Natural Remedies | by | with 62 Comments

Today I’m honored to host a guest post by Katja Swift, s a clinical herbalist currently serving as the director of the Commonwealth School of Herbal Medicine. Thank you for joining us today, Katja!

Once we start eating healthier, we start to look for other ways to improve our health. As we ditch the Doritos, often we start to question the medicines we use to treat ourselves as well. Antibiotics and over the counter pharmaceuticals are often not the best way to treat children – they can lead to weakened immune systems, reinfection, allergies, and other problems. But most childhood ailments and illnesses respond very well to natural treatment!

Even here in the Northeast, we’re starting to think about Spring, and along with that comes the standard “seasons changing” illnesses: the flu, colds, ear infections, sore throats, etc. Here are some easy remedies that you can try for your family next time something’s going around!

Soothe Little Ears With A Homemade Poultice

As a child, I was particularly prone to ear infections, but no one figured out that I have a dairy allergy until I was an adult. If your child has recurrent ear infections, make sure to consider eliminating dairy products, or gluten, or both – they are often the root of the problem.

But whatever the cause, my favorite remedy is something you probably already have in your kitchen: Onion! Slice an onion in rings about 3/4 of an inch thick. Sauté lightly in olive oil, until it’s hot all the way through and softening. Wrap the onion slice in a clean soft cloth and lay it on the ear like a heating pad – be sure to test the heat first so that little ears don’t burn.

Why does it work? The sulfur in the onion is carried into the ear via the steam, and kills the infection. Also, the heat is soothing, especially when the swelling is painful. Always treat both ears, as ear infections can travel back and forth between ears via the interior canals. Repeat as often as necessary – I usually find that doing this every few hours for a day is enough to end the infection altogether.

[Note from Mommypotamus: If you’re looking for more ideas like this, check out this post on natural remedies for ear infections.]

Scratchy Throat? Make a Tent!

For sore throats, as well as upper bronchial infections, another kitchen favorite comes to mind: Thyme! Thyme is markedly antibacterial and antiviral – so whether it’s just a cold or strep throat, thyme’s got you covered.

Our favorite way to take thyme is as a steam – you may remember your grandmother doing this. You take a pot of boiling water, set it on the table and lean over it with a towel over your head. Toss in a handful or two of dried thyme and inhale deeply! (Do not add the thyme while the water is boiling – wait until you’re ready to sit and breathe.) Make sure to have a handkerchief nearby if you have any congestion, because this will clear it out quickly. This remedy is also excellent for styes or other eye infections.

For children who are too young to be left alone near a pot of boiling hot water, you can drape blankets over a table to make a tent. The tent will keep the steam contained for them to breathe in, and then you and your child can climb into the tent together, where you can keep little fingers away from the pot.

For children old enough not to touch the pot and burn themselves, they can be in the tent by themselves or they can sit at the table with a towel over their heads. This is a good, fun way to take your medicine – they’ll feel silly, but you’ll know the medicine is getting where it’s going.

How? The antimicrobial action of thyme is in the volatile oils, which are released when the dried herb is heated. The steam of the hot water carries the volatile oils through the entire respiratory system, into every nook and cranny in the lungs. The medicine doesn’t have to go through the digestive system and get to the lungs and the airways through the blood, it’s right there at the source. Once you’ve finished with the steam, boil the water with the thyme in it again for about half an hour to release all the minerals in the herb – now you have a nourishing tea that will help rebuild the resources you’re using to fight the infection!

Air Purifying Spritzer

A lot of people like to use Lysol or other air fresheners when people are sick in the house, to kill the germs in the air. You can do the same job more effectively and without the chemicals with herbs! Fill a spraybottle with water, and add to it 10-20 drops of essential oil of rosemary, and 10-20 drops of essential oil of lavender.

Use this in place of the Lysol – just walk around the house spraying the bottle, and you’ll kill off all the germs floating around. This mixture was found, in the French state hospital system, to be as effective as standard hospital sanitizer, but in fact longer lasting, because the oils stay on whatever surfaces they land on longer than the alcohol-based sanitizers. Not only that, but it smells great! In our house, we use this mixture to clean countertops, the kitchen table, the bathroom sink – just about anything.

Homemade “Kool Aid”

Rose Hips

One last trick for today: So you want to be healthier, but your 5 year old wants Kool-Aid. What to do? Why, you reach for your herbs, of course! Here’s a recipe that’s kid friendly, supremely healthy, and sure to please everyone. You’ll need rose hips, hibiscus, orange peel and lemon peel. These should be available in the bulk section of your local health food store, and if they don’t have them or can’t order them for you, try

You can mix these ingredients to taste, but I like 3 parts rose hips, 1 part hibiscus, and 1 part each of the lemon and orange peels. Per quart of water, add two or three tablespoons of the herbal mixture (depending on how strong you want to make it), and bring to a boil. Simmer the mix for 20 minutes, and then let it cool.

The flavor will be sweet-tart; you can add some honey or dark maple syrup to sweeten. The result? A super high-vitamin naturally bright red Kool-Aid replacement! Rose hips are one of the best sources for vitamin C – one rose hip has as much vitamin C as four lemons! There’s vitamin A in there too, along with a whole host of bioflavonoids (which are antioxidants). Hibiscus has nutrients that nourish the cardiovascular system, and orange and lemon peels have vitamins C, B1, folic acid, many bioflavonoids (over 60!), and a whole host of other vitamins and minerals! And when it’s cold and flu season, toss some dried elderberries into the mix, or add elderberry syrup as a sweetener, and you have a potent and delicious immune-boosting brew.

So what are you waiting for? This is one brightly colored kid drink that mom and dad will love!

Next up: Natural Therapies for Seasonal Allergies: Learn how to build a stronger you and get through allergy season without the Kleenex!

Photo credit: Spice Rack – Andrea Parrish-Geyer, Onions – Kriss Skurlatowski

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62 Responses to Spice Rack Remedies for Cold and Flu Season

  1. Heather says:

    When I was a little girl I used to boil rose petals and anything I could find in our yard to create all kinds of “potions.” I have always been charmed by the kitchen pharmacy, so to speak, and this post just tickled me with delight. I love when remedies are so easy and fun! Onions on ears, steam tents, herbal kool aid?? Thank you, Katja!

    • Wendy says:

      My daughter has strep. Would the thyme help? The pediatrician gave me a prescription for Amoxicillin. I want her to be better but I’m trying not to pump her full of meds especially since she takes seizure medication Keppra 2x a day everyday. And since she’s not eating much but drinking milk for the past few days I don’t want her to mainly have medicine in her little tummy. My daughter will be 2 in November. Im so glad I found your blog I’m learning so much.

  2. Lauren says:

    Do you have a remedy for severe morning sickness???? I am desperate!

    • Heather says:

      Hi Lauren! I talked to Katja an she does have some ideas but she’s not near her computer right now. Check back tonight for some suggestions, okay?

    • katja swift says:

      Hi, Lauren!

      Ginger is a favorite morning sickness remedy – even just plain crystalized ginger from the grocery store. Or ginger tea, if you prefer.

      However, if your morning sickness is really bad, you might re-consider your prenatal vitamin – they are often the actual cause under the morning sickness. just skip it for a few days and see if you feel better. If so, then you might think, oh dear, now what? Well, the truth is, if you eat well, you don’t actually need a vitamin. But if you feel more comfortable with one, I’d recommend They’re not cheap, but you won’t be pregnant for very long :-)

      Feel free to email me directly if you have any more questions!

      • Heather says:

        Hi Katja – I’d never heard of the brand you recommended so of course I had to pop over. Very interesting info about stearates. I’ll be looking into that more!

  3. Tweets that mention Spice Rack Remedies for Cold and Flu Season « The Mommypotamus -- says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Heather Dessinger, Heather Dessinger. Heather Dessinger said: new post: Spice Rack Remedies for Cold and Flu Season […]

  4. Margo says:

    This is the second time I have heard of using onions for ear infections…I am convinced. I love your blog. Thanks for being so natural minded. Did I tell you that since I have mentioned mommypotamus topics to my husband that he has become a facebook follower (and even went and read the GMO article). I also started the “water talk” on Sunday….baby steps, baby steps!!!
    Yay, for naturalness!

    • Heather says:

      You are so funny . . . and smart, too! I know a mom who started learning about natural living from some of her friends. Every time she went home she would tell her husband something new they needed to change. And change they did . . . he got rid of her friends! I am an all or nothing person but Daniel is very much a process person. He started making a lot more changes in his life when I started respecting that. :)

  5. Hannah Willette says:

    I love your blog. Thanks for these remedies! I am keeping these. :)

  6. Megan says:

    Great ideas! I’m allergic to lavender – will the rosemary oil alone be as effective for sanitizing?

    • Heather says:

      Megan – A lot of essential oils have antimicrobial . . . tea tree comes to mind. Some people don’t like the fragrance but I think it’s clean and refreshing.

    • katja swift says:

      Hi, Meagan –

      I agree with Heather – try tea tree instead. Or just use the Rosemary alone: it might be only 98% effective, but that’s still pretty great :-)

    • Sarah says:

      We do something similar with a Thieves Oil blend. It is made of equal amounts of eucalyptus, rosemary, cinnamon, clove and lemon essential oils, all of which have antimicrobial properties. I have used it in steam tents, disinfecting spray, and cleaning solutions as well as adding it to our humidifiers for a fantastic cold remedy.

      Thyme oil is another one that is highly effective in killing microbes.

      • Brenda Howard says:

        I am thinking of getting into a company that has essential oils, there are so many companies…… which was has the best quality products? Thanks!

  7. Pippi says:

    Fabulous article! I’ve bookmarked it in case I need it for later. Hopefully I won’t but there’s a nasty bug going around here and a little boy upstairs had pneumonia last week. I want some tricks up my sleeve.

  8. Hunter says:

    I can’t wait to try the sanitizer :) love this post!

  9. HaleyLeann says:

    I’m happy to report that the onion on the ears trick works!!! I used it this weekend after reading this blog post. My son woke up on Friday night at 3:30AM with an earache. I sauted the onion and let him lay on it in a cloth. Within about 15 minutes, he was starting to feel better. We continued doing it every 3-4 hours for the weekend and by Monday he had no more ear pain. So thankful that God gave us these remedies to use. Yay for natural healing!!!

  10. An Alternative to Medicine and other Home Remedies « The Hughes Family says:

    […] blog post found on caught my eye this week.  It was a guest post Katja Swift.  I love that […]

  11. Bailey Keenan via FB says:

    Thank you SO much! LOVE your blog!!

  12. Blythe says:

    For ear infections “make sure to consider eliminating dairy products, or gluten, or both – they are often the root of the problem.”….

    My son is nursing only and have ear infection problems….. obviously can’t be one of these. Although I will try the onion trick next time! Hope it works….

    • Sarah says:

      Could be, if he is reacting to particles in your breastmilk. My firstborn had terrible colic when she was a newborn. She would scream from 10pm until 3am every.single.night. Everyone told me that it was just colic and there was nothing I could do. 2 days after I stopped eating dairy products, the screaming went away completely. I know many moms who have similar stories, though babies have all reacted differently – gas, crying, rashes, etc. It’s worth a try to see if it helps! Good luck figuring it out.

  13. Blythe says:

    Also …. We found that if you rub oregano oil on your neck when you have a soar throat (some people then wrap it with a scarf) I do it before bed… in the morning my soar throat is gone or barely there….

  14. Nikki Belshe via FB says:

    Thanks for posting! How did you know my husband was sick today? 😉

  15. Mommypotamus via FB says:

    LOL, Nikki Belshe! Hope he feels better soon:)

  16. Mommypotamus via FB says:

    Bailey Keenan Thank you <3

  17. Hand Sanitizer Recalled For Containing Burkholderia Cepacia Bacteria « The Mommypotamus says:

    […] thieves vinegar make a great hand sanitizer when washing isn’t possible. We also use this alternative to Lysol for deep cleaning the house. But here’s the thing: Germ theory is bunk, and putting triclosan […]

  18. Nikki says:

    do you think hydrosols would work as well as essential oils?

  19. How To Make Non-Toxic Hand Sanitizer « The Mommypotamus says:

    […] This homemade “Lysol” recipe from my favorite herbalist Katja Swift was found to be more effective than standard hospital sanitizer, and it smells great! To convert it from an air purifying spray to a hand spritzer just find a smaller bottle and throw it in your purse! […]

  20. Michelle V says:

    Thank you for this! My son is picky about drink flavors (but will eat almost ANYTHING, go figure!), and I just decided I was going to put together his own “tea” blend…perfect timing! :) <3 your posts!

  21. Katie says:

    Thanks for the tips! With the “Lysol”, you say to fill a spray bottle with water and add the eos. But it would make a difference what size spray bottle you use. What size are you using for the amount of eos you’ve given here? Thanks!

  22. Jen K says:

    So, I have tea tree and lemon essential oils on hand…will those two work the same as the lavendar and rosemary for a cleaning spray? I’m certain it’ll smell something fierce :-) , but I’m not too concerned about that…just trying to use what I have before getting the lavendar and rosemary.

    • Heather says:

      I don’t know if they are an apples to apples comparison, but they are both very effective anti-microbials. I would definitely use them :)

    • Sarah L says:

      Tea tree is my go-to for cleaning. I usually add something else from my stash to make it smell nice. It works very well, even for cleaning stinky bathrooms!

  23. Killing germs…the green way « Something Simple says:

    […] essential oil, but I also didn’t want to resort to using chlorine bleach.  Then I remembered a post I had recently found on The Mommypotamus (a great site full of good info!) that included a recipe […]

  24. Kim says:

    Hi. looking for the right essential oils… are the ones that say ‘for aroma therapy” ok?
    (vitacost or aura casia?
    Thanks, I love your ideas!

  25. My 5 Favorite Natural Cold/Flu Remedies | Honest to Goodness Living says:

    […] Thyme: Add some chopped thyme to a pot of steaming water and carefully place your face over the pot (be careful not to burn yourself) and breathe deeply. This gentle steam will help open your sinus passages, while the thyme soothes an itchy throat. […]

  26. Colleen says:

    Can you use any thyme? I’m a natural remedies newbie. It makes sense to me that fresh would work better but the article mentioned dried thyme… Thanks!

  27. Simple Essential oils – Part Four: My growing stash « Something Simple says:

    […] inspiration for the above-mentioned cleaner was from a blog post that included a recipe for homemade natural “Lysol”.  Using a simple combination of […]

  28. Karen says:

    This is an awesome article but I have a few questions.
    I noticed one other person asked this but there was no answer… the air sanitizer made with lavender and rosemary e.o. – how big of a spray bottle is the 10 to 20 drops for????
    I mean, I have a 30 oz bottle and a 3 oz bottle… big difference.
    I’m especially concerned about not making it too strong because I would like to use it as a hand sanitizer for my 4 year old and want it to be a safe concentration for him.
    Is this recipe safe for children as a hand sanitizer??

    Thanks for this awesome information… it’s priceless!

  29. Samantha says:

    I am 20 weeks pregnant- I have a cold and cough… Can I do the “Thyme Tent trick” too?? Thanks! Any other safe cold remedies while expecting are appreciated!!!

    • Laura P says:

      You’ve probably gotten over that cold by now (hopefully!). It sounds like thyme is NOT recommended during pregnancy because it is a uterine stimulant.

  30. MamFlip says:

    Ok. That’s it. I simply HAD to stop and leave a comment here. Little Miss Mommypotamus…I LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!! I am so blessed to have found it a few days ago! No more of this hopping around to 70 different sites for recipes from anything to hand sanitizer to homemade marshmallows. You my dear, are an absolute delight to read.
    Thanks for the cool essential oil recipes too. I myself had been using tea tree with eucalyptus to disinfect everything (the potty and kitchen sink after raw eggs smoothies and such-believe me, our family is NOT a frequent de-germifying crew either). But my poor Mum LOATHES the scent. No matter how much sweet orange or lemon I added to it, she could STILL smell it.
    Anyhoo, I have a tendency to rattle on. So, with that I will let you go. Thanks again for sharing with the world (or at least the nifty one represented through the interwebz) your beautiful family, ideas, link, philosophies and so forth. Have a spectacular remainder of your Thursday, Woman.

  31. Lindsey S says:

    If I wanted to make a gallon and put in the fridge what is the amount of herbs I would need?

  32. Robin Schwartz says:

    I started placing sliced onion around our home during flu/cold season a few years ago because I heard and “old wives tale” about doing so and we are rarely sick. I always wondered if and why it works so, I’m glad to see this post about the onion poultice. Everyone thinks I’m crazy but now I can explain to them the science behind what our great grandmothers did. We do other natural preventative steps but I think I will continue with the onions too!

  33. Homemade Electrolyte Sports Drink | The MommypotamusThe Mommypotamus | says:

    […] 4 cups herbal tea (Citrus flavored teas taste best in my opinion. I use the tablespoons of the “Kool Aid” alternative from this post) […]

  34. Amy says:

    I am wanting to make the “kool aid”. I think this is a great idea. I have no experience with using rose hips or hibiscus. When looking at my local health food store and I looking for a powder or the actual rose hip or hibiscus and when using the peels are these cut into small pieces? Sorry for so many questions but this is all so new to me! Thanks for your help.

    • Heather says:

      You’re looking for the actual flowers/petals. One thing to keep in mind is that although this is bright like Kool Aid, it doesn’t taste like any flavors I remember :)

  35. Morgen says:

    “This mixture was found, in the French state hospital system, to be as effective as standard hospital sanitizer, but in fact longer lasting”

    What source did you get this information from? Could you give me a link?

  36. Dawn Marie says:

    Hello! I so love this site. : )

    I plan on making the Air Purifying Spritzer mentioned here.

    I wanted to know if it’s fine to leave the Spritzer mist on counters, sinks and the metal and plastic pieces of my dish rack? I’m concerned about the EOs eventually “eating” (corroding) them.

    Thanks very much.

    Dawn Marie

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