For flu, this homeopathic remedy with a very long name may offer a little bit of relief, says Murray. In a review of studies published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Review, Oscillococcinum reduced the duration of influenza by one-fourth of a day but did not seem to prevent it. The manufacturer suggests that the first dose be taken at the onset of symptoms and two additional doses taken at six-hour intervals.
Designed to work like a vaccine, the homeopathic preparation Dolivaxil contains minute amounts of the flu viruses expected to be prevalent during the coming season; this stimulates the immune system to mount a defense against them, says Darren Krein, a spokesman for Dolisos America, the U.S. distributor. Dolivaxil is taken under the tongue once a week for four weeks; a fifth dose follows three weeks later.
Besides the viruses, the product includes only sucrose and lactose. "Homeopathic remedies will work well for some people," says Oberg. "They are generally safe, so it's certainly something people can try."
For flu, Blumenthal recommends taking two or three herbal baths a day. He prefers Olbas Herbal Bath, a mixture of wintergreen, peppermint, eucalyptus, juniper, and clove oils. Make the water as hot as you can stand, he says, and sit in it for 15 or 20 minutes. "The skin is the biggest organ of absorption," he says. "It's like you're sitting in an herbal tea."
Colds are defined by Chinese medicine as either hot or cold. A "cold cold" (sniffles, chills, scratchy throat) "makes you want a warm room, warm food, and warm clothing," says Efrem Korngold, co-author of Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine. "Hot colds" (fevers, headaches, swollen glands) make you want to spend the day in an ice bath.
To treat a cold cold, Korngold suggests this simple hot remedy: Steep grated whole ginger root and four chopped scallion bulbs in a quart of boiling water. Drink a cup of the hot tea, followed by a bowl of hot white rice. Then wrap yourself up from head to toe and get in bed. While you sleep, your clothing will absorb your perspiration, and you should feel better by morning.
Treating hot colds is not so simple. "Rather than eat or drink anything cold, take herbs that have a cooling effect," says Korngold. He recommends adding one heaping teaspoon each of dried peppermint, chrysanthemum, and honeysuckle flowers to a quart of boiling water. Cover and let steep until tepid. Drink a cup of this tea every two hours and keep your body at a comfortable room temperature.
For lingering cold colds, try Yin Chiao Chieh Tu Pien, which has forsythia buds, burdock seeds, and licorice root. Stomp out persistent hot colds by taking four tablets of Gan Mao Ling every four hours. It contains the potent antiviral and anti-inflammatory herb isatis, as well as peppermint and honeysuckle.
Defend yourself from future colds by sipping cups of hot water throughout the day. You can add a bit of licorice extract for flavor and for its harmonizing and detoxifying effects, Korngold notes.
The key to getting through cold and flu season is to stay healthy in the first place. Start with these basics:
Hit the sack. "Number one is to get enough sleep," says Jane Murray, M.D. "Viruses are around us all the time, and it's when our immune system is lax that they can take over."
Get fresh. "Eat the least amount of processed foods possible," Murray says. "The worse the diet, the worse your body's ability to repair and recover."
Stay near a sink. "Wash your hands before eating and after coming into contact with people who are sick," says Erica Oberg, N.D. While you're at it, keep your fingers off your face. "Don't rub your nose and eyes," says Murray. "We definitely transmit viruses from hands to mucous membranes."
Work it out. "Moderate exercise is a great strategy for preventing colds and flu," Oberg says. Stick to your regular routine. (If you do get sick, keep your contagions away from the gym, and don't work out at all if you have a fever.)
Get to the root. Ginseng may have antiviral properties. University of Milan researchers gave subjects 100 milligrams daily of ginseng or a placebo, followed a month later by a flu shot. The herb group had far more success avoiding the flu.