Instead of Ibuprofen: My Guide to Natural Cold & Flu Relief

It happens to all of us, sometimes we just wake up in the morning and feel totally grotty; sore throat, stuffy face, horrible headache, and a whole host of other unpleasantnesses besides.

So what do we do?

Well some would say retreat to your bed, apply a cold compress and wait it out. If you’re running a fever, confined to the bathroom, hallucinating and generally unable to function I would totally agree. However if you happen to be on the less dramatic side of things, possibly just plagued by a head cold, then it’s more than likely that you’ll just have to go on with your day as normal.

Way back when I would have just reached straight for the medicine cabinet, dosed myself up on painkillers, decongestants etc and headed out the door. What I know now however is that those medications actually place extra burden on our systems which are already under attack, plus they only calm the immediate symptoms and don’t really do anything for the underlying cause of our discomfort.

So when I feel something horrid lurking I have a small arsenal of natural remedies on hand. They form my multi-pronged approach, sorting my symptoms so I can crack on with my life, whilst also supporting my overall immune function to kick whatever is causing the issue out the door quick sharp.

The products and foods discussed are by no means an exhaustive list, they just happen to be the ones I personally choose to use and have success with. If you have an extra questions about brands, particular products or anything else I have mentioned feel free to email me directly at pliebling@me.com or comment below.

With healthy wishes,



I always start with food and for me there is nothing more potent than this trio; fresh garlic, ginger and turmeric. There are all nuclear powerhouses when it comes to their antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities so getting as much of these three in as possible is my first point of call.

Add them to smoothies, pestos, dressings, soups or boil up the whole roots in a pan with water for 10 mins (lid on) then leave to infuse before straining and drinking. If you’re feeling creative/super poorly see my Immune Elixir recipe, no bug stands a chance when that guy’s in town!


Grandmother’s panacea and for jolly good reason. Packed to the rafters with nutrients, soothing on the throat, and easy to sip on when you’re feeling down and out, and absolute must have and one I encourage people to consume regularly as a preventative measure as well.

See here for my simple recipe.


I LOVE elderberry.

This beautiful plant helps to decrease congestion and activates your immune response. It can also increase sweating which aids detoxification, whilst an increased temperature can help to destroy any lurking bacteria.

You can find this natural beauty in a few forms; as Elderberry Elixir or Elderberry Syrup by Pukka Herbs, Sambucol Original Black Elderberry Syrup or Biona Organic Elderberry Pure Super Juice. My personal favourite is the Organic Elderberry Throat Spray by Viridian Nutrition which is perfect for soothing and lubricating a sore throat.


Echinacea preparations have been used for centuries to support the immune system, making it one of the most widely recognised herbal remedies for colds & flu.

It should be taken at the onset of symptoms to help to speed up recovery times but tapered off after a couple of days as it begins to loose its effect.

There are loads of Echinacea products available but I tend to use the Echinaforce Lozenges or Tincture by A Vogel or Viridian’s Organic Echinacea Tincture.


This incredible mineral plays a vital role in the maintenance of optimal immune function; even just a mild deficiency can reduce the efficacy of your body’s natural defence system. Taking a zinc supplement is one of the best ways to ward nasties off in the first place, with an increased dose when you’re poorly dramatically reducing symptom duration.

Food sources of Zinc include: Sesame seeds, Pumpkin seeds, Lentils, Chickpeas, Cashews, Quinoa, Spinach, Beef, Lamb, Turkey and Prawns.

Supplements are best taken under the guidance of a qualified practitioner as there can be interaction with medications or the absorption of other minerals, different forms of Zinc may also be considered depending on your particular situation. If you choose to purchase one by yourself however I would suggest taking them with a little food as some people can find they feel a tad nauseous with mineral supplements if taken on an empty stomach.


Derived from the leaves of the olive tree, this incredible remedy contains compounds with anti-microbial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.

Research suggests olive leaf may be particularly helpful in inhibiting viral replication, and especially helpful with lower respiratory infections. I also find that gargling with Olive Leaf tea at the onset of a sore throat can really kick it to the curb quick sharp.

I really like Comvita’s Olive Leaf products, including their Winter Wellness range which includes a Manuka Honey & Olive Leaf syrup, in addition to lozenges in a variety of flavours and natural lollipops which are great for kids. They also make a pure Olive Leaf Extract, as do Viridian Nutrition. If purchasing Olive Leaf tea look for an organic product, The Kent & Sussex Tea & Coffee Co do a lovely one.


There are two distinct components within honey that give it its immune stimulating action; the unique probiotic strain Lactobacillus kunkeei and the phytochemicals incorporated into it from the plant nectars they are formed from, which is what separates Manuka honey in particular from the rest of the pack.

Lactobacillus kunkeei increases levels of IgA (a vital component of the immune system) found in the saliva which acts as part of your security patrol force, aiming to prevent infections on the front line.

Heat filtered honey may still elicit a small immune response, however I would always suggest going for a raw product to harness its full power. Manuka honey absolutely should be consumed cold, heating or dissolving it in hot drinks will destroy the health promoting probiotic component.

In terms of picking a Manuka honey, evidence indicates a UMF of 15+ should be satisfactory for generally healthy individuals just looking to support themselves through a short period of illness. Those with a depressed immune system or autoimmune conditions may benefit from a higher factor though.

There are so many good quality Manuka Honey products available now, example brands include Comvita, Daylesford Organic and The Manuka Doctor, just make sure you’re not falling foul of a blended or treated product as this won’t have the same effects.

Mucolytic & Immune Boosting Foods


Contains a group of enzymes referred to as Bromelain. This can be particularly effective in reducing inflammation and infection, particularly in the sinuses.

Munching on a little pineapple will help to breakdown catarrh, relieving those stuffy head feelings. It is also rich in Vitamin C which will go on to support the rest of your immune system.


Are pretty awesome. There are many an old wives tales about sleeping with red onions in your socks for colds, but I prefer to eat them for their potent immune modulating properties instead!

Rich in quercetin, a powerful anti fungal, antimicrobial and antioxidant, red onions are an absolute must if you’re feeling a little grim. They also contain allicin, one of the compounds that gives garlic its superstar status, in addition to sulphurous compounds that support the liver.

Use them raw, and try not to over peel them, or better yet, whip up some of my Immune Elixir and it’s all in there for you!


Your microbiome, AKA the bacteria found in distinct colonies around your body, form the first line defence of your immune system against anything unpleasant that you may come into contact with.

So if the function of your microbiome becomes depressed, either through stress, the use of certain medications or illness, your susceptibility to infection is increased. Giving your levels of these beneficial bacteria a boost through eating naturally probiotic foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, natto, tempeh, kefir (water, dairy or coconut based), kombucha, live yoghurt (organic dairy or non-dairy, unsweetened) you’ve popped in a really simple (and effective) way to stave of illness.

Kimchi in particular contains a specific bacteria, lactobacillus sakei, which is found to protect the sinuses, so if you’re a chronic sinusitis sufferer try adding in some kimchi regularly and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

A few of my favourite brands include Laurie’s Foods, Pana, Biona Organic, Tickle’s Pickles and Raw Health.


The use of vinegar as an antibacterial can be traced back to Hippocrates who used it to manage wounds. This variety in particular is achieved through a long, slow fermentation process, which leaves it rich in antimicrobial and antioxidant compounds in addition to digestion enhancing enzymes.

Apple Cider Vinegar with ‘The Mother’ refers to a web like structure of amino acids found in unpasteurised and unfiltered varieties, it indicates a high quality vinegar and in this instance the ‘murkier’ your vinegar the better!

All those wonderful compounds not only help to support your digestive function (which is  another important safe guard against possible invaders) but will also actively break down mucous to help get you back on your feet in no time.

Look for an organic, unfiltered product when purchasing, I use the Biona or Braggs ones.


Most people will find that dairy increases mucous production so I always advise avoiding dairy foods whilst you’re not feeling great. Simply substitute in a non-dairy alternative for the longevity of your cold and a few days afterwards.