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11 Easy Zero Waste Remedies for Cold and Flu Symptoms

I have never been one to run to the medicine cabinet as soon as I get sick. (heck, I’m even stingy with Tylenol.) But it’s not because I’m a disbeliever in modern medicine; I’ve just found that many of the medicines we rely on to curb cold and flu symptoms are just cover-ups. In the end, a cold has to run its course, plain and simple. 

Most of the time, my remedies for curing the common cold come down to: lots of sleep, lots of water, and a nourishing diet rich in healthy vitamins and minerals.

However, I’ve got a few additional tricks up my sleeve that are completely natural and zero waste, and don’t cost near what a bottle of DayQuil will.

Multi-Purpose Ingredients to Keep in Your Pantry

Every single one of the ingredients on this list, is likely something you already cook or clean with. How’s that for simplicity! Each ingredient is time-tested, easy to find, and on this list for one simple reason: they work!


Peppermint – Peppermint has natural decongesting properties and makes a delicious tea. To buy zero waste, look for loose tea leaves or choose packaging that can be completely composted in your home compost bin.

Sage – Did you know that sage is an astringent and natural pain-killer? It also has antiseptic and antibacterial properties and is usually easy to find package-free at your grocery or farmer’s market.

Essential Oils

Eucalyptus – Eucalyptus oil is a big favorite of mine! This oil has natural antimicrobial properties and works wonders as a decongestant. I always, always have this one on hand. To be zero waste, avoid plastic packaging, buy in larger volumes, and always choose glass over plastic.

Lavender – Ahhh, lavender. This oil is a keeper, if only for its lovely scent! Lavender essential oil is known for its anti-inflammatory and cooling properties. Great for stress, headaches and promoting good sleep.

Tea Tree – Tea tree oil is antiviral and antibacterial, which is why it is often used in natural skincare recipes or homemade cleaning solutions like this one.


Ginger – To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of ginger as a standalone flavor; however, it’s excellent for respiratory congestion and is great for curbing nausea. This can be found pretty easily at your local farmer’s market or grocer, package-free.

Lemon – I love fruits and veggies that come in their own packaging! Lemon is an anti-inflammatory with high levels of citric acid – perfect for killing bacteria and viruses.

Onion – Onions are natural expectorants, which means they loosen mucus that causes those rattly, wet coughs. If you’ve ever tried to cut an onion without safety goggles on, you’ll know what I mean!


Honey – I’m a huge honey-lover – it’s great on toast, in tea, and when used as a natural sweetener! But did you know that honey is also naturally antibacterial?

Epsom Salts – Epsom salts are a natural muscle relaxant (body aches, anyone?) and also very rich in magnesium. I buy mine in bulk at our co-op, but you can usually find this in cardboard packaging too!

Sea Salt – Sea salt is a mild astringent and antiseptic. Just buy this in bulk or in paper if you don’t have it on hand already. 

My Favorite Natural Cold & Flu Remedies

To relieve sinus congestion:

Sip hot teas and broths – There’s a reason we associate sickness with soup! Hot fluids heat up the throat and slow the lifecycle of whatever virus is ailing you. 

Inhale steam with essential oils – My essential oils diffuser/humidifer is my best friend right now. A few drops of eucalyptus oil in a humidifier (or bowl of hot water) will do wonders and keep those fluids moving. You can get my exact model right here!

Eat spicy foods – Yep, it’s that simple. The increased blood flow caused by spicy foods will loosen up what’s congesting you; plus, spicy food’s delicious.

Shower with eucalyptus branches – Again with the eucalyptus… Collect a few branches and hang them in the shower behind the showerhead to release yummy decongesting steam.

To soothe a sore throat:

Gargle warm salt water – Dissolve a teaspoon of salt water in 8 oz. of warm water, then gargle and spit until the water is gone. This is especially great to do when you’re just starting to feel that tickle!

Gargle sage tea with salt – Same method as above, just use a sage tea made from dried sage leaves, instead of water.

To ease a cough:

Try a spoonful of honey and lemon – Add a squeeze full of lemon to a spoonful of honey and let it dissolve in your mouth before swallowing. It’ll taste funny, but it’s worth it. 

To calm muscle aches:

Enjoy a long bath – Epsom salt baths have been such a treat for my muscles while I’ve been sick. Add 10-15 drops of eucalyptus oil as well to aid decongestion.

Use a warm compress – I’m a big fan of rice heating bags – a.k.a. “warmies.” They always work wonders for my sore neck and back and can even relieve cramps!

Learn how to make your own here!

To relieve a headache:

Enjoy a lavender massage – This one’s easy. Just gently massage a few drops of lavender oil onto your temples. The cooling properties of lavender will help soothe your headache!

To alleviate nausea:

Sip ginger tea or nibble on candied ginger – I always keep candied ginger on hand in case I’m facing a bout of nausea. You can also try this in tea form! Just simmer one or two teaspoons of fresh ginger root in water for 8-10 minutes, then strain and sweeten if you desire.

How do you naturally soothe a nasty cold or flu? Have any tricks for us?