Using Ayurvedic medicine to fight the common cold and flu

Since ancient times people have had to deal with runny and stuffy noses, coughs, body aches, chills, and all the other unpleasantness that accompanies being bitten by a winter bug. While there is no cure for the common cold, there are ways to make the symptoms a little more manageable and many of them are based on traditional home remedies. Ayurvedic medicine is one of the oldest traditional medicines in the world. It originated in India more than 3,000 years ago and continues to be used around the world today. This system could be seen as an operating manual for the interconnected body, mind, and spirit. Herbal compounds, special diets, exercises, and lifestyle practices unite to create an alternative or complement to mainstream medical care.

Ancient Ayurvedic texts: The Great Trilogy

The word “Ayurveda” may be translated from Sanskrit as “the science/knowledge of life.” Many Ayurvedic practices predate written records and were passed down orally from master to student. The earliest written records of Ayurvedic medicine can be found in the sacred historical texts known as the Vedas. The original texts of Ayurvedic medicine, however, are thought to be the Charaka Samhita and the Sushruta Samhita, both of which are believed by some to date as far back as the 11th century BC. Another important text for our current understanding of Ayurvedic medicine is the Ashtangi Hridaya. Together, these three ancient texts are known as the Brhattrayi or “Great Triad/Trilogy,” and it is from them that the basic principles and theories of modern Ayurvedic medicine are derived. Even today, the majority of India’s population continues to practice some aspects of Ayurvedic medicine, usually in conjunction with Western medicine. Several studies have been conducted over the years on the effectiveness of various Ayurvedic treatments and some of the results have been very promising and positive.

Ayurvedic practitioners say that every person has their own prakriti (constitution), which is comprised of a specific balance of the three doshas (vital energies): vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (water). When there is an imbalance between the doshas, psychological or physiological illnesses may occur. Colds, mucus, and congestion are often linked with an unbalanced kapha, so Ayurvedic medicine suggests an increase in pitta through the consumption of “hot” foods such as ginger.

Ginger, honey, eucalyptus and the use of nasal irrigation have all seen some support by scientific studies. Here are three simple Ayurvedic recipes for remedies that have been used over the centuries to help manage common cold symptoms such as a stuffy or runny nose, headache, sore throat, chest congestion, body pain, fatigue, and more.

Ginger, lemon, and honey tea to soothe a sore throat and suppress dry coughs

These three ingredients are popular for treating the symptoms of a cold, flu, or sinus infection. Ginger is a pungent flavor and increases “heat” in the body (increasing the circulation of blood and breath). It is also an antiviral, anti-inflammatory, an aid for digestion, and is effective against the human respiratory syncytial virus. Ginger will help beat the chills and also soothe an upset stomach.

Honey is an antibacterial, antioxidant, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral substance. It soothes a sore throat, is a natural expectorant and, along with lemon, it thins mucus and decongests.

Lemon is also an antiseptic, aids digestion, and is a source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, and bioflavonoids. Combined, these ingredients make a powerful bug-busting, yet soothing on the throat, hot drink that people have been using throughout the ages to take away aches, pains, indigestion, and even help breathe a little better.

Honey should not be consumed by children under 12 months old. Ayurvedic physicians also recommend avoiding ginger if you take any anticoagulant medications such as aspirin because they’re both blood thinners. Please remember that a productive cough (one producing mucus) should not be suppressed.


  • ¼ inch fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp honey
  • ¼ lemon
  • 1 cup water


Put the water in a pot and turn the stove on high heat, but do not let the water to be heated more than 40°C. Cut a slice of ginger and peel off the skin. Cut it into small pieces. When the water arrive at 40°C, turn off the stove and add the ginger. Allow the ginger to steep in the covered pot for 10-15 minutes. Strain the ginger from the water (or you can leave it in for a stronger tea or if you like to eat ginger) and pour the water into a mug. Add the honey and squeeze in the lemon juice. You can drink this tea a few times a day, if you like.

A saline solution for nasal decongestion and cleansing

Neti pots have been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to flush out the nasal cavity, loosen mucus, and remove toxins from the body. Some say rinsing the nasal cavity with a saline solution can even help prevent colds by flushing the rhinoviruses out of the nostrils. People also commonly use nasal irrigation to stop allergy symptoms.

To use your saline nasal irrigation solution, you’ll need a medical bulb syringe, squeeze bottle, or nasal cleansing pot (such as a Neti Pot) as well as some tissues and a sink. The sensation of pouring water through your nasal passages may feel strange at first, but after a couple of tries, you’ll get used to it. To adjust the salty concentration of the solution, just taste it – the salty taste should be as convenient as that of a normal soup. Like that, your nasal mucosa will not be affected by a too high or too low salt concentration. If the solution is too high or too low in salt, it will give sensations of stings or burns at the contact with nasal mucosa. Sometimes the solution flows freely, other times it may be delayed, so be patient. Be sure to use spring water or distilled and sterile water, or boiled and cooled water, to help prevent infection. Water needs to have the temperature near body’s temperature, not too hot, not too cold. Just taste it. A body temperature solution is best since it’s going up and out your nose!

Note: Do not use nasal irrigation if you have an ear infection or a nostril that’s so plugged it’s difficult to breathe through.


  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp Non-iodized Salt (such as rock salt or sea salt)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp Baking Soda (if desired)


Put the warm water in your chosen recipient (bottle, Nettle Pot, or syringe).

Dissolve the salt in the water. Check the water temperature and the salt concentration, as described above, to be comfortable.

Take the mixture with you to a sink and lean over it. Tilt your head to one side at a 45-degree angle.

Open your mouth and breathe only through your mouth throughout the cleansing.

Slowly pour the water into one nostril. It will come out of your other nostril.

Once you have used half of the solution, gently blow your nose and then change sides to pour the solution through your other nostril. Be careful you do not tilt your head back or you may swallow some of the solution (which won’t hurt you, but is unpleasant.)

After you have finished both nostrils, gently blow your nose with a tissue. If you like, you can perform a nasal rinse once a day until symptoms disappear. If you like, it can be used up to three times a week when symptoms subside.

An eucalyptus and Epsom salt detoxifying and soothing bath

A warm bath will help soothe aching muscles, remove toxins through sweat, do away with chills, and the steam will temporarily ease congestion. Epsom salts provide magnesium for a natural muscle relaxant and will help you relax and get ready for bed. Eucalyptus essential oil helps drain mucus congestion and is anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antimicrobial, and antibacterial. It may also boost your immune system. No wonder eucalyptus appears in so many modern cold and flu remedies!


  • 1-2 cups Epsom salts
  • 10 drops eucalyptus essential oil


Mix the ingredients and add them to a hot bath. Let the salts dissolve.

Take a relaxing soak for 15-20 minutes. The salts will heat the water and make you sweat.

This article provides information about the tradition of Ayurveda and some common Ayurveda practices in treating a cold or the flu, but it is not intended to replace medical advice.


June 10, 2021


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