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Time-Tested Treatments to Cure the Common Winter Cold

If you want to get over your February cold, try some of these natural remedies for defeating your disease.


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The worst thing about the common cold is just that—it is common. Three quarters of Americans suffer from at least two colds a year. 

Cold symptoms have plagued humans for centuries. 

The ancient Egyptians had hieroglyphic symbols for colds and coughing.  They covered their noses with lead sulfide ore, dry incense and honey.

The Greek physician Hippocrates described the ailment in detail 2,500 years ago.  His people tried bloodletting, exercise and herbs.

The Romans recommended wine, and they may have been onto something.  Harvard researcher Dr. M.A Hernan found that, on average, patients who drank a couple glasses of wine a day got about half as many colds in one year as those who drank some other form of alcohol or didn’t drink at all.

Antioxidants found in grape skins may have the ability to combat rhinoviruses, a major cause of the common cold.

Wine, exercise and other immune boosters can help prevent the virus from taking hold, but what do you do once you have it?

You already put your hand on the germy door handle at work or your child sneezed on you as you were buckling his car seat, three days have passed, and now you are on the couch with a roll of toilet paper, a sore throat and the remote control.

The average recovery time is about seven to 14 days.  How can you recover faster? Turns out, the old adage “starve a fever, feed a cold” is true. 

In the mid-1990s, the U.S. Army noticed that Ranger trainees were succumbing to infections during training.  Government researchers discovered the problem wasn’t the stress of tough physical exercise, but rather an inadequate diet.

Florence Nightingale believed that “it is safe to state that two-thirds of all disease is brought about by errors in diet.”

In the nineteenth century, people couldn’t just go out to Walgreen’s and buy a bag full of cough drops and chest balms and red syrups. 

In 2003, researchers at the University of Michigan calculated that Americans spend $2.9 billion on over-the-counter cold remedies every year.

Nineteenth Century cold sufferers—like the Egyptians and Greeks before them—looked for comfort at home. 

THE PARIS REVIEW blogger Robin Bellinger found that many cookbooks from the time had chapters on “invalid cookery”—recipes that could build the patient’s strength until the virus passed or contained tips for tricking the patient into eating toast broth or a piece of buttered toast made into a sandwich. 

Scientists did not discover that a cold was a virus until after World War II.  Before that, many people believed that, literally, a chill that filled the organs of the body caused the common cold (hence the name).  They believed food could raise that temperature like turning on a furnace in your insides.

They were partially right.  Food does raise our body temperature for around thirty minutes after we eat, but it also provides virus-fighting tools that last far longer.

MOTHER JONES food writer Tom Philpott swears by his “Crush Your Cold Soup,” which is a revved-up take on the Mexican dish sopa de tortilla. “It won’t really ‘crush’ your cold, as the headline promises, at least not permanently, but it will send it packing for the time it takes you to eat a bowl or two and for about 15 minutes after,” Philpott says.

In addition to the soup’s short-term benefits, it contains chiles, tomatoes and fresh lime juice, which are all packed with vitamin C. The recipe also calls for a whole clove of garlic to boost the immune system. The chiles do what it feels like they do: open you up your sinuses, if only for a few glorious minutes.  Peppers also release feel-good endorphins that give you that push you need to keep fighting until your cold gets better.

The final key to a modern “invalid cookery” recipe is simplicity. It has to be easy enough to make when you are sick. That’s why putting broth and your ingredients in a pot and warming them up works.

Look around the house.  Trust the old home remedies like grilled cheese, chicken soup, hot, spicy peppers, ginger and lemon tea with a little whiskey or rum.  Do what feels good—chances are it feels good for a reason. 

Here are our picks for cold-fighting recipes:
1. Philpott’s soup offers instant relief:
Crush Your Cold Soup

2. The 19th-century cookbooks say this simple lemonade will relieve a cough:
Irish Moss Lemonade

3. Here’s Chef Emeril Lagasse’s take on grandma’s chicken soup:
Emeril’s Get Well Soup

4. Check out these 40 unique takes on the grilled cheese sandwich to go with your soup:
Grilled Cheese

5. Best Juice: Ginger (digestive system), cayenne (beta carotene) and lemon (Vitamin C)
Juice for Fighting A Cold

Filed under: Health and Wellbeing,

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