In recent years, minimalism and the zero waste lifestyle have gained popularity – something I’m quite happy about! Living a more sustainable lifestyle that isn’t full of clutter we don’t need is not only good for our emotional and mental well-being, it’s also undeniably good for the planet as well.
So, how can we extend minimalism to include the times when we feel under the weather? Easy!
There is actually a lot of ways we can support our immune systems while sick using zero or low waste remedies.
19 Zero Waste Home Remedies for Cold and Flu
Below are many of the remedies I have on hand that help support immunity, fight off infection, and reduce some of the symptoms that come arise when sick.
Many of these ingredients can be used for a multitude of other things as well which makes having them on hand even more sustainable.
1. Echinacea and Goldenseal Tincture
The combination of echinacea and goldenseal, in particular, makes for a very potent cold and flu remedy. Echinacea has the ability to stimulate the body’s phagocytes (cell-eaters) to surround and devour bacteria, infected cells, and wastes in the blood. This action encourages the immune system to ramp up its defenses in the mucous membranes, especially those found in the sinuses and upper respiratory tract, the digestive tract, and the urinary tract where infections tend to flourish and take root. (source)
These properties are what make echinacea a particularly good remedy to reach for if you come down with strep throat, sore throat, bronchitis, UTI, and cold and flu. (source)
Goldenseal is another herb known for its incredible cold and flu-fighting abilities. (source)
It is especially indicated for infection, inflammation, and irritation in the mucous membranes caused by:
- Cold and flu
- Eye infections
- Hay fever
- Irritations in the bowel
- Sinus infections
- Upper respiratory infections
Goldenseal and echinacea work together seamlessly since echinacea encourages the body’s macrophages to “eat” infected cells and bacteria while goldenseal controls inflammation and increases circulation. (source)
This allows more immune-fighting cells to get to the virus, kill it, and carry it away.
I like to take echinacea and goldenseal in tincture form for about 5-7 days.
This is the one I like to use. To make this zero waste, reuse the dropper bottle!
You can read more about the healing power of echinacea here.
2. Elderberry Syrup
Elderberry is another herb renowned for its immune-boosting properties. They contain a protein called hemagglutinin which has been shown to inhibit a virus’s ability to penetrate cellular walls thus preventing the virus from replicating. (source)
Since the virus cannot spread as efficiently as it normally would, the duration of your cold or flu is actually shortened when elderberry is used and symptoms are reduced.
This makes elderberry one of my must-have remedies to have on hand during cold and flu season!
I like to use this elderberry syrup since the packaging is made from glass and metal and the box it comes in can be recycled or composted.
Don’t want to buy elderberry syrup? Learn how to make your own!
You can read more about the benefits of elderberry here.
3. Epsom Salts
Whenever I feel a cold or flu coming on, taking a nice hot bath infused with Epsom salts is one of the first things I do.
Epsom salts are a natural muscle relaxant due to its magnesium content meaning it helps with body aches and pains associated with strenuous exercise, injury, or cold and flu! (source)
Soaking in an Epsom salt bath is an excellent way to ease physical discomfort and fatigue when sick.
Here’s how to make an Epsom salt bath:
- 4 cups of Epsom salts
- A few drops of cold and flu bath concentrate if desired (can sub with eucalyptus essential oil)
Add the Epsom salt to running bath water and soak for at least 20 minutes.
You can learn more about Epsom salt detox baths here.
4. Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Eucalyptus essential oil is one of my favorite essential oils for treating a myriad of cold and flu symptoms. It’s pain-relieving, decongestant, antiseptic, antiviral, antibacterial, expectorant, mucolytic (dissolves thick mucus), and anti-inflammatory. (source)
This makes it one of the best essential oils to have on hand when dealing with respiratory and sinus infections, viral infections, and even achy muscles. (source)
Here are a few ways to use eucalyptus essential oil for cold and flu:
- Add a few drops to a diffuser
- Add a few drops to a Himalayan salt inhaler
- Add a few drops to a roller bottle topped with a carrier oil and apply on the chest and under the nose
- Add a few drops to hot water and use it as a facial steam
- Make your own chest rub
Using eucalyptus oil in these ways will help break up mucus, fight infection, and help the immune system get better control so that you can get well sooner.
You can learn more about the benefits of eucalyptus essential oil here.
5. Fresh Lemon Tea
Whenever I feel that tell-tale scratchiness in the back of my throat, I know I need to make a good strong cup of fresh lemon tea.
Lemons are full of Vitamin C and antioxidants which help raise the body’s natural defenses. The juice also helps break up mucus and soothe sore throat pain. It also aids in digestion! (source)
To make lemon tea, simply slice a fresh organic lemon into ¼ inch slices. Remove the seeds since they taste bitter.
Add 2 slices of fresh lemon to a mug of hot water. Cover the tea to lock in the volatile nutrients and essential oil from the lemon slices while it steeps for 10 minutes.
You can add some raw honey at this point if desired for extra benefits and flavor.
Drink the tea while it’s still comfortably hot 2-3 times daily to help boost immunity and up your hydration levels.
6. Ginger Tea
Ginger tea made from fresh ginger slices is one of my favorite teas to drink while sick.
If you have ever sipped on ginger tea, then you know the wonderfully radiating heat you experience from your core to the tips of your fingers and toes, even through the skin.
Ginger root is known to be analgesic (pain-relieving), antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic, expectorant, carminative, encourages circulation.
The warming and drying properties of ginger are perfect for breaking up mucus in the lungs and sinuses and helping the body expectorate phlegm. Whenever I come down with bronchitis or a sinus infection, ginger is one of the herbs I reach for first to help get things draining and loosened up.
Ginger is also pain-relieving. In fact, you can take 2 TB of powdered ginger root in water at the onset of a migraine (when the “aura” appears) to help stop it in its tracks. You can also drink a strong ginger tea of the fresh root to help alleviate intestinal and menstrual cramping including gas and bloating.
Ginger also helps alleviate sore throat pain, body aches, and chills!
Oh, and let’s not forget how ginger quells nausea associated with motion sickness, food poisoning, and the stomach flu!
Needless to say, ginger does a little bit of everything when it comes to cold and flu which makes it even more sustainable to use! (source)
To reap the benefits of ginger, simply peel a thumb-sized amount of the fresh root (I use a spoon for this) and slice it into match stick pieces.
Add the fresh ginger to a mug and fill it with boiling water. Steep the ginger covered for a good 10 minutes. You need to cover it while it’s steeping in order to trap all of the volatile oils from the ginger into the tea.
Sip the tea while it is still comfortably hot 2-3 times daily.
You can compost the skin from the ginger root and leftover ginger pieces, though I actually enjoy eating the steeped ginger pieces once I’ve finished the tea.
Learn how to make my absolute favorite ginger tea here.
7. Himalayan Salt Inhaler
Himalayan salt inhalers are exceptionally handy when it comes to any sort of respiratory distress like allergies, hay fever, sinus infections, asthma, and bronchitis. They are also good for alleviating lung and sinus irritation from exposure to environmental pollutants like smoke, exhaust, and other day-to-day chemicals.
This is because Himalayan salt, when breathed in, acts as an effective anti-inflammatory that rebalances the histamine response in your sinuses and lungs while also thinning mucus. The salt coats and moistens mucous membranes which helps alleviate irritation and reduce congestion. (source)
You can learn more about the benefits of Himalayan salt inhalers here.
To use a Himalayan salt inhaler, simply breath in deeply and slowly from the opening at the top with one nostril while plugging the other. Breath out through your mouth.
Alternate breaths between nostrils for 20 minutes once per day.
You can even breathe in through the (cleaned) opening with your mouth if desired for more direct lung-related benefits.
The best thing about Himalayan salt inhalers is they’re reusable and zero waste!
You can get my favorite Himalayan salt inhaler here.
8. Neti Pot
If you have ever dealt with endless sinus congestion and mucus when sick, then you know how nice it would be to rinse it all away.
Well, you can!
Investing in a good neti pot was one of the best decisions I’ve made when it came to building my home remedies arsenal.
What is a neti pot, you may ask? It’s a small device that looks like a teapot filled with a saline solution that is used to irrigate and cleanse the sinuses. The word “neti” is actually Sanskrit for “nasal cleansing”.
To use it, you begin by making a saline solution with sterile or purified water and non-iodized salt (typically 1 cup water and ½ tsp of salt).
The solution is irrigated through the sinus cavity where it effectively flushes out irritants like dust and pollen as well as excess mucus from the sinuses.
Using a neti pot is especially helpful when you have a sinus infection or a cold where there is a lot of excess mucus and congestion in the sinuses since it can flush it out. (source)
I remember using a neti pot during a particularly bad cold and was shocked at how much mucus came out! I was definitely glad it was no longer sitting in my sinuses! It also alleviated some of the sinus pressure I was experiencing.
If you’re looking for a sustainable way to help support your sinus health, a neti pot is the way to go.
You can check out the one I use here.
9. Oil of Oregano
Nope. We’re not talking about oregano essential oil, we’re talking about oil of oregano!
Oregano essential oil is steam distilled from fresh oregano and therefore exhibits the most potent quantities of the phenol carvacrol. It is much stronger than oil of oregano, which is its herbal supplement counterpart that can be taken internally.
Oil of oregano is oregano essential oil that has been well diluted in a carrier oil like olive oil. This makes it safe to consume orally. While not as strong as pure oregano essential oil, it is still considered one of the best remedies for shortening the duration of cold, flu, and even ease the symptoms of sore throat. (source)
Oregano oil (yet another variant of this fabled remedy) is simply fresh oregano that has been dried and then covered in olive oil for 4-6 weeks. The plant matter is strained and the remaining infused oil can be used in the same way as oil of oregano, though a little less potent.
Oil of oregano is a potent and powerful remedy that has antibiotic, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties that help treat and prevent cold and flu. It’s immune-supporting and anti-inflammatory properties help strengthen intestinal integrity and help modulate gut bacteria. (source)
It is especially useful when fighting off viral infections since it does not have side-effects or cause bacterial and viral resistance like conventional antibiotics. This is why it is still effective when fighting off drug-resistant or biofilm-forming microorganisms. (source)
Oil of oregano is an excellent low waste way to support immunity since you can make it yourself!
To make it, you will need:
Add the essential oil to the dropper bottle and top to the shoulder with olive oil. Roll between your palms to mix.
To use, take 4 drops daily for up to 10 days.
To make oregano oil (using dried oregano), you will need:
Carefully clean the oregano and allow it to dry completely. Next, use a muddler to crush the oregano so that it releases its volatile oils. Add the oregano to the jar and top it with the olive oil. Make sure the plant matter is totally submerged in the oil.
Allow the mixture to macerate for 4-6 weeks, strain, then bottle. Store in a cool dark place. You can compost the plant matter.
To use, take up to 8 drops daily for up to 10 days.
You can find my favorite oil of oregano (the most potent one!) here.
10. Onion and Garlic
Onion and garlic seem almost too simple but their potency and efficacy during times of cold and flu are well-known.
AND, since they have their own packaging, these remedies are about as zero waste as you can get!
According to ancient Chinese medicine, there is a point in the center of the bottom of the feet called Yongquan, or Kidney 1. This point, when stimulated, is known to help open the kidney channel and assist in detox. It is believed that placed a slice of raw onion on the bottoms of each foot overnight further helps the body rid itself of wastes during cold and flu. (source)
Consuming onion both raw and cooked when sick in another way to help the body during illness. It helps break up phlegm and mucus and boost immunity. (source)
Infusing honey with raw onion creates a syrup that can be used to soothe sore throats and cough.
Garlic is another potent remedy that has significant antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-stimulant properties. When used raw, it can soothe cough, ease symptoms of sore throat, and help the body fight off infection. (source)
When sick, I like to add it to soups or take it as a syrup infused in raw honey.
To make onion or garlic-infused honey, simply chop up a whole head of garlic or half an onion, put it in a jar and top it with raw honey. Use a chopstick to stir out any bubbles and allow the mixture to macerate (stirring it once daily) for at least a week.
Take a spoonful of infused honey twice daily.
11. Peppermint Tea
Another zero waste remedy for cold and flu is peppermint tea! The volatile oils found in fresh peppermint are known to ease irritable bowels, decrease gas and bloating, soothe an upset stomach, and improves overall digestion.
It even has pain-relieving properties that help mitigate some of the discomfort associated with cramps and bloating.
When consumed before meals, it helps increase bile production so that the foods you eat are more easily digested. This is especially helpful when you feel queasy or have sluggish digestion during cold and flu. (source)
Peppermint tea can also be used to soothe cough and break up mucus in the lungs. Its oils also induce sweating which can help alleviate fever and increase circulation.
Additionally, peppermint tea helps boost mental clarity, focus, and awareness which is essential if you’re stuck at work while sick and still need to stay alert.
To make zero waste peppermint tea, simply crush a few fresh peppermint leaves in a mug and steep them in boiling water, covered, for 10 minutes. Sip the tea during cold and flu to reap its benefits.
12. Personal Nasal Inhaler
Using a personal nasal inhaler is one of my favorite tools for supporting sinus and lung health. I suffer from chronic allergies and asthma, so it’s important for me to help support my respiratory system on a daily basis.
Not only can personal nasal inhalers be used from day to day, but they can also be used as a therapeutic treatment during cold and flu season.
I like them because you can wash and reuse the inserts making it possible to make a variety of essential oil combinations to suit your needs.
Personal nasal inhalers come in two versions: one uses a cotton insert that you can drip essential oils onto and the second is filled with chunky Himalayan salt crystals that work in the same way as a salt inhaler.
I like to use the cotton insert version for when I want to use essential oils to help treat allergies, mucus, and sinus infections. (source)
I use the salt version for dry sinuses and hay fever.
13. Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
Raw apple cider vinegar is an excellent remedy to have on hand when your stomach feels acidic or sour. It helps soothe digestive upset and sore throat, break up mucus in the sinuses and lungs, and offers the body a boost of vitamin C which is important for immunity support.
I usually take raw apple cider vinegar slightly diluted with water as a wellness shot and use it as a base in both my instant fire cider recipe and traditional fir cider recipe.
It’s important to get the raw version with “the mother” since it has the most active and probiotic form of apple cider vinegar. This is what helps support intestinal health and flora balance during times of illness.
14. Raw Honey
Raw honey is one of nature’s perfect remedies for soothing dry or irritated mucous membranes. I primarily use it for treating symptoms of a sore throat since it helps kill microorganisms, decreases inflammation, and coats irritated tissues. It also helps alleviate cough. (source)
You can use it stirred into tea, as a base for infusing herbs like sage, garlic, onion, rose petals, etc., or simply straight off the spoon to ease cold and flu symptoms.
You can find my favorite raw honey here.
If you want to get extra fancy, you can pick up a jar of manuka honey which is made from the bees that collect pollen from the manuka tree, a cousin of tea tree. This honey is infused with the powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties of the manuka tree and is best taken raw and unheated.
You can find manuka honey here.
15. Sage Tea
Sage is another excellent zero waste remedy you can grow in your garden or even in a pot indoors. It is antiseptic, astringent, carminative (relieves gas), and expectorant in nature meaning it’s perfectly suited for treating a myriad of cold and flu symptoms.
Its astringent and antiseptic properties, in particular, are especially effective for treating symptoms of sore throat. I like to sip it as a tea or use it as a gargle for reducing pain and inflammation.
Sage is also good for treating congestion in both the lungs and sinuses since its volatile oils help break up mucus and open up the respiratory system. (source)
To make sage tea, simply snip a few leaves and crush them in a mug to release the oils. Pour boiling water over the top and steep, covered, for 10 minutes. Drink this tea 1-2 times daily.
You can also use this tea as a gargle.
16. Sea Salt
Sea salt may seem so simple, but I assure you, it’s one of my must-have remedies to have on hand. I primarily use it for treating symptoms of a sore throat by making a concentrated gargle in warm water that I can use throughout the day.
There is no limit to how many times you can gargle with saltwater. I gargle whenever my sore throat feels too painful or tender and the salt and warm water help soothe the discomfort. (source)
Sea salt help make the throat an inhospitable place for germs and bacteria. Using it as a gargle help to dislodge any beasties that make be trying to hide. Salt is also very soothing and when it is paired with warm or comfortably hot water, it really makes a difference in comfort.
To make a sea salt gargle, simply mix 1-2 teaspoon of sea salt in 4oz of warm water. You can play with the ratios as you like until you find a strength that works well for your needs.
Gargle as often as desired.
17. Thieves Essential Oil
If I had to choose one essential oil blend for cold and flu, it would have to be four thieves. The combination of lemon, clove, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus, and rosemary essential oil makes the perfect blend for both treating and preventing sickness during cold and flu season. (source)
Not only that, this blend alone can replace a multitude of items in both your medicine cabinet and your cleaning supplies which helps declutter your home and reduce waste.
This blend helps alleviate congestion, soothe sore muscles, ease sore throat (you can make my sore throat recipe here – it’s amazing!), and helps disinfect the air and surfaces in the home.
I like to diffuse it in the room of whoever is sick to help contain the germs and lessen the chances of spreading them to others.
I also like to use it in a spray recipe (learn how to make it here) to kill germs on frequently touched surfaces like sinks, toilets, remote controls, light switches, etc. Plus, thieves oil smells amazing in the house!
There are a number of thieves blends to choose from, some of my favorites include:
18. Use Handkerchiefs
Although not a remedy in and of itself, using reusable handkerchiefs is another way to reduce waste when sick. I know that when I’m fighting off a particularly nasty sinus infection, I can go through an astonishing amount of tissues.
Using handkerchiefs allows you to buy a stack that you can use again and again.
At first, the idea of using a cloth to blow my nose was something only my grandfather did, but once I started using them, I found out that tissues were actually making my allergies worse due to their irritating fibers.
Handkerchiefs don’t leave me sneezing afterward and are easy to clean and disinfect. Now I rarely ever use tissues and when the handkerchiefs have run their course, I use them like reusable paper towels to clean the house.
You can get handkerchiefs here.
19. Wellness Shot
My last zero waste home remedy is one that I always reach for at the first signs of cold and flu – a homemade wellness shot!
This remedy is packed with nutrient-dense ingredients that help boost immunity and alleviate a multitude of cold and flu symptoms like sore throat, cough, congestion, and upset stomach.
The wellness shot I like to make contains the following ingredients:
I run the fresh ginger root and lemon through a juicer to remove the fiber and dust a bit of cayenne pepper over the top. I then stir in 2 drops of oil of oregano and knock it back like a shot of alcohol.
It’s potent as all get out, but it really helps supply the body with a potent dose of vitamin C, healing and anti-inflammatory ginger, immune supportive oregano, and pain-relieving cayenne.
This wellness shot also boosts healthy circulation which helps white speed along white blood cells so that your body can fight infection more efficiently.
What have been your favorite zero waste remedies for cold and flu? Please share them in the comments below!
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