Reconsider OTC Cold Meds….Better Results with Safer Natural Alternatives

Every year, billions of dollars are spent on various over-the-counter (OTC) medications designed to suppress cold and flu symptoms. But since the symptoms actually represent your body’s efforts to eliminate the virus, the conventional remedies that try to suppress the fever, runny nose, sneezing and coughing may not be the best way to go. Antibiotics are of even less use because they fight bacteria, not viruses, and if prescribed incorrectly can cause serious resistance issues.

There are more than 100,000 over-the-counter drugs that you can buy without a prescription and they all have one thing in common: they are serious medicines that shouldn’t be taken lightly. OTC medicines and cough syrups are made with harsh ingredients like Phenylpropanolamine (PPA), Dextromethorphan or Codeine, which can put some people at increased risk for significant –and sometimes serious– drug interactions with other OTC medications –never mind the usual unpleasant side effects like drowsiness or brain fog. This is especially true for people with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure, as well as the elderly and small children.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has documented the ineffectiveness and potential toxicities of OTC cough and cold medicines in children, and the FDA issued an advisory to remove Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) –a common constituent of OTC decongestants– from those products because of concern for increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke. In addition to side effects of the various ingredients, OTC cough and cold preparations also present potential hazards due to dosing errors. And there are environmental consequences that come with throwing those old expired medications (both prescription and OTC) down the drain or flushing them down the toilet.

Think Twice!

When we’re sick, the first thing we want is to feel better. It can be easy to be influenced into thinking that the only sure way of dealing with a common ailment is to take OTC medication. Next time you’re weak and weary and  tempted to reach for the Nyquil, try an herbal, homeopathic, or essential oil-based natural remedy instead. These can be remarkably effective at addressing a wide range of symptoms associated with colds and flu and  run-of-the-mill aches and pains without the added burden on your liver and kidneys that comes with over-use of OTC medications, or the risk of increased blood pressure from cough and cold medicines. They allow your body to do what it needs to do while helping you to feel a bit better. And because they are gentle, they can often be combined for maximum results.

To treat upper respiratory or bronchial ailments, herbal teas, tinctures or cough syrups containing Elderberry, Nettles, Mullein, Licorice Root, Wild Oregano, Osha Root, and immune system boosters like Olive Leaf, Astragalus, Garlic, Goldenseal, Echinacea, Vitamin C and Zinc are a great place to start.

For a sore throat try Slippery Elm and/or Zinc lozenges or a drop of Wild Oregano essential oil in a spoonful of honey added to a cup of Sage or Elderberry tea. You can make your own sore throat gargle with a cup of Sage or Chamomile tea, a tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar, and a spoonful of honey with a drop of Geranium essential oil. This mixture is even more powerful if you infuse the honey with sage before adding the essential oil.

Breathe Easier

For fast relief of congestion whether due to colds and flu or seasonal allergies, reach for an essential oil remedy like our Breathe Easy Smelling Salts  that includes Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Menthol (mint) among other essential oils that open nasal passages and improve breathing.

Another option is to add a 1-2 drops each of Eucalyptus, Rosemary and Peppermint essential oils to a cup of Epsom Salt, stir or mix it by hand, and add it to a hot bath. This will help relieve congestion and soothe joint and muscle aches and pains commonly associated with colds and flu, while flushing out toxins that contribute to the exaggeration of these symptoms. You may also use these oils as an inhalation steam by putting a drop or two in a bowl of hot water.

If you’re badly congested, place a drop of Peppermint essential oil onto a teaspoon of honey then place onto your tongue and hold it in your mouth, pushing it up against the roof of your mouth before swallowing –that should clear things up fast!

Many of us grew up using Vicks Vapo Rub for relief from congestion due to colds and flu. Maybe most of our good feelings come from the attention and love we received while having our chests and throats rubbed with the essential oil infused ointment, but here is a recipe you can use to create your own petroleum-free version of an equally effective decongestant chest rub:

  • Natural Vapor Chest Balm Recipe (2 oz jar)
  • Ingredients:
  • 20 Grams of Organic Olive Oil (or Safflower or Jojoba oil)
  • 16 Grams of Unrefined Raw Shea Butter
  • 12 Grams of Castor Oil
  • 8 Grams of Beeswax (grated)
  • 2 ML (approx 50 drops) equal combination of Eucalyptus, Cedarwood Atlas, Rosemary and Lavender Essential Oils. Optional: add a couple drops of peppermint for a bit of tingle & zip!
  • Supplies:
  • Kitchen scale with Tare function
  • Cheese grater
  • A Pyrex measuring cup (16 oz size recommended)
  • Small pot
  • Stirrer (chopsticks work great for this)
  • Candy thermometer


  1. Place measuring cup on kitchen scale and turn it on. If the scale is not set to measure in grams then switch it to grams.
  2. Pour and measure first ingredient then press Tare function to re-set scale to zero then repeat for each ingredient except essential oil blend which will be added to the mixture after it is heated.Use the cheese grater to grate the beeswax, which is usually purchased in 1LB blocks (when done, you can heat the grater over the stove and wipe it clean with a paper towel).
  3. Place the Pyrex cup in a small pot with a enough water to create a bath for the ingredients. Turn on the stove and set burner to low/medium heat. Place the thermometer inside the Pyrex cup (make sure it is clean) and stir occasionally.
  4. When the mixture has reached 160 F degrees (the melting point for beeswax), remove the Pyrex cup from the pot (use a pot holder or towel to avoid burning yourself) and place on a trivet. Watch the thermometer and let mixture cool to about 125 F degrees then add essential oil blend and stir for a minute or so. Let it cool (you can place it in your refrigerator to speed up the process but small quantities usually set and harden very quickly at room temperature).
  5. Seal the jar and keep in a cool, dark place when not in use. You can make a larger quantity by doubling the recipe but allow more time for the wax to melt and the mixture to cool down.

Here is some more information about  the natural remedies that serve us well:     

Eucalyptus oil is extracted by a distillation method from the leaves and twigs of the plant. This oil acts as an analgesic, antiseptic, antiviral, decongestant, and so much more. Eucalyptus oil is toxic to bacteria that cause colds and sinus conditions. Eucalyptus is a exhilarating, clarifying oil that rejuvenates and refreshes the body and mind. It can help weakness, headaches and fatigue. The fragrance is woody, sweet and pungent at the same time. Eucalyptus Blue Gum is probably the scent most of you are familiar with, but there are many others too.

Peppermint is a perennial herb that comes in either white or black. It is a very good analgesic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and more.  It is also refreshing and rejuvenating and smells great when you use it for steam inhalation.

Rosemary is an herbaceous oil that is analgesic, antiseptic, stimulant, antimicrobial and more. These are just three of the essential oils that can be used for steaming and they are my favorites.

Wild Oregano possesses superior antimicrobial powers, capable of bringing fast relief from cold and flu symptoms (runny nose, congestion, chills, sore throat, ear aches, cough, fever, fatigue, stuffiness and muscle aches) because it is able to kill the virus which is their cause. Oregano oil has incredible antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal effects. Studies show it also has unrivaled antiseptic (pain-killing) qualities. Many studies have shown that oregano oil can improve the symptoms and shorten the duration of the common cold and flu. Plus, as discussed in Dr. Cass Ingram’s The Cure is in the Cupboard: How to Use Oregano for Better Health, oregano oil has been proven effective against a variety of microorganisms. The best part is that oregano oil is completely non-toxic and does not cause any side effects.

The Olive Leaf has the distinction of being one of the few medicinal plants mentioned in the Bible. Studies show that Olive Leaf extract is a potent antimicrobial that has inhibited the growth of every human pathogen it has been tested against, including viruses, bacteria, protozoa, fungi and yeast.

Echinacea has a rich tradition of use by North American Indians who used it medicinally more than any other plant. Echinacea stimulates the overall activity of the cells responsible for fighting all kinds of infection. In other words, it makes our own immune cells more efficient in attacking bacteria, viruses and abnormal cells; including cancer cells.

Today millions of Europeans use Echinacea as their primary therapy for colds, flu, infections, and for general immune-boosting effects. The main uses of Echinacea include: colds, coughs and flu and other upper respiratory conditions, enlarged lymph glands and sore throat.

Golden Seal has been used for centuries in herbal medicine. Golden Seal has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It soothes irritated mucus membranes, aiding the eyes, ears, nose and throat. Taken at the first signs of respiratory problems, Golden Seal may help prevent further symptoms from developing. It may be used to help reduce fevers and relive congestion and excess mucous.

Garlic (Allium sativum) has been used since the days of the Egyptians to treat wounds, infections, tumors, and intestinal parasites. Modern scientific research confirms the benefits of these and other ancient uses for garlic.

The Allicin in Garlic is responsible for many of its healing properties. It stimulates the immune system, increasing the activity of white blood cells that fight foreign organisms, such as viruses, bacteria, and yeast. Garlic is particularly effective in treating upper respiratory viral infections due to its immune-enhancing properties and its ability to clear mucous from the lungs.

Astragalus is a Chinese herb that has traditionally been used to strengthen the Wei Ch’i, or immune system. It is regarded as a potent tonic for increasing energy levels and stimulating the immune function. It has been proven effective in cases of colds, flu and even cancer. American Cancer Society reported that it restored immune functions in 90% of the cancer patients studied. It improves the white cell function and general resistance to infection.

The effect of the mineral Zinc on the immune system is well known. According to medical studies, it can reduce the average duration of colds by 7 days and decrease the severity of all cold symptoms to virtually nonexistent after the third day!

Vitamin C is well known for its ability to fight viruses and bacteria by stimulating the white cells, which are the “soldiers” of the immune system. Vitamin may be the most important antioxidant when it comes to immune system function. It works well with other immune activators and does not cause any side effects.
Of course, the best remedy for the common cold or flu is to get as much rest as possible and eat as lightly as possible to divert as much energy from digestion to healing.  Be sure to have plenty of Chamomile tea and some Lavender and/or jasmine essential oil to help you get a good night’s rest.

Here’s to being and treating ourselves well!

Stay Well,


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