Kitchen Remedy for the Common Cold



When people begin to feel as if they are getting a cold, they often wish that there was something they can do to stop the illness from taking hold.  Often they just resign themselves to the fact that they are “going to be sick” and just hope for the best.  However, if one was to utilize the principles of traditional Chinese medicine with some easily obtained and possibly on hand vegetables and herbs, one stands a much better chance of stopping that cold in its tracks.  By using the idea of a common cold as a wind cold invasion, and the corresponding treatment principle of releasing the surface and warming the body, a quick and easy remedy can be obtained.  To better understand this idea some background information on Chinese medical theory is necessary.

In traditional Chinese medicine the common cold is often referred to as “wind cold”.  The idea is that Wind, one of the six external pathogenic factors, has attacked the body while accompanied by pathogenic Cold. If the person’s wei qi, i.e. their immune system, is not strong enough, the pathogens can invade the surface of the body and become stuck between the skin and muscle layers, a place called “cou li”.  The result is body aches, alternating fever and chills, headaches, cough, runny nose, and sore or itchy throat, often accompanied by a floating or superficial pulse.  The traditional treatment principle for a wind cold invasion is to induce diaphoresis, or sweating, and is often referred to as releasing the surface.  Because the pathogens are thought to be stuck on the surface of the body, by sweating, the pathogen is driven out, and the person can get better. Warming the body also serves to help drive out the Cold.  By utilizing common vegetables and herbs found in most kitchens that have diaphoretic and warming properties, an effective cold remedy can be created.

As stated above, our remedy should consist of warm and diaphoretic vegetables and herbs.  Some common vegetables that fit these are scallions and onions.  Scallions are considered hot and pungent, while onions are warm and pungent.  Pungency refers to the taste of a vegetable or herb in Chinese herbal medicine and is often used to induce sweating.  Scallions are particularly good for a wind cold as they expel external pathogens such as wind and cold as well as have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.  Some commonly found herbs that have pungent qualities are fresh ginger root, garlic, black pepper, basil and cayenne pepper.  Fresh ginger root is warm and pungent, it expels wind cold, induces sweating and stops nausea & vomiting by calming the spleen and stomach.  Garlic is hot and pungent and has anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities.  Black pepper is hot and pungent, it warms the spleen and stomach and dispels internal cold.  Basil is warm and pungent and can induce sweating.  Cayenne Pepper is hot and pungent and is able to warm the body while promoting sweat.  In addition to herbs and vegetables, brown sugar can also be effective for a common cold.  Brown sugar is warm and sweet, it lubricates the lungs and stops cough, warms the body and can strengthen digestion.  Now that we have our warming and pungent herbs, we can combine them into an effective cold remedy.

Chinese herbal medicine is often administered in a tang or soup, which consists of a hot water decoction of herbs into a medicinal drink.  The same principle can be used to make our cold remedy.  Chop up a whole peeled onion and four to five scallions and place them in a medium sauce pan.  Fill the pan with water until the vegetables are just covered.  Add in four to five pieces of sliced fresh ginger root including the peel, three to four cloves of chopped garlic, a sprig of chopped fresh basil, a half a table spoon each of black pepper and cayenne pepper.  Add a teaspoon of brown sugar and stir the ingredients together.  Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for fifteen minutes, adding more water if necessary.  It is important not to overcook the soup as the pungent nature of the herbs can be easily lost if cooked too long.  After fifteen minutes the liquid can be strained into two glasses or mason jars.  The herbs and vegetables can be eaten or discarded.  Once the liquid is at a drinkable but still warm to hot temperature, the first glass should be drunk. After this a hot shower or dry sauna should be utilized to start the sweating process.  After showering or using the sauna, the person should quickly put on warm clothes and drink the second warm dose.   They should then get into bed and cover up with and extra blanket and attempt to sleep.  The warm and pungent herbs and vegetables combined with a hot body temperature and warm environment will force the body to sweat and push out the wind and cold.  In addition the person should eat as little as possible, optimally a small amount of rice porridge, so as not to overtax the digestive system.

It should be noted that the above remedy should only be used to treat a wind cold invasion, which is often the first part of a common cold.  Often if left untreated, a wind cold can turn into wind heat, which often includes a stronger fever, painful throat, irritability, louder cough, dark urine and a floating and rapid pulse, possibly with a yellow tongue coating.  If a person has already progressed to the wind heat stage, cooling and pungent foods and herbs will have to be used such as mint, cilantro, dandelion, apples, pears, as well as burdock root, bitter melon, and chrysanthemum flowers, which may not be found as commonly in most kitchens but are widely available in domestic Asian supermarkets.

By utilizing the principles of traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese herbal medicine theory it is possible to create an effective home remedy with commonly found vegetables and herbs for the beginning stages of the common cold.  By quickly taking charge and acting to preserve one’s health, a common cold can be stopped in its tracks and sickness prevented.  This is the ultimate goal of traditional Chinese medicine, prevention.  It is much easier to prevent a cold than it is to recover from one.  By keeping the above ideas and items in our minds and our kitchens we can prevent sickness the next time it tries to come into our lives.


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Christopher Shiflett L.Ac  M.S. TCM, Dipl. O.M. (NCCAOM)

Christopher Shiflett L.Ac M.S. TCM, Dipl. O.M. (NCCAOM)

Founder & Clinic Director

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