When you’re fighting a cold, it’s essential to load up on caffeine-free liquids that keep you hydrated. A smart choice is a cup of hot tea, as it can soothe a sore throat and break up congestion. Plus, it’s positively comforting to sip a hot beverage when you’re under the weather.
Research hasn’t yet established that any one tea can help clear up the common cold. However, plenty of evidence suggests that some herbal tea ingredients may ease respiratory infection symptoms. This article explores the research on several types of teas you may want to try as a home remedy for the common cold.
Drinking lemon tea, or squeezing lemon into another kind of herbal tea, is a home remedy that people have been using for decades. Despite its popularity, most of the evidence supporting the use of lemon tea for sore throats is anecdotal.
That said, lemons are a citrus fruit, meaning they contain vitamin C. Vitamin C is an important nutrient for your body when you’re fighting a cold or virus.
Elderberry is a dark purple berry native to Europe. Many people believe that elderberry extract can help you recover more quickly from infections like flu and the common cold. Some research does support this use of elderberry.
The most common form of elderberry, black elder, has been found to have antiviral and antimicrobial properties.
Echinacea is a popular herb that comes from a plant called the purple coneflower. There’s a lot of conflicting research about the effect of echinacea tea on colds. Some studies suggest that echinacea stimulates immune activity to shorten bacterial infections and viruses. Like green tea, echinacea is high in antioxidants.
A small study from 2000 indicated that drinking echinacea tea could reduce the duration of upper respiratory conditions as well as the flu.
Green tea is popular all over the world for its many purported health benefits. A review of the medical literature on green tea points out its high antioxidant content.
As far as green tea and colds, more research is needed. While green tea might give you an energy boost while your body is fighting a cold, we don’t know enough to say whether or not it will shorten your cold’s duration.
Herbal teas can be made out of dried fruits, spices, or herbs. Herbal teas are naturally decaffeinated, so they won’t dehydrate you. They often carry a sweet flavor and soothing scent. They taste especially good with a natural sweetener, like honey. Chamomile tea and peppermint tea have long been a favorite of people recovering from the common cold. Keep in mind that chamomile tea is not recommended if you’re pregnant.
Honey can help suppress a cough when you have the common cold. In fact, honey is now recommended as a cough suppressant treatment for children over the age of 1.
Stirring a bit of honey into your favorite herbal tea may loosen phlegm, soothe pain and soreness, and suppress a cough.
There are plenty of other home remedies you can try while you recover from a cold or a sore throat.
- Staying hydrated is essential for your health, even when you’re not fighting a cold. Aim for 8 to 10 glasses of water or other non-caffeinated fluids while you rest and recover from the common cold.
- Zinc supplements may work to reduce the amount of time you’re sick, especially if you can take them within 24 hours of your symptoms appearing.
Goldman R, et al. (2011). Treating cough and cold: Guidance for caregivers of children and youth. DOI: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23115499
- Over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, may help reduce headache, aching joints, and fever symptoms from a cold.
- Keep cough drops or throat lozenges handy. These help because they encourage your mouth to make saliva, which keeps your throat moist and eases soreness.
It can take some time for a cold to clear up. Most cold are caused by viruses, which means that there’s not much your doctor can offer you besides over-the-counter medication for symptom relief.
However, if your cold symptoms persist for more than 3 weeks, or if you notice your symptoms becoming more severe after 10 days, plan to see your doctor.
A cold that goes on for some time can be an indication of a bacterial infection that needs medical treatment.
Symptoms to look for include:
- pressure or pain around your forehead
- colored nasal discharge (brown, green, or blood-tinged)
- fever of 101 degrees or higher that persists for more than 24 hours
- sweating, shaking, or chills
- difficulty swallowing
- a deep, barking cough
- difficulty breathing
No scientific research points to one type of tea to drink when you have a cold. But in general, drinking herbal tea when you’re not feeling well is a good idea.
Staying hydrated with lots of decaffeinated drinks can help you recover. Just inhaling the steam from a warm beverage in your hand might help loosen congestion, and help you feel more rested.