Favorite Winter Herbal Remedies: Colds and Coughs, Stomach Viruses, and Headaches

Written by Kate Tietje, Contributing Writer

It’s winter time (already!  I’m still in denial!) and we’re in the thick of the “sick season.”  In fact, we’ve just gotten over our first round of “major” colds.  That’s no fun.

We choose not to use any form of over-the-counter or other pharmaceutical products in our home — at least not without an excellent reason (and we haven’t found one in the last three years).  Certainly we don’t for the run-of-the-mill winter blahs, like colds, flu, stomach viruses, and so on.

That doesn’t mean we suffer, though!  We’ve developed some pretty effective herbal remedies that we turn to when we’re in need of a little boost.  Today I’m going to share our top choices with you!

Colds and Coughs

Nobody likes colds or coughs — runny noses, sneezing, itchy throats.  Luckily, there are some good home remedies for them!  We also make sure to take our fermented cod liver oil regularly to boost our immunity.

Ginger Tea — Combine 1 tbsp. dried ginger root and 2 cups water. Boil for 5 – 10 minutes.  Strain.  Add fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon) and raw honey to taste.

Sore Throat Tea — Boil 1 c. water and pour over 1 tbsp. elderberries and 1/2 tbsp. rosehips.  Steep 10 minutes.  Strain.  You can drink it like this (with some raw honey added to taste), or you can mix 1/2 tsp. each slippery elm powder and fenugreek powder with a small amount of cold water, then add this to the tea and heat and stir until thickened.  Add honey and serve.  (I do this if I don’t have any cold syrup around.)

Cough/Cold Syrup — This seems to knock out colds in a day or less, if taken at the onset of symptoms.  If taken later it seems to take a couple days but still not too long!

Homemade “Vapo-Rub” — We use this on feet at night and it actually makes for really good sleep, and helps to banish night time coughs.

Humidifier — Set up a humidifier and add 4 – 5 drops each rosemary, eucalyptus and tea tree (if desired) essential oils.  Allow this to diffuse in the person’s room while they are sleeping.

Stomach Viruses

Yuck, right?  We aim to get over these as quickly as possible!  It’s important that after a person vomits, do not give anything by mouth for at least 30 minutes in order to let the stomach settle.  Pushing liquids quickly will result in more vomiting and is not necessary in the short term to prevent dehydration.  (If vomiting continues for several hours despite stomach rest, call a doctor.  Don’t worry about an hour or two though.)  Once the person has gone through stomach rest, you can introduce these.  OR, if vomiting is persistent, wait at least 5 minutes and then try one of these SLOWLY.  (We’ve unfortunately been in that position once or twice.)

Anti-Nausea Tea — This is best used for adults.  Brew double-strength black tea and add a tablespoon of raw honey.  Something about the combination of caffeine, tannins in tea, and the honey seem to slow or stop vomiting.  You can also choose to mix in a tiny amount of activated charcoal.

Activated Charcoal — If the person can swallow pills, take 1 – 2 at the first sign of nausea.  This usually prevents vomiting.  You can mix it into tea, too.

Children’s Anti-Nausea Tea — Boil 1 c. water.  Steep 1 tsp. lemon balm and 1 tsp. peppermint for 5 min.  Strain and add raw honey to taste.

Anti-Nausea Syrup — We often mix this into tea, but it can be taken on a spoon, too.

Anti-Virus — I really don’t know what to call this one, but it seems to really work, especially when someone is having trouble keeping anything down.  Mix 1/4 c. coconut oil (melted) with 1 clove fresh crushed garlic and 4 – 5 drops oregano essential oil.  Apply this mixture (warm, but not too hot) to the feet and put socks on.  Sleep.  All three ingredients are potent anti-virals and can boost the body’s ability to fight off whatever is wrong!

Image by Smoobs


Headaches are common — and in the last couple months, my husband’s experienced a lot of them.  Hence, we’ve found a number of remedies.  These even work for migraines in some cases.  I recommend seeing a chiropractor and/or a naturopathic doctor for recurrent headaches.

Compress with oils — Get a wash cloth damp with hot or cold water (depending on the person’s preference) and put 2 – 3 drops clove or peppermint essential oil on it.  Wintergreen is another option (but not safe in children/pregnancy, and neither is clove).

*Stephanie’s note: I’ve experienced many headaches this pregnancy, and my midwife/naturopath has recommend the use of rosemary essential oil in a compress or carrier oil (rubbed on the temples) as a safe pregnancy alternative, as well as taking extra magnesium, either by tablet or through an epsom salt bath.**

Headache salve — Use this to massage affected areas, especially temples and neck.  It’s also good for any other sore muscles.

Arnica — Take 1 pellet of homeopathic arnica under the tongue every 10 – 15 min. until the headache subsides (good for tension headaches, but my husband tells me they work on his bad/migraine headaches too).

Heat — Use a heating pad, or a rice-filled sock.  Heat in the microwave if you still have one (I don’t and this is the only use that I miss having it for!), or in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes until hot.  Place on your neck or head or more sore area.

Water — Sometimes headaches are caused by dehydration.  Drink extra water or make homemade electrolyte drink (like Gatorade without the junk) to help.

Epsom salt bath — This can relax tense muscles and also give you extra magnesium if you need it.  Add 1 – 2 cups to a very hot bath.  If you can’t/don’t want to take a hot bath, run a small amount of hot water, dissolve the salts, then add cooler water until the bath is your desired temperature.

Lavender Oil — Use lavender oil for massage, or place a drop on your pillow before you sleep.

These are our go-to remedies for illnesses!  I hope you find something in there that can help you. :)  And as always, I’m not a doctor or other medical professional and when in doubt, contact someone who is.  These are home remedies that have worked well for us, that I’m passing along for informational purposes only.

What are your favorite herbal or natural remedies?

Top image by Tracy Hunter

About Kate Tietje

Kate is a work-at-home mom to (almost) 4 kids -- Bekah, age 4.5; Daniel, age 3; Jacob, 1; and baby #4, due mid-March 2013. She is married to Ben, a wonderfully supportive husband! She blogs at Modern Alternative Mama, where she writes about natural health, real food, parenting, and all things “green.” She also recently launched Modern Alternative Kitchen, a site about traditional cooking, and is about to launch Modern Alternative Pregnancy. In her “free” time, she enjoys sewing, crafting, cooking, and playing with her children. Follow her on Facebook!

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  1. do you know if the activated charcoal is safe while pregnant? i have caught 3 stomach bugs while pregnant and hate throwing up. i have heard about this working for a while now but haven’t tried it.

  2. I saw the comment about evening primrose oil not being safe in pregancy. Can you tell me why? My sisters midwife has her patients take it at the end of pregnancy.

  3. So far, we’ve dodged the pukes. Sore throats and coughs we’ve got plenty. But the pukes….as kids around ours have dropped like flies….we’ve been lucky for now. Thanks for the info on a natural approach!! :)

  4. Last April our little boy had a really bad stomach flu, we tried everything…nothing worked. Finally I read an article on old time treatments. One of them that I tried was the following….it worked wonders. It’s the only thing that kept us from ending up at the hospital due to dehydration. It’s also simple:) Rice water. Cook rice with extra water and let them slowly sip the extra water. This is the first thing he could keep down….even breast milk would make him throw up. We had to do rice water for a couple days before he could begin to keep breast milk, etc. down. I just kept the rice water on the stove on a simmer and would add more water as it was needed throughout the day.

  5. Love following your blog, have my own too, have you tried Mountain Rose Herbs for supplies? Get most of my herbs and ingreients there, in act Amazon puts me into their site a good share of te time. Keep it up, love learning from you

  6. Love following your blog, have my own too, have you tried Mountain Rose Herbs for supplies? Get most of my herbs and ingreients there, in act Amazon puts me into their site a good share of te time. Keep it up, love learning from you

  7. Jill – you can purchase epsom salts from walmart or a grocery store.

  8. Also, do you know if Evening Primrose Oil is available as an essential oil or just an oil? On Mt. Rose I can only find it as an oil. Is that going to be helpful or do I need it as an essential oil? Thanks!

  9. This was very helpful! Thank you. Also, where do you buy beeswax?

    • I think that any herbal store would have it, and some health food stores. I have bought it at a health food store in their “bulk herb” section before. I would recommend the little granules over a big block, because they are much easier to measure and melt.

  10. Where do you buy epsom salts?

    • Any drug store should have them, or even grocery stores. They’d be in the pharmacy area, near things like bandages, hydrogen peroxide, etc. Some are concerned about some sort of contamination and only buy “high quality” ones but I haven’t really looked into this issue too much, so I’m not sure. They cost 4 – 5 times as much so for me it’s not worth it right now.

  11. thank you for sharing! i’d like to make the cold/cough syrup, but how much would i need to take and how often? how much should i give my children (2 and 4)?


    • We usually take it right before going to sleep — night and sometimes naps. You could give it every 2 – 3 hours if the cold was really bad though. I usually give 1 tsp. to a child and 1 tbsp. to an adult. Since it’s all food-based, though, I don’t think you can really “overdose.”

  12. Stephanie,
    I love your blog and have been a follower for several years now. I recently decided to start posting on my blog again. My first post was yesterday on preparing for illness… thank you for the wonderful herbal remedies posted on your blog… I have shared them with others through mine. It’s great to see others living a life similar to mine. Keep up the great work!

  13. I’m wondering where I might purchase activated charcoal capsules. Thanks for the great info!


  1. […] The last few days the kids and I have gotten the stomach “flu” (or stomach bug). This isn’t actually the flu. Many confuse the influenza virus with the stomach virus/bug. I’m pretty sure we all had the actual flu in early January this year. I had an extremely high fever (as well as the kids) and laid on the couch for three days unable to do much more than drink water and stagger to the bathroom. This most recent virus has our digestive tract going haywire. This virus has me run down, weak, achy, headaches, nauseous, severe bloating and gas pains, vomiting and diarrhea. Thankfully the latter two I haven’t had much of, but the kids have had their fair share of both. So how do we, as moms, survive these horrible viruses when we’re down for the count with little ones to care for?  1. Stay Near the Bathroom. This might seem obvious and you’re probably reading this thinking “duh,” but sometimes we like to go where there’s something to keep us entertained (a TV, computer, etc) which are not always located near the bathroom. Our ONE bathroom is located upstairs. I decided to keep us all upstairs (locking the baby gate on the stairs so no one snuck downstairs) where I could lay in bed and supervise the kids from there allowing them access to the bathroom as needed. (Thankfully I do have my phone and laptop upstairs).2. Stay Hydrated: This is another one that we’ve all heard before. Drinking the RIGHT type of fluids is essential to healing and flushing out toxins helping our immune system fight off whatever bug we have. Water is always best (good filtered water), but if you think you might be getting dehydrated then be sure to drink something that will replenish your electrolytes and keep you hydrated. Try this recipe for Homemade “Gatorade” 3. Set a Drink Timer. Yes, a drink timer. This goes hand in hand with number two. Use a kitchen timer or your phone and try to have yourself and your children drink a few ounces of water every hour. It’s easy to forget to drink water yourself when you’re sick, especially to remember to check if your children are drinking when your sick as well. If your children are still young enough to use sippy cups this is a great way to avoid messes and keep water readily available. Make sure they take a few drinks every 30-60mins.4. Rest. Rest. Rest. As a mom, one of the hardest things while being sick is the to NOT do anything. We see things that need picked up, floors that need mopped, dishes that need washed, laundry piling up and the list goes on. But we really just need to do as little as possible.  Pay attention to your body signals. Do what you can but don’t push  yourself. Just making sure all the dirty dishes make it to the sink can make a world of difference and doesn’t take too much effort. If you start a task and get halfway through and your body starts screaming at you to lie back down….listen. Leave the job unfinished, rest, and come back to it later.5. Take a Time Out. Let’s face it, when we’re sick our kids can be really annoying. At least that’s how it appears when you’re not feeling well. Everything they do can grate on your nerves. If you feel yourself getting stressed and on the verge of losing your cool or overreacting; take a time out. Lock your bedroom door, send the kids to their rooms. And BREATHE. (With this particular bug for my kids it has come in waves. Once they rush to the bathroom and get “it” out of their system they’re fine for awhile. I’m glad they’re not sick the entire time but this leads to typical sibling rivalry and toddler defiance while they are feeling well that can drive a sick mama crazy!!)6. Group Hugs to Ease Stress. Provided that everyone has been infected and you’re not afraid of getting someone in the household sick…sit down on the couch or bed and just give your kids a hug. This could be right after your “Time Out.” When everyone’s not feeling well tensions can rise, kids can get the seemingly incurable “grouchies” and nobody wants to be around each other. Especially with younger children a hug can go a long way. It’s soothing, comforting, and let’s them know that just because Mommy needs some time to feel better doesn’t mean your love for them is any less. 7. Accept Help. Don’t refuse help from friends and family when it’s offered. A dear friend of mine dropped off hot, fresh homemade chicken noodle soup for our dinner this evening. It was PERFECT. I didn’t have to do anything. It was such a blessing to all of us. If you know of a mama who is sick with little ones a meal can bless them in a BIG way. Offer to bring them a meal. 8. Disinfect. Carry a natural disinfectant in a spray bottle and cloth around with you. When you get up to use the restroom. Spray it down. With natural disinfectants you don’t even have to wipe it down. When you travel from room to room spray the door handles, stair railings, baby gates, and anything that is touched a lot as you walk by. It takes little effort and goes a long way to make sure germs don’t linger and aren’t passed around. Try this recipe for Homemade Natural Disinfectant Spray. 9. Vitamins. When I’m sick I especially make sure to take my vitamins. I usually take a good quality multi-vitamin, vitamin C and zinc. I’m also starting to incorporate vitamin D into my diet since I found out I was deficient. Now how much depends on you and your body. Do some research and ask your doctor for the correct amounts. When I’m sick ( for my body) I take my multi-vitamin and three-four times a day take 2,000mg of vitamin C (I wouldn’t recommend take such high amounts if your dealing with diarrhea though) and 200mg of Zinc daily (while sick). Vitamin D levels can vary and it depends greatly on your body’s requirement. You will mostly likely need to have bloodwork to see how much your body needs to take. On a scale of 0-100 with anything below 30 being considered deficient, I was 19 and had to take 55,000IU once a week for 8 weeks. Now I’m taking 2,000IU daily (14,000IU weekly) and will be going soon to have follow up bloodwork done. 10. Sick Stations. Have sick stations set up by the couch or bed where ever the sick person is. Whenever I was growing up, my mom would set up a little table beside where I was laying so everything was within easy reach. Make sure there is a tissue box, little garbage can (so tissues and germs don’t end up laying around everywhere), a drink, bucket with a garbage bag laid out underneath (just in case someone doesn’t make it to the bathroom). Some Helpful Resources: Try Young Living’s Oil – Peppermint Oil for Upset Stomachhttp://wholenewmom.com/health-concerns/are-essential-oils-a-scam-peppermint-wintergreen-and-more/A lot of great natural remedies for stomach bugs. http://www.keeperofthehome.org/2011/12/favorite-winter-herbal-remedies-colds-and-coughs-stomach-viru… […]

  2. […] A great source for other herbal home remedies is over at Keeper of the Home. […]

  3. […] Of The Home :: Favorite Winter Herbal Remedies; Colds and Coughs, Stomach Viruses and Headaches.  A mommy’s list of herbal remedies for common […]

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  5. […] now…I have found a lot of it to be very useful. I hope some of you benifit from it as well. Favorite Winter Herbal Remedies: Colds and Coughs, Stomach Viruses, and Headaches | Keeper of the Ho… __________________ Shoot 'em right the first time & you don't have to worry about asking […]

  6. […] on eating a more traditional diet. I am no where near where she is, but I’ve come a long way!Favorite Winter Herbal Remedies: Colds and Coughs, Stomach Viruses, and Headaches — Keeper of the HomeWe choose not to use any form of over-the-counter or other pharmaceutical […]