The onset of October ushers in the season of falling leaves, crackling fires, ample harvests, and the likelihood that, at some point, you’ll feel like your throat is charred and that someone is beating on your temples with a mallet.

Yes, it’s flu season. Cases peak between December and March, according to the CDC, but the flu begins its attack in October. If you’re looking for home remedies, a healthy dose of the right spices, berries, and herbs can help you fight back.

“Food is medicine,” says Dr. Erin Holston Singh, founder of Options Naturopathic Clinic in Cleveland Heights. “Certain ingredients work in concert with your normal physiology.”

Over-the-counter pills suppress the body’s normal eliminatory functions during a cold or the flu. Each time you take an antibiotic, you’re essentially creating a pathway for new and unwanted pathogenic bacteria to inhabit your body, she says.

Some of the most powerful cold and flu warriors can be retrieved from your garden, pantry or refrigerator, like garlic. Others, such as elderberry, can be found at a natural foods store or prescribed by herbalists or other natural medicine doctors.

Here is a list of some immunity-reinforcing foods and remedies:


The wise ancients revered garlic for its ability to ward off evil spirits such as vampires and werewolves, and to fight illness. While the former pursuit is practiced only at Halloween in modern times, doctors still extoll the medicinal benefits of those half-moon-shaped raw cloves.

Garlic is an immune system stimulant. It has powerful anti-viral, antibiotic and antiseptic properties that can help shorten the duration of a cold or flu.

“Its active ingredient, allicin, cleans the body of any crud,” Erin says. “I know people who regularly eat garlic during cold and flu season and don’t get as sick as those who don’t eat garlic. If you’re diabetic or have a chronic condition, and your immune system is more compromised, there’s a good chance you can overcome an illness with allicin if you eat garlic.”

Consume chopped or diced raw, steamed or as a glycerin extract. Overcooking garlic may destroy important medicinal compounds and the enzymes necessary for it to be effective.


The berries and flowers from this shrub — native to Europe, Africa and parts of Asia — are used as medicine. Elderberry’s flavonoids contain antioxidants that have anti-viral, immune-stimulating properties. In fact, elderberry outranks blueberries, cranberries, goji berries and blackberries in total flavonol content.

Those flavonoids help reduce swelling in the mucous membranes, relieve nasal congestion and may reduce the duration of flu by three days.

“The flavonoids are like superfoods for our bodies. The extract from the berries is an incredible cleansing mechanism,” Erin says.

Take 1 teaspoon of elderberry syrup per day, or three times per day if you develop the flu.


The common cold lasts up to two weeks, and may be caused by nearly 100 different viruses. Lemon and cayenne pepper powder are commonly used to treat cold symptoms and can reduce symptoms such as congestion, sore throat and fever. The frontline soldier in cayenne pepper — capsaicin — activates the hypothalamus, the cooling portion of the brain that helps lower body temperature and fight fever.

Erin suggests a periodic gargle with cayenne powder each day. “This is a great respiratory formula that helps give the body a kick and stimulates blood flow,” Erin says.

Cayenne Gargle
1 cup distilled or filtered water, warm, but not scalding
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
A pinch of cayenne

Gargle every 15 minutes as needed.


Referenced in Hindu devotional and sacred ceremonies as “the golden goddess,” this fiery orange spice has been a celebrated ingredient in Indian cooking for millennia. Ayurvedic, Chinese and Siddhic cultures have heralded the healing and medicinal benefits for some 4,000 years, according to The Herbal Academy, a Massachusetts-based educational organization.

Curcumin, the substance responsible for turmeric’s orange hue, contains potent antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-cancer and anti-bacterial properties. It also blocks enzymes that promote inflammation and pain, such as in the throat and tonsils.

Turmeric should be taken with black pepper to maximize its medicinal benefits (turmeric rapidly metabolizes in the liver and intestines), says Annie Hall, general manager of The Herbal Academy, who offers the recipe for this delicious detoxifying concoction.

Golden Milk
1 cup unsweetened coconut, rice or almond milk
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coconut oil
Few shakes of ground black pepper
Generous dash of vanilla
Raw local honey or maple syrup to taste
Sprinkle of cinnamon

Pour all ingredients but cinnamon into a blender and blend on high briefly until combined and foamy. Pour into cup, sprinkle with cinnamon, and serve.


The healing properties of this sweet, zesty spice run the gamut. The relaxing nature of its aromatic oils helps fight nausea. Ginger helps relieve inflammation and sore throats. Its antimicrobial properties help thin mucous and promote expectoration — the unpleasant but necessary discharge of gunk in the lungs and throat.

The instant you feel a cold or flu coming on, fill a pot of boiling water and dissolve some powdered or fresh ginger into the pan.

“A cup of ginger tea will warm a body chilled by the weather or flu,” says Jane Metzger, assistant director at the Herbal Academy.

This kitchen herb simultaneously relaxes the arterial muscles and stimulates arterial circulation, which warms the body’s extremities while also promoting sweating to cool the body. “Ginger’s volatile oils also stimulate the immune system to fight bacterial and viral infections,” she says.

Ginger Tea
1/2 to 1 teaspoon powdered ginger or several slices of fresh ginger
1 cup water
Honey to taste

Dissolve ginger in boiling water. Sweeten with honey and drink several cups a day.

Can’t choose just one herb to soothe what ails you?

Try Ben Bebenroth’s potent Fire Cider, an amalgamation of apple cider vinegar, oranges, lemon, onion, ginger, horseradish, habanero pepper, garlic, turmeric, and raw wildflower honey.

Additional sources:

“The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods” by Dr. Michael Murray