Cold-Cold or Hot-Cold? Home Remedies for Winter Colds

This week in my clinic a good 25% of patients have been coming in with winter colds, blocked noses and stuffy sinuses. I love treating patients with these symptoms as it’s not often that people come for acupuncture treatment with acute illnesses – they tend to see the GP first – so it’s a great chance to use acupuncture as a ‘first line treatment’ or as ‘primary care’. Here is a bit of background on the Chinese medicine view of colds and what you can do at home to help reduce your symptoms.

‘Cold’ Cold or ‘Hot’ Cold

One of the key diagnostic distinctions in treating colds is whether you have a ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ version of the cold. In other words are your symptoms accompanied by a high temperature, sweats and feeling hot or are you feeling cold and shivery with a constant stream of clear mucus running from your nose? These are two quite different collections of symptoms which need two different approaches to treatment. Acupuncture? Yes. Rest? Yes. But the main thing you might try at home is a decoction of everyday herbs and spices to clear your nasal congestion and ‘dry up’ all the phlegm and mucus.

Decoction v Infusion

Most people will be familiar with lemon and honey or a hot toddy with whisky to give a bit of comfort and relief. This is called an infusion i.e. you add ingredients to hot water and then drink. A decoction, is much stronger than an infusion and involves the boiling of herbs or spices to extract their active ingredients for a much more pungent but ultimately more effective remedy. Here is a recipe for a classic Chinese medicine decoction for a ‘Cold’ cold i.e if you feel colds, have puffy face, streaming clear nose and shivers. I get all my patients to do this at home.

‘Cold’ Cold Decoction

1 litre of water

1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger – thinly sliced

1  stick of cinnamon

6 cloves

Skin of an orange – chopped

Method: Add all ingredients to a pan and bring to the boil. Cook for 5 minutes then remove from heat. Use the decoction as a steam bath i.e. hang head over the pan, covered with a towel to inhale the steam for 5 minutes, then strain the decoction off some of the decoction into a mug to drink. Add honey or maple syrup to taste. Warning! It is a pretty fiery brew – bitter, pungent and heating but for a ‘cold’ cold it is an excellent way to warm you up and unblock your nasal passages.