Curing the Common Cold – Garlic Wine, Elderberry Syrup

I think I write on this topic every fall and winter. The common cold – the rhinovirus type that mutates frequently and then proceeds to make us all miserable for several days – is always a hot topic. I need to prevent such colds from getting deepseated in my lungs, since I am susceptible to bronchitis and pneumonia, and don’t need some opportunistic infection latching on when my immune system is overwhelmed.

The best cure is prevention, as with any illness. We don’t live healthy lives, in general. We eat the wrong foods, ignore the good ones, stay up late, expose ourselves to infection by going around in crowds of sick people, stress our bodies with ill-chosen activities and neglect some basic sanitation. (In fact, I just rubbed my nose after using this common keyboard. It’s one to the frequent ways we pass germs to others.)

So eating well before cold and flu season can go a long way to preventing illness; and at the end of a good summer, why aren’t we stoked up with veggies and late fruit? Why are we eating Mars bars and drinking cola? (All right, speaking for myself…)

We live under artificial light because so many of our activities are indoors, and because we have too many activities available after dark that involve having the lights on. When we had to make our own candles or burn tallow (less than a pleasant fragrance, that) we were more judicious about staying up late. I am trying to get to bed earlier, as well, which means I need to work harder during the day in order to be properly tired at sunset. This doesn’t sound like much fun, but I am married. (Which reminds me of a motion I wanted to introduce at our diocesan synod a few years ago, encouraging Anglicans to get married, stay married and be more active married, because it would mean happier Anglicans and in nine months, more Anglicans.)

All right, back to subject. Let’s say we’ve all done what we can to keep up a good immune system, but that pesky cold comes to roost anyway. This is what I do:

Garlic wine is dead easy. Get a bottle of not very expensive red wine and a head of garlic. Pour some wine in a cup, peel and bruise (slightly mash) a garlic clove or two, drop garlic into wine. Cover, let sit at least twenty minutes. Sip a little every hour or so for a day, then make a fresh batch the next day. Take for a couple of days at the first symptom – scratchy throat, hoarseness, sniffles. It will knock out the cold or lessen the severity a great deal. I use this almost every cold and it works for me.

Elderberry syrup is something to prepeare in advance. Get as many elderberries as you can carry home. They need to be well-ripened, a dark, dark wine colour. Strip the berries from the stalks and put in a steel or enamelled kettle with a little water to get them steaming. (Check water level occasionally as they simmer.) Heat to boiling and turn down to simmer until the juice is given off from the berries. I think I let it simmer about an hour or so. Press and strain the berries, reserving the juice. Now add about a thumb joint’s length of peeled fresh ginger and a half dozen whole cloves (or more).  Boil up again, add some honey to thicken a bit if desired, and bottle (put into canning jars, process in boiling water bath for ten minutes.) Use as follows:

Put about a quarter cup of syrup in mug, add a little honey, pour in hot water. Sip as tea. It is flavourful, and will alleviate cold symptoms including a cough. Warning: It is diaphoretic – it will make you perspire. This is a good thing. I like to have a mug of it, then get into bed.

This recipe was adapted from Mrs. M. Grieve of A Modern Herbal fame. She also has some amazing elderberry wine recipes. I like elder flowers for coughs – they are quite delicate in taste and very effective. But they are hard to get.

I got over a rather virulent cold in three days using these. Nicholas has not quite defeated his cold, so I am about to get some elderberry into him and run up another dose of garlic wine. (Argentinian wines are quite cheap right now, and are rather good.)

Lemon balm, melissa officinialis, is also anti-viral, and shouldn’t be neglected. Tetley has a blend (Cleanse) that includes elderflowers, and comes in teabags, so it is practical to use. I keep jars and jars of loose lemon balm dried, as well. It will turn back an attack of shingles, and is very effective for chicken pox.

Don’t forget to take raw, natural honey. Get it from a beekeeper rather than the grocery store. Local honey is more effective than imported honey. Start taking it (don’t heat it or add hot water) as soon as other people start to get colds and you might avoid one altogether.

12 thoughts on “Curing the Common Cold – Garlic Wine, Elderberry Syrup

  1. I have been using elderberry syrup, commercial preparations, for years. I use it when I feel something coming on, and it usually doesn’t. If I don’t catch it in time for prevention, it will knock it out in a day or 2. It is a very effective anti-viral agent.

    • I used to keep a bottle of some Sambuca product – in an old-fashioned green bottle, but can’t remember the name – and used that for colds. I must say making my own was cheaper – $4 for a quart of elderberries looks stiff, but it makes a good pint or more of syrup.

  2. Chest infection that won’t go away, allergic to wine so garlic wine is out, no elderberries – any other suggestions?? I feel like I’m coughing my life away and don’t want to get pneumonia (again)

    • Sage tea as I mentioned to Sarah, lemon balm tea, and goldenseal in capsules – it might be expensive, but it has saved my life in a case of deepseated pneumonia. I wouldn’t use the goldenseal for a cold, just the sage tea. Raw lemon juice or vinegar will dissolve the allocin from the garlic as well as wine will, but is a bit much to take. Hold your nose and chase with raw honey! Don’t use commercial elderberry products if you have an alcohol or wine allergy unless the label states clearly that there is no alcohol content, but you probably know that from using OTC cold preps.

  3. magdalena,

    Elderberries are next to impossible to find here in australia (may be the od tree in our higher altitudes or extreme Southern Tasmania, but on the whole, we don’t have accesss to them here. Any suggestions for a replacement?



    • Sage tea. It’s called salvia for a good reason – it will save lives by healing infections. I’d say no more than three cups of sage tea a day, with honey if tolerated. Or take the honey raw every day to prevent colds. There are commercial elderberry preps that are effective but I find them very expensive here.

  4. We have plenty of sage in our garden…hopefully the 40 degree Celcius summers will not kill this lot off this summer… I can take the garlic fresh lemon juice prep… An observation; it hasn’t slipped my mind, on reading this, that garlic and lemon form a significant part of indigenous dishes around the world, (or lime), from the hommus of the Eastern mediteranean to the lime, garlic, chilli, ginger, fish sauce ‘dips’ that are eaten with just about everything in South-East Asia. Think they’re on to something that the rest of us have overlooked??

    • It came to me while watching a programme about Tudor England – the rich suffered all sorts of ailments and sometimes premature death at the hands of their ‘heroic’ physicians, who leeched and bled and poulticed with horrible, sometimes poisonous substances, but the poor who had garlic, elder and sage often lived healthier and better lives, if they stayed out of the cities. There’s a big dichotomy between natural and allopathic medicine to this day. The poor ate garlic and sage, lime and chiles, ginger and basil – and strengthened their immune systems. When the herbalist Juliette de Bairacli-Levy traveled with her children, she put chile peppers in their milk to steep, and they never caught fevers or had gastro-enteric illnesses. They came to like the taste, just as we have come to like the taste of garlic wine.

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