The Prevention of Winter Ailments

We may be well into the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ to quote from the poem Ode to Autumn by John Keats, but this time of year also heralds the season of sniffles, sneezes, coughs and wheezes for many folk.

The question is, can anything be done to minimise or prevent common winter ailments in a natural, healthy way? The short answer is – yes, plenty! In fact there’s so much that can be done with natural medicine that the entire content of this May issue would not be sufficient space to cover even a fraction of what’s available. Please read my follow-up article in the next issue, entitle: ‘Is it a cold, or is it a flu? ’

As with much of life, one’s attitude relative to developing an occasional seasonal cold or fl u, or any other ailment for that matter, is vitally important. If the malady can be embraced as an event that helps to keep the immune system on its toes, the symptoms become a lot more tolerable. I like to consider the occasional cold as a sort of internal ‘spring-cleaning’ process that clears out debris and leaves my immune system well revved and raring to go.


Maybe you concur with herbalist David Hoffman, who writes ‘We “catch” a cold when the conditions in our body are right for a virus to thrive’. I believe that the body has inherent wisdom, so one needs to be mindful of these functions, when it comes to symptoms. For example, a rise in temperature does not mean reaching for something to suppress this symptom, as it is one of the methods the body uses to ‘burn up’ toxins. Another way the body eliminates toxins, apropos winter ailments, is via mucous (catarrhal) secretions, sweating, etc. These natural detoxification functions often therefore manifest as a sore throat, snotty nose, thick head, or other congestive symptoms of colds and ‘flu – which are usually looked on as something awful, rather than as a sign that the immune system is performing exactly as it should.

Having made these statements, it must be acknowledged that it is difficult to totally avoid exposure to winter bugs, or develop total immunity to viral pathogens, since there are so many of them, and they mutate from year to year. The best way to cope with the winter ailments and sniffles is therefore to be prepared. Firstly, ensure that the immune system is as strong and functional as possible. This is a good start, since the development of many illnesses can be described as a ‘cause and effect’ phenomenon.

Secondly, have your stash of natural remedies on hand to treat symptoms that fuss you unduly. Before the wrath of the orthodox medical fraternity descends on my head, let me clarify that obviously, repeated colds, coughs, etc. may require a different approach, as these could be indicative of more than simple impaired immunity. It goes without saying that various underlying pathologies or secondary infections, such as pneumonia or severe bronchitis, may require more than the standard winter-complaints support offered in an article of this nature.

Notwithstanding that cold weather can affect the body’s natural strength and resistance, a trend that seems to be emerging, in my observation, is that many more people are becoming ill when the seasons change, and they are taking much longer to get over their illnesses. Is this because there are more ‘lurgies’ in the air, or is it the result of other factors, such as unwise lifestyles and the fundamental consequences thereof?

Are our immune systems becoming so unbalanced and overburdened that we lack the resources to launch a counter-attack on the microorganisms that cause disease? So, before you reach for the antibiotics in desperation, please be aware that they are ineffectual against cold and flu viruses. Besides that, they tend to destroy both friendly and harmful gut bacteria, which leaves the body vulnerable to thrush and bowel disturbances as a side-effect, adding insult to injury. The overuse of these valuable medicines (yes, there is most definitely a place for them) has led to the ever-growing problem of bacteria that are antibiotic-resistant, which has resulted in the development of ‘super bugs’ that are immune to antimicrobial drugs. We need to keep these drugs for when they are really needed, if they are to be of any significant value to society.


There are other options, so take a moment to step back and consider what else can help you through the winter months, bearing in mind that the focus of most natural remedies is to treat the underlying cause, along with the symptoms, as opposed to merely masking or suppressing the symptoms, which tends to be the activity of prescription drugs. This approach underpins the fundamental philosophy of naturopaths and most other practitioners of natural medicine as well as many others who believe that Nature provides the cure for most ailments. In a perfect world, our food and water sources would provide most of our daily nutritional and health needs, but alas, that is not the reality considering the constraints of our current toxic environment.

In summary therefore, a holistic approach to health, along with a balanced diet, good hygiene, appropriate exercise, fresh air, good sleep and meaningful relaxation will go a long way towards strengthening the body, helping it rapidly recover from illness, or at least shortening the duration of an illness if and when it does occur.


Few people will make it through winter without a scratchy throat. Treatment is aimed at soothing and increasing moisture in the throat.

Here are some easy remedies:

  • Drink warm liquids, such as soups or herbal teas.
  • Suck on a zinc lozenge.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air.
  • If you have access to a steamroller pipe or sauna, use it.

If you do not have a steamroller pipe or sauna, you can set up your own inhalation system at home. Bring half a pot of water to the boil. Then remove from the heat and add a few drops of decongesting or antimicrobial herbs (eucalyptus, thyme, peppermint or rosemary), or use a good quality premixed essential oil such as Olbas or A.Vogel’s Po-Ho or Tibb Inhaler Capsules. Close your eyes and cover your head with a towel and inhale deeply through your mouth and nose.

Drinking plenty of water and some herbal teas will not only soothe your sore throat, but could actually remedy it.

An all-time favourite is a ginger, cinnamon and lemon tea comprising:

  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons of grated organic lemon peel
  • ½ cup of water

Combine the above ingredients in a small pot and simmer for 15 minutes. Add three tablespoons of this liquid to a cup of warm water and sip slowly. Save the rest for additional cups of tea later in the day. Adding a tablespoon of honey can also help soothe the throat.

Some herbs for sore throats include sage, thyme and slippery elm. Make a herbal tea from any of these herbs by steeping two teaspoons of leaves (dry or fresh) in a cup of boiling water.

Interesting note: When water is added to slippery elm, a substance called mucilage becomes gel-like and coats and soothes sore throats.


Please follow and like us:

The Prevention of Winter Ailments

Dr Sandi Nye
About The Author
- Dr, ND. She is a naturopath with a special interest in aromatic and integrative medicine, and is dual-registered with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa (AHPCSA). She serves as editorial board member and/or consultant for various national and international publications, and is in private practice in Pinelands, Cape Town.