Tried and (perhaps not so) true cures for the common cold

The leaves are falling and the days are drawing in – ah yes, it’s that time of year again when we start scheduling our annual flu shot and stocking up on tissues, Throaties, Vicks, and our go-to remedies for sore throats and runny noses.

But tucked away at the back of our minds is that rumoured never-fail cure, passed down from a mother or grandma. Such as:

  • Put sliced onions and potatoes in your socks (fact: don’t try this at home! Just eat up your vegetables instead).
  • Stay in bed for the duration (fact: lots of rest is good, but a little light exercise might even help).
  • Sip a hot toddy laced with whisky or brandy (fact: a drop of grog might help reduce a fever or nasal inflammation, but hold your horses – we’re talking just a dash here).

Let’s put some of those other old remedies to the test!

Oil of oregano

Here’s one you might not have tried: urine of Satan. What? Well, it’s also called oil of oregano, but perhaps you get the idea taste-wise. While the medical profession might not agree, it’s said to clear blocked noses and other cold symptoms. If you can bear to take it regularly, some claim it helps build up resistance to getting another cold.

Method: add 3–4 drops under your tongue – then quickly drink heaps of water to help get rid of that taste! You can also add drops to a vaporiser: spray and breathe in if you dare.

VapoRub your feet

It sounds strange, but massaging Vicks VapoRub onto the soles of your feet is thought to help soothe your cough. It’s something to do with the pores on your feet being bigger … I don’t know about you, but I have my doubts about this one. Plus, slippery feet alert!

Chicken soup

The secret to this age-old remedy is simple: garlic (a germ-killer), chilli flakes (to clear congestion) and chicken (it contains an amino acid that thins mucus and encourages you to blow your hooter – it’s a way of helping your body get rid of the virus). Scientists may not call chicken soup Jewish penicillin, but they do tend to agree that there’s something to it – if nothing else, it will make you feel warm and comforted, and your cold should be gone in a week (hint: if you don’t drink the soup, your cold should be gone in seven days). And in these days of social distancing, all that garlic will make sure other folks steer clear of you too!


Ah yes, despite the lack of clear-cut evidence out there, tons of people swear by echinacea. It’s reputed to build up your immunity to colds, or at least alleviate cold symptoms if you succumb, and to shorten their duration.

Method: if you’re trying the tincture, take a dropper-full three times a day (that’s around 25 to 30 drops). You can also put the kettle on and brew up a batch of echinacea tea. Or you could try a pot of ginger tea – ginger is an antiviral, and the mix of fresh ginger, lemon juice and honey is thought by some to stop a cold dead in its tracks.

Zinc lozenges

One reason your nana’s chicken soup might have been beneficial starts with the letter ‘Z’: zinc. It’s one of the nutrients you get from eating chicken. Scientists seem to agree that taking a daily zinc lozenge can shorten the length of your cold and reduce nasal congestion, coughs and sneezes. In fact, a study of 199 cold sufferers found that patients who were prescribed zinc lozenges recovered three times faster – maybe cutting the length of their cold by a day and a half.

Method: take one 80mg zinc acetate lozenge within 24 hours of your first symptoms.

Hot steam

We don’t want to rain on chicken soup’s parade, but breathing in the congestion-relieving hot steam from a bowl of said soup might be one of the reasons it works.

Method: the more usual treatment is to hover your face over a pot of just-boiled water. Or close the bathroom window, crank up the heat and enjoy a long, hot, steamy shower.

Nasal spray

Try flushing out that nasal congestion, along with lingering virus particles and bacteria, with a good dose of saltwater. You can also try gargling with a saline solution too – if nothing else, it might soothe your dry sore throat.

Method: use a spray or make your own by adding a quarter teaspoon of salt and a quarter teaspoon of baking soda to a glass of boiled or filtered water. Locate your handy bulb syringe, plug up a nostril with a finger and squirt your concoction into the other nostril. Drain, then repeat.

Just drink fluids

Runny nose, fever, the sweats – just think of all the fluid that leaves your body when you catch a cold! That’s why it’s important to stay well hydrated when you have the dreaded lurgy. Plus, drinking plenty of liquids will help loosen congestion in your nose. Drinking half a dozen or more large glasses of water a day will not only quench your thirst, you’ll build up your daily step-count with all those extra trips to the loo!

Make it water though, rather than sugary soft drinks or caffeine, and I’m sorry to say that a whisky-enriched hot toddy isn’t going to help hydrate you. But avoiding milk drinks while you have a cold? That really is a blast from the past that’s just … not … true.

Method: line up eight 250mL glasses of water a day. You can also drink herbal tea, honey and lemon tea, or broth.

Seriously, though – if that cough or cold just isn’t getting any better, have a word with your doctor. And the best tips for beating a cold? Get plenty of rest, eat a healthy diet, drink lots of water, and warm up with honey, lemon and ginger tea.

Main image: Hans Vivek

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