9 Frugal Ways to Treat the Common Cold


It's winter again, and the common cold will be very, well, common. Fortunately, frugal ways to treat the common cold are readily available so you don't have to spend a fortune on doctor visits and over-the-counter medication.

Many frugal cold remedies are healthier than cold medicines that only cover up symptoms instead of actually curing your cold. Plus, many cold medications have unwelcome side effects, and they're rarely inexpensive.

The next time a cold lays you low, try one or more of these nine frugal remedies to put you back on your feet again. (See also: 25 Ways to Feel Better Fast)

1. Steam

Steam can ease sore throats and clear nasal congestion. Indoor heating systems frequently make indoor air too dry, which is probably a factor in spreading winter colds. Put a humidifier in your bedroom overnight or living room during the day. Or, if you don't want to spend money on a humidifier, sit in the bathroom with the door closed while running a hot shower or stand over a pot of boiling water.

2. Saline Nasal Drops and Sprays

Frequent drops or sprays of saline solution in the nose can help encourage decongestion. Saline drops are cheap and available over the counter, and they're different from medicated nasal drops or sprays, which can prompt cold symptoms to worsen if used more than several days. You can also make your own saline solution with a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of baking soda in a pint of warm water, and apply it with a child-size medicine dropper.

3. Salt Water Gargle

Gargle with a quarter- to half-a-teaspoon of salt dissolved in an eight-ounce glass of warm water. Gargle for several seconds, then spit it out. It can soothe sore throats by drawing out excess fluid from inflamed tissue and loosening mucus. If you disdain salt water, you can gargle with warm water spiked with lemon and honey instead.

4. Rest

And plenty of it. Resting helps restore your energy and strengthens your body's immune defenses, helping avoid complications like bronchitis and pneumonia.

5. Drinking Liquids

Drinking water, juice, clear broth, or warm lemon water with honey helps loosen mucus and aids your immune defenses. Warm liquids, like broth or herbal teas, help soothe sore throats and loosen mucus, which eases congestion. Natural herbs can be added to hot water for teas.

6. Chicken Soup

Your grandmother was right. Chicken soup is easily digestible, and its warmth can help loosen mucus and relieve sore throats. It speeds up movement of mucus, possibly helps relieve congestion, and helps reduce inflammation.

7. Vitamin C

Many people swear by vitamin C, although scientific evidence has yet to prove that it cures colds; it's more likely that it can help you avoid catching colds. But if it works for you, placebo effect or not, reasonable doses won't hurt.

8. Healthy Diet

Fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants and vitamins A and C, such as sweet potatoes, spinach, and broccoli for vitamin A; and oranges, kiwi, and tomatoes for vitamin C, help improve your immune system, although a year-round healthy diet is best before you catch a cold. Avoid caffeine and sugar.

9. Herbs

Elder (also called elderberry), eucalyptus, goldenseal, licorice, and marshmallow are some of the many plants used to treat colds, coughs, and sore throats. You can find these herbs in your local market or health food store; teas made from these herbs are also widely available. If you live in the right area you might be able to grow these herbs in your backyard or find them around your neighborhood.

Cold sufferers should research which herbs to use, as the list of possible herbal treatments is quite long, and the best options vary by person, symptom, and stage of the cold. Keep in mind that scientific evidence on their effectiveness is inconclusive, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and people with health conditions should talk to a doctor before using herbal remedies.

The best way to fight colds may be to avoid them in the first place. You've probably heard about eating right, exercising, and washing your hands especially after being out of the house and touching doorknobs, shopping cart handles, and shaking hands at parties. You might not have heard that reducing stress through yoga, tai chi, or meditation can also help reduce chances of catching colds, too.

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Guest's picture

I didn't know marshmallow was a plant. Is that for real, or was this auto-corrected?

Amy Lu's picture
Amy Lu

That's a great question, Cathie! Marshmallow is indeed an herb, a.k.a Althaea officinalis. It's what the fluffy marshmallow candy was originally made with.

Guest's picture

Steam works best for me. I invested in a humidifier and it was paid me back more times than I can count. I love the power of steam!

Guest's picture

I've had success using a spoonful of honey for quelling a throat-ticking cough. Tastes a lot better than cough syrup, too!

Guest's picture

These are great ideas. I hate taking over the counter medicines because they don't agree well with my stomach. I'm always trying to find ways to feel better without having to resort to pills.

I find a healthy diet works best. Not only does it keep you from getting sick in the first place, if you do get sick it is much less severe.

Guest's picture

Blowing up ballons is great if it's a respiratory issue like a cough.