Flu season comes around every year, bringing misery with it. Symptoms like fever, aches, chills, vomiting, and a sore throat can keep you laid up for days.
There’s no cure for the flu and no way to avoid it entirely, but you can strengthen your immune system and either fend off infection or shorten its duration. You can also make use of specific nutrients, herbs, and simple at-home remedies to find relief while you’re sick.
Here’s a list of the best natural remedies for the flu, how to use them, and why they work.
A Quick Look at the Flu Itself
The flu is classified as a respiratory illness, though it can cause many symptoms including coughing, a runny nose, and digestive upset. Infection is caused by the influenza virus, which is spread via the air.
An average of 8% of the U.S. population gets sick with the flu each year. The most at-risk groups are children and those who have a weakened or compromised immune system.
Mild flu symptoms can easily be confused with the common cold, since they are very similar. Overall, flu symptoms tend to be more intense and are more likely to include stomach problems.
Because both colds and the flu are caused by a viral infection, most of the following remedies work equally well for either. There’s no need to worry about determining which one you have before taking steps to get better!
Top Natural Remedies for the Flu
Stay Hydrated & Drink Lots of Water
It’s easy to skip by this simple remedy, but staying hydrated is extremely important whether you have the flu or a cold.
Taking in enough fluid will help your body flush out bacteria, viral pathogens, and other toxins. It won’t “cure” anything, but without it your body losing a major component of detoxification.
Symptoms like a fever, vomiting, and diarrhea can also cause water loss and make you dehydrated. If you aren’t replacing the fluids you lose, your body is going to struggle to heal itself and kick the infection.
Pure toxin-free water is often the best fluid to hydrate your body. You may also want to add herbal tea, fresh fruit juice, and/or coconut water to get a boost of extra nutrients and electrolytes. Whatever you can get down and tastes the best while you’re sick is usually the best choice!
Boost Your Vitamin C Intake
Vitamin C is one of the most well-known immune boosters and one of the easiest home remedies for the flu to take. It’s an essential nutrient and antioxidant that our bodies can’t manufacture on their own.
A vitamin C deficiency can impair immunity and make you more susceptible to sickness. On the flip side, taking in extra vitamin C has been shown in studies to potentially prevent or shorten many infectious diseases.
In fact, research shows that regular administration of vitamin C shortens the duration of a cold.
The suggested dosage is 1000 mg daily for prevention and 3000-4000 mg daily during an infection. However, some of the studies found that a high dose of 6-8 g per day was needed in certain cases to shorten cold duration.
Take Echinacea at the First Signs of Sickness
Echinacea has become one of the most popular antiviral herbs. It’s also been the subject of research studies that have proved its efficacy.
A recent study from 2013 found that an echinacea extract was effective against respiratory tract viruses. It was also shown not to trigger drug resistance like the commonly prescribed flu medication, oseltamivir, can.
A separate study from 2015 found that an echinacea formula was just as effective as oseltamivir at treating the flu when used early on. It also had fewer adverse side effects.
For the most effectiveness, start taking echinacea as soon as you notice flu symptoms, and continue taking it until you feel better. It shouldn’t be used long-term to prevent infection- only to help your body fight off an existing one.
Get Extra Rest
Getting enough sleep is challenging for many, but it’s at the top of the list of natural remedies for the flu. This is mainly because good quality sleep and immune health are closely linked.
Research indicates that being deficient on sleep can cause low-grade inflammation and impair your immune system. On the other hand, an infection will often trigger your body to sleep longer and more deeply so that it can heal itself. This is one of the reasons you feel so much more tired when you’re sick.
Listen to your body’s need for rest if you have the flu. And don’t forget to make sleep a priority all the time to keep your immune system strong.
Add Zinc to Your Care Regimen
Taking a natural zinc supplement when you’re sick can help your body kick a viral infection. Zinc is an important mineral for your immune system, and research shows that it may reduce the length and severity of a cold.
Eating foods high in zinc will provide immune support during flu season. These include plant sources like lentils, beans, chickpeas, nuts, and seeds. Adding in 50-100 mg of a zinc supplement when you’re already down with a virus can help symptoms go away more quickly. Take it early on for the best results.
Strengthen Immune Health with Elderberry
Elderberries have a long history of use against viruses and have documented antiviral properties. They are also one of the most well-researched herbal remedies for the flu (and colds as well).
While you can take elderberry at any time to boost your immune system, studies show that it’s also very effective well into a sickness. Research from 2019 documented that elderberry was inhibitory against influenza early on but was even stronger in the late stages of infection.
Studies also show that elderberry has the ability to shorten cold or flu symptoms by as many as four days!
Both elderberry syrup and elderberry extract have shown effectiveness in studies, so take either one before and after getting sick.
Supplement with Probiotics
Probiotics have a good track record for supporting immunity because gut health is directly connected to immune health.
Perhaps more importantly, studies have shown a particular strain of probiotic, Bacillus subtilis, actually has anti-influenza activity. The antiviral effect of this specific bacteria was even comparable to that of oseltamivir in animal studies.
Take a good multi-strain probiotic or eat a good amount of probiotic-rich foods to help yourself through flu season.
Load Up on Garlic (and Onions)
Garlic- and onions to a lesser extent- are both foods that act as natural remedies for the flu. They contain compounds that boost your immune system and enhance the antiviral response of your white blood cells.
Allicin is the main immune-boosting compound in garlic. It forms when garlic is crushed or chewed and is eventually converted into other compounds that fight off infection.
If you don’t want to chew raw garlic to release allicin, chop or crush a clove and let it rest before heating it. There’s also some evidence that aged garlic supplements can prevent or reduce the severity of flu symptoms.
Get Enough Vitamin D
Vitamin D is another essential nutrient that your body needs for a strong immune response. Not having enough of it may lead to a greater risk of catching a cold, the flu, or another respiratory infection.
Unfortunately, flu season happens during the time of year people are most likely to be vitamin D deficient due to a lack of sun exposure. Supplementing with up to 2000 IU of vitamin D when you can’t get enough sunshine will help your immune system stay strong.
Scare Off Infection with Oil of Oregano
Oregano is a powerful herb that can be made into a medicinal supplement called oil of oregano. It contains two well-researched compounds: thymol and carvacrol. They both have documented antibacterial and antifungal properties, and recent research shows that carvacrol is strongly antiviral as well.
Oil of oregano comes in capsules that you can take to boost your immune system and help your body fight off the flu. Because the oil is so powerful, the recommended maximum usage time is 2-4 weeks. Long-term use isn’t necessarily dangerous but can irritate your digestive tract.
Soothe Your Throat and Stomach with Ginger Tea
Making yourself some ginger tea is like getting several home remedies for the flu all in one.
To start with, ginger root has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Drinking it in tea form can soothe a sore throat, especially if you add raw honey and a little lemon.
Ginger is one of the most well-known remedies for an upset stomach as well. It’s been proven in multiple studies to relieve nausea and reduce vomiting. This can be very helpful if you are feeling queasy from the flu. Take it with lemon for more anti-nausea power.
Research also shows that fresh ginger has antiviral activity and can help your immune system fend off respiratory illnesses (like the flu). This gives credibility to the fact that ginger tea is a long-time remedy for colds and other infections.
For the most powerful remedy, grate fresh ginger and simmer it in water for 10-15 minutes to make a tea.
Make Use of a Humidifier or Steam Inhalation
Dry indoor air can exacerbate flu symptoms and may also help the flu virus spread more easily. New research has indicated that low humidity may increase the survival rate and transmission of influenza viruses.
If you live somewhere that gets cold during the winter, running a humidifier will increase humidity and make your indoor environment less hospital for viral pathogens.
Warm, moist air is also helpful for easing existing symptoms of the flu. It soothes your nose, throat, and sinuses and helps to loosen congestion in your chest and lungs.
Running a humidifier, especially overnight, will help. For more immediate relief, try steam therapy. Simply heat water in a bowl and hold your face over it with a towel draped on your head. Breathe the steam in deeply for several minutes (but don’t get close enough to burn your face).
Add herbs like sage, thyme, or oregano to the hot water to loosen congestion and open your lungs even more.
Apply or Diffuse Essential Oils
Specific essential oils have proven to be effective against both bacteria and viruses. Breathing them in through a diffuser or applying them to your skin can boost your natural defenses during flu season.
Tea tree oil, in particular, has shown specific action against the influenza virus. Other essential oils like cinnamon, lemongrass, lavender, thyme, and bergamot have also shown activity against the flu, though not as strongly as tea tree.
Peppermint and eucalyptus are two essential oils that have general antiviral properties and can also help your lungs open up. Try applying them diluted with a carrier oil to your chest as needed.
If you want to combine natural remedies for the flu, add essential oils to steam therapy to allow them to work more deeply into your body. Just be sure to close your eyes before putting your head over the steam, and don’t get too close.
Boost Immunity with Cinnamon and Honey
Cinnamon and honey are a powerful combination. Raw honey and other bee products have documented antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting properties. Cinnamon also contains plant compounds that are antiviral and boost your immune system.
Take the two together to help yourself fight off the flu. They also have the added benefit of soothing throat soreness.
You can add powdered cinnamon to raw honey and eat a teaspoon as needed. Or make a tea by simmering or steeping a cinnamon stick and adding honey once it’s cooled slightly. Put in a little fresh lemon juice to help your body flush out toxins and pathogens.
Beat the Flu with Natural Home Remedies
No one enjoys coming down with the flu, but there are many natural remedies you can utilize to either protect yourself or help your body recover. Many of them are traditional remedies that have now been backed up by research and clinical trials.
Herbs, supplements, and simple practices like rest and staying hydrated can make a huge difference to your body and help you get back on your feet.
Reach for one of them the next time you’re feeling under the weather. Or, better yet, combine several to really send the flu packing!