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Do natural cold remedies work

MidWeek Musing: Do You Use Natural Home Remedies?

When it comes to dealing with sick kids, parents fall all along the spectrum from purely homeopathic to over-the-counter all the way.


Where do you stand on homeopathic cold or flu remedies? Any that your family swears by?

A few months ago our contributor Natalie shared a slew of her favorite naturopathic cold remedies and I was intrigued. As with a lot of things, I’m somewhat of a moderate when it comes to treating sick kids.  Mind you I’m not talking about serious illness here – for anything more than a cold I dutifully dole out the antibiotics.  But when it comes to the seasonal stuff, I’m not opposed to going a little more au naturel.

After all, I’m pretty weary of cough and cold medicine for young kids due to numerous reports of hazardous side effects.  So when S and C came down with fevers/runny noses/sore throats, I’d be much more likely to reach for the children’s ibuprofen and supplement with some comforting homemade popsicles or honey pops. But that’s about as “alternative” as I got.

Then, just before Natalie’s post, S got one of those colds she just couldn’t shake and our sitter suggested chopping up an onion and leaving it in her bedroom overnight (apparently a common practice in her homeland of Poland).  I figured it couldn’t hurt so we tried it and, though I’m afraid I might come off as a bit kooky, I have to say… it seemed to work.

I did a little research and this practice dates back to the influenza epidemic of 1918.  According to this eHow post:

…from anecdotal accounts shared in Good Housekeeping, peeled or chopped onions are thought to prevent the onset of a cold and relieve cold symptoms when left in a room. This is because they are high in antiviral sulphuric compounds, as indicated by the strong odor and flavor they release. Although controversial, it is thought that chopped onion placed on a plate in a patient’s room and replaced daily will both relieve symptoms and prevent the onset of colds in healthy individuals.

Of course it could have been a coincidence and S’s sickness may have just naturally run it’s course. But the kids thought it was super cool so we’ve kept it up, they even ask for “their onion” whenever they’re feeling under the weather now.  It seems that their colds don’t last as long once we start “the onion treatment” but who knows, could just be that pesky power of suggestion.

Question of the Day

Where do you stand on homeopathic cold or flu remedies? Any that your family swears by?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Natalie March 20, 2013 at 7:41 am

I love the onion trick! It has worked well, for us, too!


Sangeetha March 20, 2013 at 8:37 am

I (not we) swear by homemade remedies. My husband usually reaches for the cold medicine while I reach into my spice rack. Turmeric is great for a cough. Mix it with a spoon of honey or mix with milk and the cough is gone. Pepper and coriander seeds work the same way. Chestal (homeopathic medicine) also works wonders for a tough cough. I make my own concotion of a cough syrup using turmeric, pepper, ginger, corander seeds, ajwain and honey. I mix it with son’s oatmeal for cough and cold relief. Since these are spices we use everyday in our Indian cooking, even if they do not work I know that they cannot harm my child.


mpmk March 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm

I know lots of couples where one parent swings more homeopathic while the other is all about the meds… I’ve never heard of Turmeric for a cough, thanks for the tip.


Sangeetha March 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Ideally it will be great if turmeric and honey were taken as is but my child hates honey! So I have to disguise it on something. Turmeric has great medicinal properties. You can find some if its uses here:
They might all not be true. But atleast it is not harmful since South Asians use to for cooking almost everyday for millions of years.


Wanda Mae March 20, 2013 at 8:56 am

Love! Thanks for posting.
I have a few tricks up my sleeve for the sicks around here:
-vapor rub on the feet with socks over it (no one wants vapor rub covered sheets, am I right?). When I found this out, I was shocked. Who would’ve thought? But it works! It works for us; it works for friends who ask….it’s awesome. It stops the coughing within minutes; amazing for bedtime. Okay, so it’s not exactly “homeopathic” but it’s far more effective than wasting money on children’s liquid (or not) pain meds that don’t help with any actual symptoms just numbing the pain temporarily until real rest can cure it.
-HONEY! In tea, in orange juice, by itself. Get that honey!
-And there is what’s called “brown medicine” ’round these parts. Recipe: 1/4 tsp cayenne, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, 1TB apple cider vinegar, 1 TB honey, and 2TB water. Shake well. I make my kids take 1 tsp at least three times a day and then one before bed. They can chase it with their preferred drink which is usually peppermint tea (we stock UP on this during the icky season) or the honey OJ. It’s as gross looking as it is tasting, but it works!

The onion trick intrigues me. I’m going to have to try it! Thanks for sharing.


mpmk March 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm

I love that vapor rub under that socks trick! Thanks for the reminder :)


Gina March 20, 2013 at 9:04 am

Both of my kids have colds right now so I am going to try the onion trick! Everything I have heard says kids cant have OTC meds anyway so we usually treat colds with liquids, honey and humidifiers –

As an aside, I read once that fevers that are not treated usually end faster than those that are and it was true with my kids! This winter my DD had a fever for 6 days! She was getting Motrin around the clock. Then DS got sick and since he is older I asked if he wanted medicine – he said no. He wasnt deathly ill so I agreed with his choice. His fever was gone in 2 days! Maybe it was a coincidence but maybe not! The article was saying that by reducing a fever with meds the antibodies arent fighting as hard but when you have a high fever without meds it is able to fight the fever quicker. Interesting!


Cris March 21, 2013 at 6:25 pm

I agree with you about the fever issue. My daughter is 3.5 years old and I have given her medicine for it just twice in her life and the reason was a husband insisting too much. I do believe that fever is a natural way the body has to fight against an illness. In my personal experience, fever has lasted for no more than 1 or 2 days. I use homeopathy, but also natural remedies such as applying a cold piece of cloth on my daughter’s forehead and low belly.
I have also used the onion remedy many times and it does work.


Sarai March 20, 2013 at 10:05 am

Even JAMA recognizes how awesome honey is for a cough! http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=571638#.URu4Hp6B8Ig.facebook

Curious about the onion- I’m going to look into this. I’m intrigued. I wouldn’t be surprised though!


Melissa March 20, 2013 at 10:29 am

Do their rooms stink like you opened a whole tub of onion Doritos in the morning? Cause when I tried the onion trick it stunk like that so bad half way through the night I had to throw the onion out because it was making me feel even more sick.


mpmk March 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Yes – it does get smelly. But not so bad that the kids can’t stand it – I wonder if it depends on the type of onion?


Julie R March 20, 2013 at 11:04 am

I’m convinced homemade remedies work – plants and herbs were created for our use. They do many things than just smell nice! We take echinacea in fresh orange juice almost every day (my kids too) to help with immune systems, chamomile drops at night to help one daughter calm down (she has trouble falling asleep), and elderberry or old indian cherry bark syrups for coughs. I’ll have to try the onion trick!

One other thing that has worked wonders is garlic olive oil for earaches: heat up a few tsp. olive oil, mince a couple garlic cloves and fry/cook in the olive oil until they’re brown. Turn off heat and let the oil cool. Strain the garlic bits out or just suck up the oil in a dropper. A couple drops in my daughters ear calmed her down within 15 minutes…half an hour later she was ASLEEP and we heard not a peep from her for the rest of the night! She went from uncontrollable crying and pain while holding her ear to sleeping peacefully within an hour. Absolutely amazing. The garlic makes your kitchen stink a bit during the night, but who cares if you’re able to SLEEP??


mpmk March 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Hi Julie,

Thanks so much for sharing. As a former audiologist (hearing doc) I do need to caution everyone to be very careful about putting anything into a child’s ear. While I have indeed heard anecdotal reports of the soothing effects of oil – it could cause serious problems on the off chance that there’s a small perforation in the eardrum. Just my 2 cents :).


Briana March 20, 2013 at 11:58 pm

In doing your research for this article, did you happen to run into any information that purported this onion theory to be a myth? http://www.snopes.com/medical/swineflu/onion.asp


mpmk March 21, 2013 at 1:02 am

Of course I did – hence the tone of the post :)


Mar March 21, 2013 at 5:17 am

God save the onion!!! I can really say that Onion save my life last year… it was my 2 years toddler first year at school and my baby boy was only 2 months… Cough and flu were a constant during the whole year and my children start to sleep once I tried the onion trick… my house was smelly the whole winter, but it definitely worths 😉 I wrote about my experience with the onion here:
http://www.bebestilo.com/2013/02/el-truco-de-la-cebolla-para-la-tos-nocturna-de-los-ninos/ I am afraid it’s in Spanish only :(

I didn’t know about the honey pops but definitely I will try it! Many thanks for sharing it!



julia [life on churchill] March 21, 2013 at 4:29 pm

I’m on the more traditional side. Though I have friends on both ends of the spectrum. I don’t rush to the doctor at the sign of a cold/virus/ect. But in the case of a lingering cough (we have a lot of asthma in the family) or ear ache I definitely get my kids checked out. I have one on ear infection meds right now :)


Erin Luksay March 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm

I love the homeopathic remedies! In our house I’m the only one to ever administer any medications to the kids. I have a 3 1/2 year old daughter who has never had a stomach flu and very few colds and my 1 1/2 year old the same thing. Both kids have had o dose of Tylenol once or twice and they have defiantly had their share of fevers. Neither of them reacted what I considered well to the Advil or Tylenol, they seem dopey and drowsy. With the homeopathics they just seem better so it makes me feel much more comfortable. It’s nice to know most homeopathics can be given as well as Tylenol or Advil so if you aren’t comfortable using them you keep the other stuff on hand. For colds with runny noses I always start with Corzalia and after a day of that they seem to be all better every time I definitely give more than what is recommended on the box as per our naturalpathic dr.
Fevers in young children first thing always get that diaper off ASAP and a loose cotton shirt so they aren’t cold but nothing is trapping heat, the fever is natures way of getting the bad stuff out so let it run it’s course. I figure if even just the power of suggestion worked well then it worked and I bet you felt great the next day to have tried something and gotten success so if it won’t hurt than do it right. Of my daughter even feels run down she asks for oranges or a yummy orange lemon ginger and some dandilion greens smoothie haha she has no idea what’s in it but to her it tastes good and keeps her sick bugs away so she can play. I’m allergic to garlic but everyone I know swears it can keep everything away. Years ago when I was looking to find something similar to garlic I found an Indian spice that is still used in India to cute colds. It has a terrible smell but when it’s cooked in food it looses it’s string odour, here it’s called devils dung, hence the foul smell so give it a try next time if you dare.


Erin Luksay March 24, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Ok after reading some of the other posts I’m going to add to my already extremely long post. We’ve never had a persistent fever, or ear infection. My kids have never had antibiotic or any other prescription medication. I cleared up my daughters thrush with colloidal silver. Could be just luck or could be healthy diets who knows.


Dorkusbalorkus April 5, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Darn. Lost me with post.


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