Step Aside, Chicken Soup: Eight Cold Elixirs

No matter where you live or what language you speak, the symptoms of a cold are understood the world over -- no translation required: Your throat feels sore; your nose runs; you might cough or sneeze; and your body aches.

It's time to crawl under the covers and get the extra rest you need.

But a cold virus will need some coaxing to hit the road. Colds rarely make a quick exit and usually take about a week to run their course.

That's where the time-honored tradition of folk medicine comes into play.

Picture of Acupuncturist Jonathan Ammen

Faced with a cold and a lack of modern medicine, our ancestors turned to nature for its treatments. And throughout the world, parts of plants -- the roots, stems, leaves, fruits and flowers -- are used to ease a cold and its symptoms.

In the United States, we've been spooning up chicken soup when we get sick for generations. The comforting golden broth appears to have some therapeutic benefits, both from its ingredients and its warmth.

"The common cold is a good example of an illness we don't have a good cure for and there are good common-sense remedies for it," said Dr. Marjorie Mau, chair of the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii.

Robin says nasal irrigation can relieve headaches, allergies and colds.

As the daughter of a Chinese father and Hawaiian Chinese mother, Mau fondly recalled her mother's spin on chicken soup, which she loves to this day. It combines chicken in a clear broth, ginger root ... and a little bit of whiskey.

Now a physician, she can explain why a bowl of this homemade treatment made her feel better. "It was warm and likely the alcohol helped to break my fever and make me sleepy. The liquid gave me some added hydration. And the chicken was tender and easy to digest. It's exactly what Western medicine says to do for a cold."

Possibly, it's the memories of and belief in the healing potential of these folk remedies that make them so powerful.


That's why searched for the popular foods, drinks or remedies from other countries and cultures. Consider these eight treatments based on folk medicine with an international flair.

Visit the OnCall+ Cold & Flu Center

If we've left out your heritage, post your own favorite ways to get over a cold in the comments section after reading this article.

Ginger Tea

In many regions of China, the popular remedy for a cold is ginger tea.

"You drink it several times a day when you feel symptoms, especially before going to bed," said Dr. Chun-Su Yuan, director of the Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research at the University of Chicago.

Ginger is an herb that's believed to be warming and to induce sweating, Yuan said. "The Chinese people believe that sweating can cure a cold."

Ginger tea helps you get over the mild symptoms of a cold, said Bing Yang, who chairs the Chinese herbal medicine department at the New England School of Acupuncture in Newton, Mass.

She explains that ginger tea is consumed mostly during the beginning stages of a cold and is not good for a fever or more severe problems. People often add brown sugar to it, which is believed to warm the stomach.

The spicy-tasting tea is made by cutting small pieces of fresh, peeled ginger root into boiling water. This is steeped for five to 10 minutes and then strained. Some people also add the white part of a scallion, which like ginger, is thought to make you perspire.

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