kitchen board with traditional spices that cure the common cold and coughs

Expat Life: Home Remedies to cure the common cold

When did you last catch a cold and how did you cure it? When living abroad, you’ll quickly notice that every nationality trusts their own traditional home remedies. They’ve been passed down over generations, and most natural ingredients show no side effects. Anyone can prepare them at home! Here is a collection of home remedies from around the world to cure your cold and boost your immune system during this winter season:

Herbal teas

In fact, most countries recommend hot herbal or spiced drinks with lemon juice for vitamin C to boost your immune system, and honey for its anti septic properties and to soothe sore throats.

  • Herbal infusions of camomile, thyme, sage or fennel tea are popular remedies in Europe. Infusions don’t just keep you hydrated, but also help to keep you warm and dissolve excess mucus. Camomile has very diverse health benefits from soothing to anti-microbial properties, and like fennel it calms the digestive system, while sage or thyme are beneficial to treat coughs and the respiratory system.
  • Ginger tea is frequently used in Asia and South America, where it is known to boost your immune system and even to lower fever.
  • Echinacea is also known to strengthen the immune system.
  • Turmeric is well appreciated for its anti-inflammatory and healing powers in Ayurvedic medicine, where it’s mixed into warm milk with a bit of pepper to cure colds.
  • India also knows of the anti fungal properties of cinnamon. A spoon full of honey with cinnamon can be taken as a syrup. Or try local honey with dry ginger powder, pepper and turmeric as a slightly different version.
  • A spiced tea of crushed tulsi leaves, the Indian variety of basil, with ginger and pepper in your tea is also a known remedy.
  • Garlic remains popular in South America, consumed raw or sautéed and even as tea!
  • Elderflower juice or tea is a common remedy in German speaking regions.

When hit by a cold, generally avoid icy, sweet or sugary drinks, even juices as the sugar will only nourish the bugs that you are trying to get rid off. Instead take plenty of fluid, preferably in the form of lukewarm water, tea or soup to hydrate and help the system to flush the infection out of the body.

Try this recipe:

This health boosting drink has origins in Mexico, though variations are frequently used in Japan and India, too. Grate fresh ginger to boil it with fresh onion, turmeric and cinnamon into a spiced tea. If you don’t have fresh turmeric or a cinnamon stick on hand, the powdered spices will do. Add the juice of some freshly squeezed lemon and sweeten with honey to your taste.

healthy spices such as turmeric cinnamon ginger garlic

Relieve respiratory infection

Most colds trigger a runny nose or excess mucus, which can get pretty annoying when affecting your breathing. It’s best to get started on one of these as prevention or at the first signs of congestion:

  • Inhale esoteric oils such as eucalyptus, thyme or pepper mint – you can take a hot bath, use tiger balm on your chest or nose, or simply put a towel over your head while deeply inhaling the steam of brewed camomile flowers.
  • If you prefer the Ayurvedic and yogi approach, go for a nose rinse with saline solution (though use unrefined salt, boiled for a minimum of 5min, or get saline solution at your pharmacy) – this is also beneficial for hay fever.
  • A drop or two of sesame oil sniffed in has been associated with curing chronic sinusitis.
  • The Spanish swear on propolis or “bee glue”, which is often cited as a natural antibiotic. Though in some people it may cause allergic reactions.

Make sure to avoid dairy products including cheese, yoghurt, milk… as these will only increase mucus production.

Sore throats

  • Honey has antiseptic and soothing characteristics which makes it a great remedy to mix into herbal teas. In Germany it is also mixed into hot milk to cure sore throats. Make sure to use organic honey to avoid antibiotics and the diluted syrups (which unfortunately, is now common practice). It should preferably come from your local area which will also be beneficial if you suffer from hay fever.
  • Gurgle with warm salt water at least twice a day to disinfect your throat. Adding turmeric spice or sesame oil is said to be beneficial to fight sore throats.
  • In Japan green tea is used for gargling as it has anti-viral properties: just allow the tea to cool beforehand.
  • Oil pulling from traditional Ayurvedic medicine also improves oral hygiene – organic coconut oil is a great option as it has anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties; sesame oil is equally beneficial and widely used in India.
  • Spices like ginger or chilli can help disinfect, too. They can easily be added to soups or broths. The spiciness will help dissolve excess mucus.

Try this recipe :

When you feel a little under the weather this soup may help before getting ill.

Boil fresh ginger & onion and 1 spicy (dried) chilli for 5-10 minutes. Add some stock and vegetables for flavour such as carrot, peas, green pepper or any veg you fancy in a homemade broth. Some people swear on homemade chicken soup, I prefer a vegan Laksa style soup and add rice noodles at the end before seasoning with salt, pepper and 2 table spoons of sesame oil. Try adding Laksa base or Thai sweet & sour sauce for seasoning. Adding garlic and shiitake mushrooms is also beneficial. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top and enjoy.


As it progresses, the cold may result in a cough.

  • Start tackling it early with thyme or sage tea.
  • Eucalyptus and pepper mint pastilles will also do the trick.
  • The Germans swear on the healing powers of onion juice as cough syrup.

Needless to say, when feeling under the weather, keep warm! Hot infusions and soups will definitely help! In central Europe it’s encouraged to take hot herbal teas with honey and a “Schwitzkur” (sweating cure) to “sweat it off”.

This limited collection of home remedies around the world is incomplete and rather focused on ingredients that are easily available in the Western world. As everybody is different with their own distinct microbiology, some of these remedies may work better for you than others – and of course, they may not be a guaranteed, fool proof cure!

Which home remedy works best for you? Which would you recommend to add ?

honey turmeric and cinnamon spices


I have been a traveller and expat for over 15 years. So far my nomad lifestyle has allowed me to live and work in seven countries including the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Australia. Moving country, studying abroad and a passion for travel has been part of most of my adult life.

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