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When you have the sneezes, coughs, aches, and pains of a winter cold or flu, you may not want to do much more than curl up on the sofa under a fleece blanket with a box of Kleenex and your good friend Netflix. But add one more important image to that sniffly scenario: a steaming mug of hot tea. Grandma’s favorite home remedy has been helping cold-sufferers feel better for thousands of years. First of all, the hot liquid can soothe your throat and break up congestion. And if you add a few drops of local honey, you have a natural cough suppressant. Or, squeeze in a lemon and get a burst of vitamin C, which may reduce the duration of your cold.
But one of most important healing functions of tea may simply be that it keeps you hydrated, says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, author of Dressing on the Side (and Other Diet Myths Debunked). “When you’re sick, eat high-water fruits and veggies and drink a ton of fluids — at least 10 cups per day from unsweetened sources, including tea,” London says.
Here are 10 of the most soothing varieties to try:
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Just a few sips of peppermint tea can start to make you feel better. The menthol in the peppermint leaves can have a slight anesthetic effect on your throat, suppressing your cough (which is why peppermint appears in many cough drops). Plus, scientists from the USDA report that when tested in a lab, peppermint has been found to have significant antimicrobial and antiviral activities. While we don’t know for sure if those lab results translate to humans, a cup of minty tea certainly couldn’t hurt!
The dried flowers of chamomile have been used for centuries to help lull you to sleep — flavonoids from the plant have a tranquilizing effect. Since getting a good night’s sleep is an important part of your cold-recovery mission, chamomile is an excellent choice. There is also some evidence the tea acts as an anti-inflammatory, so sip away.
Echinacea comes from a purple flower found in North America and is used by Great Plains tribes as a traditional cure. Studies have shown that taking echinacea as a supplement can cut your chances of catching a cold by up to 58%, and can reduce the length of your cold by more than a day. Brewing it as a tea is potentially a tasty way to get all that protective goodness.
Like other small, dark berries, elderberries are filled with health-boosting antioxidants, ranking even higher than cranberry and blueberry for polyphenol content. Studies with elderberry syrups and extracts have shown they can reduce the length and severity of cold and flu symptoms; we love the flavor sipped in a fruity tea.
Slippery Elm Tea
This might sound a little gross, but slippery elm bark is known for having a lot of mucilage: a sticky, gel-like substance that can soothe an itchy, sore throat. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, you may find slippery elm among the active ingredients in throat lozenges. So if you want to take a break from those cough drops, you may want to try sipping on this calming brew.
Licorice Root Tea
If you like something on the sweeter side, you might enjoy licorice root tea. Licorice root, or Glycyrrhiza glabra, is a popular herbal remedy in Chinese medicine. It’s typically used to treat gastrointestinal issues like heartburn, but research has shown that licorice root has antimicrobial and antiviral qualities which could help in getting over a nasty cold.
Marshmallow Root Tea
Like slippery elm, marshmallow root contains mucilage that will calm an irritated throat. In 2020, researchers who were looking at the effects of marshmallow root discovered that the herb also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties — even more reason to enjoy this mild tea when you’re feeling a bit under the weather.
Green tea has many health benefits that can support your body in fighting off infection. It’s high in antioxidants and has antiviral qualities, and while more studies need to be done to really say, there’s some evidence that green tea could help to prevent the flu and the common cold. Pour us a mug, please!
As mentioned above, lemon’s cold-fighting power comes from its abundance of vitamin C. You can squeeze it into your favorite herbal blend if you’d like, but you can also just squeeze half a lemon into hot water to make your own “tea” of sorts. Lemon water is super sour, so for taste’s sake, you may want to stir in some of your favorite honey.
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