by Dr. Judith Boice, ND, LAc, FABNO

In this vital blog series you will learn about homeopathic remedies and other natural medicines you can use to speed the resolution of a respiratory infection. In addition, the previous post in this series will guide you in preventing colds and the flu.

“Catching” a cold

The truth is we do not “catch” viruses and bacteria.  Every day we are surrounded and covered by billions of microbes.  A bacteria or virus invades, or overgrows, only when our immune system no longer can fight off the organism.

A cold is a healing reaction, the body attempting to regain balance after having been affected by physical or emotional stresses. Fever and mucus discharges are a way of ridding the body of built up waste. Colds do not require treatment; they are the treatment. You can speed up the healing process by encouraging the body to discharge the disturbance and return to optimal health.

General recommendations for a cold

Note that certain remedies are appropriate throughout the cold; others are effective only at certain stages.

  • Rest! Get in bed as soon as possible and continue resting for at least twenty-four hours after the fever breaks.
  • Stop eating for at least one full day, and drink plenty of fluids. Digesting food requires energy that the body might better utilize fighting a viral or bacterial overgrowth.
  • Increasing fluids will thin mucus, making it easier to expel. Fluids also will help prevent dehydration if you have a fever. The adage “Feed a cold, starve a fever” is actually a mistranslation. The accurate translation is, “If you feed a cold, you will have to starve a fever.”
  • Use a Neti pot or other saline nasal rinse daily. The salt solution rinses out dust, pollen, mold, and viruses. Although using the Neti pot will not sterilize the nose, it will significantly reduce the viral load in the nasal/sinus area. You also can use the Neti pot preventatively, e.g. every time you get off the plane or come home from the grocery store where everyone around you was coughing and sneezing.
  • Wash your hands frequently. A hospital in New Jersey has a special ward devoted to studying the common cold. The nurses and physicians there are rarely ill. They attribute their lack of infection to frequent hand washing. Wash your hands every time you enter a building, before you handle food, and after every sneeze or nose blowing session (to avoid re-infecting yourself and others)[i].
  • Use regular soap. Most of the anti-bacterial soaps contain Triclorsan, a chemical registered as a pesticide with the FDA. This potentially carcinogenic chemical deadens the nervous system and simultaneously irritates the skin. Most people do not leave the soap in contact with the skin long enough to completely kill bacteria. Over time, we are creating “super-bacteria” that are resistant to Triclorsan and other potent anti-bacterial agents.
  • Sleep as much as you can. Most of us need 9 – 10 hours of sleep, rather than the 8 hours routinely recommended. Two areas that suffer most from lack of sleep are the nervous and immune systems. Increasing sleep by one hour will improve concentration by 25%, and bolster concentration. Lack of sleep will diminish natural killer cells, B cells, and other important components of the immune.
  • Avoid sugar. As little as one gram of sugar will decrease immune function for up to 24 hours. Remember that Succanat, Turbinado sugar, and evaporated cane juice are all fancy names for “sugar.”
  • Eat foods rich in carotenoids and flavenoids, which boost immune function. Think of richly colored foods, e.g. blueberries, red peppers, carrots, winter squash, and paprika. Sorry, orange Kool-aid™ does not count!
  • Dilute1– 2 drops of tea tree Melaleuca alternifolia essential oil in 1 teaspoon of polyunsaturated, organic vegetable oil and rub into the soles of the feet before bedtime. The palms of the hands and the soles of the feet are the two most absorptive skin surfaces on the body. Tea tree is a strong anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral essential oil.
    • Rotate the essential oil that you use every two weeks to prevent becoming sensitized to a particular essential oil. Other antimicrobial essential oils include Eucalyptus radiata (a milder species of Eucalyptus than the more common Eucalyptus globulus), thyme Thymus vulgaris, cinnamon Cinnamomum zeylanicum, winter savory Satureja montana and summer savory Satureja hortensis.
    • Dilute 1 drop of essential oil in 1 teaspoon of polyunsaturated, organic vegetable oil, e.g. grapeseed oil, safflower oil, almond oil, etc.
    • NB: The only essential oil in this list that is safe to use on children (under age 12) is tea tree essential oil.


  • Wet-socks treatment before going to sleep. Begin the treatment with the very first symptoms, and you may completely abort the cold. Continue the treatment every night until the symptoms resolve.

Wet-socks Treatment

This simple, powerful treatment stimulates the production and activity of white blood cells and draws congestion away from the upper body. The wet-socks treatment speeds resolution of an upper-respiratory infection. If used when the very first symptoms begin, the treatment can even abort a cold.


  • foot bath (a plastic dishpan works well, or sit on the edge of a bathtub and soak feet in hot, shallow water)
  • towel
  • one pair of cotton ankle-high socks
  • one pair of wool socks


  1. Soak feet in water as hot as you can comfortably tolerate for 5—10 minutes. Add more hot water if necessary.
  2. Dry feet.
  3. Wet cotton socks in cold tap water. Wring out thoroughly. Socks should be damp, not dripping.
  4. Get in bed. Put on the damp cotton socks. Immediately cover with the wool socks.
  5. Go to sleep.

NOTE: This treatment is best done right before bedtime. In most cases, the socks will be dry by morning.

  • The constitutional hydrotherapy treatment boosts immune and digestive function. Choose this treatment, rather than the wet socks treatment, if you have more time. You will find directions in The Green Medicine Chest.
  • Salt-water gargle—excellent for sore throats. Salt-water soothes the throat and kills bacteria and viruses. Add two teaspoons of sea salt (better than mined table salt) per glass of warm water.
  • Encourage sweating to push out what the Chinese call “external pernicious influences” (EPIs), such as an invasion of wind, heat, or cold. Simmer a tablespoon of fresh ginger in two cups of water for ten minutes or steep a tablespoon of yarrow blossom tea in two cups boiling water for ten minutes. Draw a hot bath. Sip the tea while relaxing in the bath. Once you begin to sweat, get out of the bath, towel dry, and get into bed. Wrap up in warm blankets and allow yourself to sweat. Make sure that you are not exposed to drafts or chills during this treatment. Your pores are open, and therefore more susceptible to drafts and chills. In the morning, take a shower to rinse off the sweat and excreted toxins.
  • CAUTION: Sweating therapy can further weaken someone who is debilitated (elderly persons, or those with long- term chronic illnesses). Also, children usually do not need such aggressive therapy.


  • Yin qiao san—a Chinese patent medicine for “wind heat invasion.” Symptoms include sore throat, feeling more feverish than chilled, slight headache, and yellowish mucus discharge. Do not take the remedy if you feel more chills than fever and have no sore throat—the formula is very cooling. Yin qiao san is meant to cause sweating to help push out wind and heat. Make sure to avoid drafts and chills after taking the remedy. Take three tablets four times per day for sore throat. If you have a fever, increase the dosage to three tablets every 2—3 hours. This remedy is for the very beginning of a cold, within twenty-four hours (optimally, within 1—2 hours) of the onset of symptoms.
  • Hold Echinacea and/or Goldenseal tincture (one dropperful) at the back of the throat as long as possible, then swallow. This is only for the brave! These herbs are strong and have a local antimicrobial effect on the sore throat, as well as working internally on the cold or flu. Repeat every 3-4 hours, as needed.
  • Take goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and Echinacea tincture or capsules. These herbs will boost the immune system when taken internally. Take two dropperfuls of tincture or two capsules every 2—4 hours, depending on the severity of the cold.  Hydrastis has a drying effect on the mucous membranes, making it ideal for any kind of upper-respiratory infection (sinus, lung, and nasal). Echinacea stimulates white blood cell production and activity.  NOTE: Some people are sensitive to Hydrastis (Goldenseal). If you notice a skin rash or other allergic reaction developing, stop taking Goldenseal. Dosage for children:
    • Six years old: half the adult dosage (one dropperful every 2—4 hours)
    • Three years old: one-quarter the adult dosage
    • One year old: one-sixth the adult dosage
  • Oregon Grape Root (Berberis aquafolium), native to the Pacific Northwest, has both anti-viral and anti-bacterial activity.  Oregon grape root contains berberine, an alkaloid that addresses candida, staph, strep, E. coli and many other organisms.  Berberine also stimulates the digestive tract, improving liver and overall digestive function.  The medical part of the plant is the root bark. Take 10 – 40 drops of the tincture ever 2 – 4 hours, depending on the severity of the cold. Children’s dosage:
    • Six years old: half the adult dosage (5 – 20 drops every four hours)
    • Three years old: one-quarter the adult dosage
    • One year old: one-six the adult dosage.
  • Lomatium disectum(Biscuit root, Desert parsley, or Toza). Native people know that the plants to treat most illnesses grow right around us.  My personal bias in working with herbs is to rely mainly on the herbs that grow in the local area.  Our bodies are more “acclimated” to the area where we live; hence, we often respond best to the herbs that grow in our own bioregion. Lomatium grows in the high desert country of eastern Oregon and Washington and has an almost tropical taste.  A strong anti-viral herb, lomatium root helps to prevent or resolve viral invasions, including herpes.[ii] [iii]  Lomatium reduces bacterial and fungal activity as well.Recommended dose: 20-40 drops of tincture, two to three times a day, 2 to 6 cups of tea (one teaspoon of dried herb steeped in one cup of boiling water) for chronic infections or viral diseases.
  • Herbal teas also can help speed the resolution of a cold. NOTE: This is a warming tea and may cause sweating. Add one tablespoon of the mix below to one cup boiling water and steep for ten minutes. Drink one cup 3—4 times per day. Combine equal parts:
    • yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
    • blue vervain (Verbena hastata)
    • mint (Mentha piperita)
    • ginger (Zingiber officinalis), dried or fresh

Homeopathic Remedies (30C Potency)

Take three pellets 4 – 5 times per day until improvement is noted, then reduce the frequency. Continue taking the remedy at longer and longer intervals until the cold is resolved OR until the symptom picture changes. Some people progress through 2 – 5 remedies, each addressing a different stage of the cold. A cold may initially respond to Aconite, for example. If the symptoms do not resolve and the cold progresses, you may move on to a different remedy, e.g. Pulsatilla.

If you are attentive and change remedies as the symptoms change, you may be in a better health when the cold resolves.

  • Oscillococcinum—use at the very first hint of a cold, right after the first sneeze. The remedy will not be effective after the first twenty-four hours. Take six of the small pellets every 3—4 hours. You do not need to take the entire tube, as the directions on the bottle may suggest— that is a way of selling you more tubes! Remember that homeopathic remedies act according to frequency of dosage, not the amount.
  • Mucococcinum—clinically-proven homeopathic preparation of bacterial and viral strains, formulated to stimulate the body’s own defenses in order to combat all types of influenza. Serious complications of the flu, such as bacterial infection and pneumonia, can be deadly, especially to those with a compromised immune system. Mucococcinum is prepared with homeopathic dilutions of the worst flu epidemics of the 20th century, in which thousands of people died, and is formulated specifically to challenge the immune system. Mucococcinum is indicated for all types of influenza, colds, and respiratory ailments, both for acute and preventative treatment.
  • Aconite—take after the first sneeze, when feeling anxious or fretful; symptoms may have developed following exposure to a cold, dry wind.
  • Allium cepa—lots of mucus drainage, sore upper lip, excoriating discharge from the nose, bland discharge from eyes; feels worse in a warm room, better in fresh air.
  • Arsenicum album—affected by changes in weather; thin, painful, burning discharges; patient seeks warmth.
  • Pulsatilla—thick, bland discharges, often green or yellow. Changing symptoms: pains move around and do not localize. Patient feels better outside, worse in stuffy room. Wants company, wants to be held (children), improves with sympathy. Best for late-stage, “ripe” colds.
  • Gelsemium—slow onset, for colds that begin in warm weather or during a mild winter. Patient feels achy, the limbs heavy, as in a Southern swamp in August. No thirst.
  • Bryonia—feels worse with motion, better with pressure. Very hot, very dry, aches all over. Great thirst for cold drinks.
  • Nux vomica—very chilly, even while bundled up in bed. Worsens with slight uncovering, or the least movement. Feels chilled from drinking. Aching in limbs and back. Nose stuffed at night. May have upset stomach or other digestive symptoms.

When to consult a physician

  • If you have followed the above suggestions (especially regarding rest) and still have symptoms after seven days.
  • If a child has a severe sore throat—especially if she is drooling profusely and cannot swallow.
  • If a child has cold and fever symptoms accompanied by a stiff neck or arched back.
  • If sore-throat symptoms persist longer than three days.
  • If you have a fever above 102°F that does not respond to treatment.


[i] Wong, V. W., Cowling, B. J., & Aiello, A. E. (2014). Hand hygiene and risk of influenza virus infections in the community: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Epidemiology and infection142(5), 922–932.


[ii] Hanson, C., Riggs, J., etal. (1978). “Photochemical Inactivation of DNA and RNA viruses by Psoralen Derivatives.”  Journal of General Virology, 40, 345-358.


[iii] Talib S & Banerjee A. (1982). “Covalent Attachment of Psoralen to a Single Site on Vesicular Stomatitis Virus Genome RNA Blocks Expression of Viral Genes.”  Virology, (118), 430-438.