t’s one of the oldest of all the home remedies for colds and flu. Gargling with salt water has been used for centuries-and probably longer-as the first line of treatment for the infections that come with colder weather. But does it really work?

salt.jpgThe oldest home remedy for colds and flu: Salt

In a study published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2005, researchers recruited 400 volunteers and asked half of them to gargle three times a day during colds and flu season. The gargling group got 40 per cent fewer cases of colds and flu, and even when they did, they reported easier breathing and faster recovery than those who did not gargle.

The participants in this often-cited study, however, did not actually gargle with salt water. They gargled with water treated with a few drops of tincture of iodine. The idea that salt water might be a superior gargle has been confirmed by organizations such as the august and universally respected Mayo Clinic, but it’s considered such a basic, commonsensical idea that no clinical studies have ever been made to verify it scientifically.

The Mayo Clinic advises that 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (1-2 grams) of table salt dissolved in 8 oz (240 ml) of warm water is the ideal ratio to give fast, temporary relief of sore throat and mouth caused by everyday upper respiratory infections. As long as you don’t swallow your mouthwash, you are in no danger of aggravating high blood pressure by consuming too much salt.

Adding a squeeze of lemon juice to your salt water gargle may also be helpful. The lemon juice contains a small amount of vitamin C. It also contains a larger amount of quercetin, a plant antioxidant that prevents the release of histamine when allergies accompany colds.

Herb tinctures and … honey

And if you happen to take any herb tinctures for your colds and flu, especially the cat’s claw products from the Amazon (cat’s claw being a vine with claw-like hooks on its stems, not an actual feline) or the Ayurvedic herb andrographis, adding lemon juice to the herb tincture and water that you swallow activates healing tannins. These tannins stimulate the immune system, and they protect the lining of your mouth and throat from infection.sweet_honey.jpg

Another household remedy that can be very helpful in overcoming colds and flu is honey. Beehives have to be extremely resistant to all kinds of infections. Honey contains naturally occurring antibacterial agents that can also help you find off secondary infections that so often follow colds.

Honey can also help children fight coughs. Clinical testing has found that honey is just as useful as the common cough syrup ingredient dextromethorphan in reducing the frequency of nighttime coughs, although the coughs that still occur are just as deep and productive, removing phlegm from the bronchial passages. A study reported in the July 2010 edition of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that honey is even better than diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for allowing children to sleep soundly and also better than commercially available cough syrups. The honey is eaten, not gargled. As little as one teaspoon is enough for a beneficial effect.