All of the following symptoms may be present with a cold: nasal mucus discharge, blocked nasal passages, sore throat, cough, chills, fever, headache, joint aches, irritability, frequent urination, diarrhea, skin rash, swollen glands, and fatigue.


What is the Common Cold?

From Modern Western Medicine

Orthodox medicine defines a cold as a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, causing inflammation of the mucus membranes that line the bronchial passages, throat, eustachian tubes, and nose. The result is a mucus discharge from the nose, blocked or stuffed nasal passages, and occasionally, headache and fever. A cold is caused by any one of the 200 viruses, the most common being the rhinoviruses and coronaviruses, which are usually airborne on droplets that have been coughed or sneezed by someone nearby.


From Traditional Medicine

All forms of traditional medicine view the common cold as the body’s attempt at internal cleansing and detoxification. The common cold eliminates accumulated waste from the cells, organs, and tissue fluids. These waste products weaken the immune system and create the conditions for cold viruses to gain a foothold within the body and flourish. Suppression of cold symptoms, which is routinely accomplished by pharmaceutical drugs, drives these waste products deeper into the body, creating greater stagnation and forming the basis for more serious illness later on. The symptoms of the common cold indicate the organs are detoxifying. Cough and sore throat are the body’s way of eliminating mucus and waste from the lungs and large intestine. When the large intestine is unable to fully eliminate (such as from chronic constipation), waste infiltrates the lymph system, causing swollen glands, sore throat, and cough. On the other hand, diarrhea occurs when the body is attempting to rapidly eliminate accumulated waste, a pathogen, or some other toxin. Frequent urination suggests cleansing of the kidneys, bladder, and blood. Fever is the body’s effort to create a hostile condition for bacteria or a virus that may live in the blood, tissues, liver, or spleen. Sweating cleanses the tissue fluids, lymph, and blood, and takes the burden off the kidneys. In short, a cold is an efficient, rapid form of internal cleansing.


Who Gets Colds?

People of all ages and sexes contract colds.


General Recommendations

  • See related entries for Constipation, Cough, Fever, Headaches.
  • Do not overmedicate a cold, even with holistic methods.
  • Respect the demands of your body while you have a cold. This short period of bed rest and cleansing establish a basis for your long-term good health.
  • Get plenty of rest, sleep, low light, keep warm, and sweat.


Foods to Eat

Do not overeat when you have a cold to avoid stressing your digestive tract. Lighter foods are better than heavy ones; soups are easier on digestion, enhancing both assimilation of nutrients and elimination of waste. (See the section on Nutrition in Part III for more information on healthful eating, as well as food sources of important vitamins and minerals.)

  • Soupy vegetable broths that contain root vegetables, cabbage, leafy greens, or shiitake mushrooms
  • Miso soup with land and sea vegetables, including shiitake mushrooms and wakame
  • Soupy grains, such as boiled brown rice, with finely chopped vegetables, such as carrots, onions, and celery, and a small amount of freshly grated gingerroot
  • Steamed or boiled leafy greens, including collard greens, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and watercress
  • Cooked fruit (compote or baked apple)
  • Small amounts of citrus fruits for vitamin C
  • Herbal teas, such as chamomile, hibiscus (rich in vitamin C), kukicha


Foods to Avoid

  • Foods containing sugar, artificial ingredients, and refined flours
  • Dairy products
  • Red meat
  • Raw foods, except for small amounts of fruit
  • Cold foods and drinks
  • Foods rich in fat, especially animal fats
  • Fried foods
  • Highly acidic foods, such as spices, tomatoes, eggplant, coffee, and alcohol
  • Cigarettes and other tobacco products


Herbs to Treat a Cold

  • Ginger in hot tea (either freshly grated or in teabags), with honey, to induce sweating and elimination. Hot ginger tea also supports and tonifies stomach, spleen, and large intestine; and improves bowel function.
  • Echinacea, as a tincture (15 – 30 drops, two to three times per day) in water or juice or as an infusion boosts immune function and fights infection. Bring water to a boil, turn off flame, add 1 tsp. of dried herb per cup of water, steeped up to 20 minutes, and drink as a tea. For children, use 10 – 15 drops, once or twice a day or 1 – 2 cups of tea made from the dried herb.
  • Goldenseal, in tincture (15 – 30 drops, two or three times per day); or as an infusion in water that has been previously boiled: Steep for 10 – 20 minutes; drink as a tea. (If used with Echinacea, dried herbs can be combined in water and boiled: 1 tsp. of each herb in 2 cups of water. Goldenseal and Echinacea are often sold together in tincture form, already mixed in the same tincture bottle.) Goldenseal boosts the immune system, cleanses mucus membranes, reduces inflammation, fights bacterial infection, cleanses blood, and promotes healing. For sore throat, swab with goldenseal or gargle with goldenseal and water.
  • Use slippery elm tea for sore throat, cough, lung congestion, nausea, and digestive disorders. Can be purchased as teabags or the dried herb can be boiled in water. Add a small amount of honey and cinnamon for children.
  • Garlic is antibacterial, antiviral, immune-boosting, and liver cleansing. Use it freshly grated or eaten as a raw vegetable. Add chopped parsley to reduce odor.



  • Aconite is taken only in the earliest stages of a cold, when symptoms are first experienced, or when a person is exposed to wind. Otherwise the treatment has little effect.
  • Allium cepa is used for sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, raw and sore upper lip, and painful cough.
  • Arsenicum treats thin, watery mucus discharge and cold symptoms in the chest, with dry cough that worsens after midnight.



  • Take hot Epsom salt and/or mineral baths. They improve circulation, open pores, cause sweating and elimination, increase relaxation, and improve sleep. After the bath, dry the body thoroughly, get into bed under plenty of warm blankets, drink tea, and sweat. Keep warm.
  • For lung congestion, create a vaporizer by boiling eucalyptus leaves, cloves, and pine needles. Take the pot off the stove, place it in a comfortable location or next to your bed, and hold your head over the vapors. Drape the towel over your head, creating a tent-like effect, to capture and hold the vapors within. Breathe in and exhale deeply. Or, place these herbs in a vaporizer and allow the steam to permeate your bedroom.
  • See entry for Fever.


Chinese Medicine

  • Astragalus can be used as a vegetable (purchase in most Chinese food stores or by mail order). As food, place it in a soup and boil it along with vegetables. Add miso. As a tincture, 15 – 30 drops in water or apple juice. (For children, 10 – 15 drops, once or twice a day.) Strengthens immune system, improves digestion, and promotes healing.
  • Herbal cold formula: lonicera, forsythia, arctium, platycodon, mint, soja seed, licorice, lophatherum, schizonepeta. Mix equal portions (1 tsp., for example) of each dried herb and boil in water for 20 minutes. Allow to steep for 10 – 30 minutes; drink. Can be reheated. Treats all common cold symptoms.



  • Vitamin C: 100 – 500 mg per day, strengthens immune function; stops free-radical formation; promotes production of T-cells, and encourages phagocytosis.
  • A low-dose multivitamin and mineral supplement (see the section on Nutrition in Part III for recommended vitamins and minerals, their sources, and information on the RDAs and safe dosages that exceed the RDA).



See Part IV for treatments and lifestyle habits that will strengthen the following organs: lungs, large intestine, liver, spleen, and the immune system.