Do Cold and Flu Remedies Work?

Do cold and flu remedies work? This article explores the evidence for remedies such as echinacea, garlic, elderberry, honey and lemon.

Do Cold and Flu Remedies Work? photo

This article will cover the potential benefits and safety precautions of each of these traditional cold and flu remedies, to help you decide whether or not to give them a try.


This is a traditional herbal remedy made from the Echinacea plant. It has historically been used to help fight off colds and flu due to its antiviral and immune-supporting properties. Scientific research on its effectiveness to reduce symptoms or to prevent infection from the common cold or flu is mixed. Some studies have found no benefit whilst others indicate that Echinacea may help to reduce recurrent upper respiratory infections and associated complications such as pneumonia.

Whilst Echinacea is generally well tolerated, it is best avoided by children due to concerns around possible severe allergic reactions. As humans have slight biological or genetic differences, it is possible that some people may find more benefit from using Echinacea than others, so it is worth trying it for yourself. However, it should not be taken for more than 10 days and it may interact with other medications, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking.

Elderberry syrup

There is clinical evidence to suggest that flu symptoms (cough, nasal congestion, aches and pains) in otherwise healthy adults may improve an average of 4 days earlier, when taking elderberry extract syrup, compared to those not taking the syrup. This is potentially due to the antiviral properties of elderberry. Dosages used in one study were 15 ml four times per day over 5 days and the products used were Sambucol and Nature's Way. This may be a helpful, natural remedy to try if your symptoms are not too severe.


Allicin is one of the main components of garlic which has been shown to have potent antimicrobial and antiviral properties. Crushed garlic can easily be added to homemade salad dressings or included in cooked dishes to help prevent colds and flu. Allicin is released only when the garlic bulb is crushed, so wait 10 minutes before cooking the garlic to allow the allicin to fully develop.

One study showed a significant reduction in the number of colds reported and fewer cold symptoms when participants took one capsule per day of an allicin-containing garlic supplement for 12 weeks (compared to a placebo group). Garlic supplements may interact with blood thinners or anti-platelet medication so it is best to seek medical advice before taking these.

Honey and lemon

Lemon juice is a great source of immune-supporting vitamin C, and lemon rind is especially rich in flavonoids which have anti-viral and antioxidant properties.

Honey contains natural antimicrobial substances and may help to soothe the throat when combined with lemon in a warm drink. Several clinical studies suggest honey may help to reduce nighttime cough and improve sleep in children aged 2+ with upper respiratory infections. However, children under the age of 1 should not be given honey due to the risk of infant botulism.

Abuelgasim, H., Albury, C., Lee, J., 2021. Effectiveness of honey for symptomatic relief in upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine, 26(2), pp. 57-64.

Josling, P., 2001. Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey. Advances in Therapy, 18(4), pp. 189-93.

Karsch-Völk, M., Kiefer, D., Bauer, R., et al., 2014. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Systematic Review, [online] 2. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 Nov. 2021].

Natural Medicines Database, 2020. Echinacea. [online] Available at: <,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=981#background> [Accessed 26 Nov. 2021].

Natural Medicines Database, 2020. Elderberry. [online] Available at: <,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=434#warnings> [Accessed 26 Nov. 2021].

Paul, I.M., Beiler, J., McMonagle, A., et al., 2007. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 161(12), pp. 1140-1146.

Schapowal, A., Klein, P., Johnston, S., 2015. Echinacea reduces the risk of recurrent respiratory tract infections and complications: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Advances in Therapy, 32(3), pp.187-200.

Somerville, V., Braakhuis, A.J., Hopkins, W.G., 2016. Effect of Flavonoids on Upper Respiratory Tract Infections and Immune Function: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Advances in Nutrition, 7(3), pp.488-497.