by Schroeder K

images for herbs in beverages article When a cold strikes, many people think of antibiotics to treat it. However, antibiotics are not effective against colds because colds are caused by viruses, and antibiotics are designed to fight bacteria, not viruses. Unfortunately, this means you have to ride it out; however, there are still ways for you to relieve bothersome symptoms.

The evidence on natural therapies may still be inconclusive, but some of these natural therapies are being used by some to help minimize the misery of a cold.

Consider these examples:

Pelargonium sidoides

How Does It Work?

Pelargonium sidoides (EPs) is a plant that grows in South Africa. It is traditionally used in southern Africa for treating respiratory problems. The root of the plant is what is used for treatment.

How Could It Help?

Liquid herbal solutions containing EPs may be effective in treating the common cold and improving symptoms. EPs may also reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten the duration of the cold.

How Do I Use It?

A typical adult dose of EPs extract is 30 drops 3 times daily. However, follow the instructions on the label for proper dosage.


How Does It Work?

Zinc, in the form of zinc gluconate or zinc acetate, can be used to treat a cold. These forms of zinc release ions that directly inhibit viruses in the nose and throat.

How Could It Help?

Zinc may be effective in shortening the duration and severity of a cold, especially when taken within 24 hours of the start of the cold.

How Do I Use It?

Cold remedies that contain zinc are generally in the form of nasal sprays or throat lozenges. Dosage varies depending on the form and how it is taken. Zinc in these forms is well tolerated and safe when taken as directed. However, excess intake of zinc can cause serious problems. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about dosing and drug interactions.


How Does It Work?

While echinacea has been promoted as a substance which temporarily stimulates the immune system, this action has not been proven.

There are 3 main species of echinacea:

  • Echinacea purpurea
  • E. angustifolia
  • E. pallida

E. purpurea is the most widely used, but the other 2 are also available. It is not clear if any one type is better than the others.

How Could It Help?

Echinacea has been the subject of much study, but results have been mixed. It may shorten the duration and severity of colds, especially when taken in combination with other complementary therapies. Taking echinacea regularly will not prevent colds.

How Do I Use It?

Echinacea is usually taken at the first sign of a cold and continued for 7-14 days. The 3 main types of echinacea can be used interchangeably. Depending on the form, dosages are:

  • Echinacea powdered extract: 300 milligrams (mg), 3 times a day
  • Alcohol tincture (1:5): 3-4 milliliters (mL), 3 times daily
  • Echinacea juice: 2-3 mL, 3 times daily
  • Whole dried root: 1-2 grams (g), 3 times daily


How Does It Work?

Andrographis is a shrub found throughout India and other Asian countries. It is sometimes called Indian echinacea because it is believed to provide many of the same benefits. It is unclear how andrographis helps to prevent and treat colds, but it is thought to stimulate immunity.

How Could It Help?

Andrographis may reduce the symptoms of colds and prevent them as well.

How Do I Use It?

A typical dosage of andrographis is 400 mg, 3 times a day. Andrographis is usually standardized to its content of andrographolide, typically 4%-6%.

Vitamin C

How Does It Work?

Vitamin C is a nutrient of great controversy. While some experts believe megadoses of this vitamin can keep you healthy, others feel it is overhyped. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

How Could It Help?

Although many people reach for vitamin C when a cold hits, it does not appear to reduce a cold's duration or severity.

How Do I Use It?

Vitamin C is available as a single dietary supplement. There is as much controversy about recommended levels as there is about the true health benefits of this vitamin. The Upper Limit (UL) established by the Food and Nutrition Board is:

Age Upper Limit
1-3 years 400 mg
4-8 years 650 mg
9-13 years 1,200 mg
14-18 years 1,800 mg
19+ years 2,000 mg


How Does It Work?

Honey has traditionally been used to treat everything from infected wounds to constipation. Honey is made up of mainly sugars called fructose and glucose. Its sugar concentration is high enough to kill microorganisms.

How Could It Help?

Honey may reduce coughing, especially at night.

How Do I Use It?

Consider taking 1-5 tablespoons several times daily. However, infants younger than 12 months should not eat honey.

Safety of Complementary Therapies

Few of the substances discussed here are subject to regulation by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This lack of standardization means that actual dosages may differ from those given on the bottle or package. While widely used, few of these agents have been subjected to the kinds of official testing that the FDA requires for pharmaceuticals. If you take these substances, be sure to inform your doctor. Some complementary therapies may influence the effectiveness or safety of medical prescriptions taken at the same time.


American Herbal Products Association 

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health 


Canadian Institute of Natural and Integrative Medicine 

Public Health Agency of Canada 


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Echinacea. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: Updated August 2013. Accessed April 12, 2017.

Upper respiratory infection (URI) in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: . Updated April 10, 2017. Accessed April 12, 2017.

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Pelargonium sidoides. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: Updated August 2013. Accessed April 12, 2017.

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Vitamin C. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: Updated August 2013. Accessed April 12, 2017.

Zinc. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: Updated February 11, 2016. Accessed April 12, 2017.

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