This is the season of colds and flu, coughs and sore throats, viral infections which you can’t cure with antibiotics. You just have to wait for them to clear up by themselves. However, we can help speed up this process and relieve some of the symptoms. If you have a reasonably mild viral infection you may prefer to avoid conventional medicines such as cough syrups and cold or flu remedies in favour of a more natural treatment. I’ve tried taking certain cold or flu medicines in the past and found they tended to make me feel dizzy and worse than I’d been feeling before taking them, so I avoid them completely these days.
In Mexico, as in many other places around the world, there is a strong tradition of using natural plant-based ingredients to treat all kinds of different ailments. Here in the third part of my series on warming winter drinks I’ll be looking at Tea – herbal teas, or, more correctly, herbal infusions, that are commonly used in Mexico as remedies for colds, coughs and flu. Most of these are probably common in many other countries too and the ingredients should be widely available.
I’ve only included a few recipes, but Mexican folklore is full of all sorts of herbal remedies, and people are usually very keen to share their knowledge with you. Countless times while suffering from a cough or irritated throat, I’ve been advised to try versions of the teas I’ve written about below. I’ll never forget (because I actually tried it) the advice of one of my students many years ago to leave half an onion soaking in lime juice overnight then to drink the juice in the morning mixed with honey. Oh, yum! It did help a bit, though.
Of course, if your ailment persists or is more serious you should seek professional medical advice. This post is a light-hearted look at some natural remedies which are purported to help treat the symptoms of common winter ailments but in no way do I have any medical authority or solid scientific basis for these claims! I wrote this post based on popular lore and a little internet research.
Natural Teas and Infusions
Lime and honey tea
Limes and lemons have antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Honey, especially raw honey, has antibacterial and antioxidant properties.
A hot tea made with lime juice and lime peel is simple to make: add the lime peel to boiling water and steep for a few minutes. You can take out the peel or leave it in. Squeeze in some lime juice – the more the better – and mix in one or two spoonfuls of honey. It definitely helps relieve the symptoms of a cold or cough and soothes a sore throat.
Cinnamon tea is used to treat a cough or sore throat, reduce a fever and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Make an infusion by boiling a stick of cinnamon in water for two minutes then leaving to cool. Take the cinnamon stick out of the water then use this cinnamon water to make a herbal tea – you could use any kind of tea or infusion for this. Add honey to sweeten.
Don’t drink cinnamon tea (avoid cinnamon altogether, in fact) if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or if you suffer from heart disease (it can increase the heart rate), if you are already taking antibiotics or if you have a stomach ulcer (it can cause irritation).
Bougainvillea flowers have expectorant properties and are commonly used as a cough remedy in Mexico. Apparently, purple flowers are best, although if you can’t get hold of purple you can use any colour.
You can make a simple infusion adding four or five flowers to a cup of boiling water. Take the water off the heat and leave to infuse for approximately ten minutes with the flowers. Strain the infusion and mix in a spoonful of honey. Drink three cups of bougainvillea tea a day for three days and it should help your cough.
You can make a stronger remedy adding other ingredients to pack an extra anti-cough and cold punch.
Boil a litre of water with a clove of garlic, then add to this a pinch of fresh thyme and a slice of onion and simmer for three minutes. Take off the heat and add 10g of bougainvillea flowers; leave to repose for 10 minutes, then strain. Sweeten with honey.
You can also add bougainvillea flowers to cinnamon tea, with lime juice, garlic juice and honey.
Garlic is a natural antibiotic which strengthens the immune system, so it’s worth putting up with its pungent flavour for the health benefits of this natural remedy.
You can make a garlic infusion by boiling three chopped cloves of garlic in a litre of water. Strain and drink it hot – I would definitely advise adding honey and lemon both to improve the flavour and for the extra health benefits of these two ingredients.
Ginger is an ingredient I aim to incorporate as much as possible in food and drink recipes, especially during the cold season, for its expectorant, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties.
It’s easy to make a ginger infusion; add chopped ginger to hot water, cover and leave to steep for a few minutes. You could then strain it or leave the pieces of ginger in the infusion and mix in lime juice and honey. The quantities you use really depend on how mild or strong you want the flavour to be.
Gordolobo (Mullein flower) Tea
Mullein flower, known as Gordolobo in Mexico, can be used to treat coughs, colds, sore throats, bronchitis and asthma. It can help to dissolve and expel phlegm and soothe an irritated throat.
To make a Gordolobo infusion you will need 20 – 30 grams of flowers. Add them to a litre of boiling water, cover and steep for 10 minutes, then strain, preferably with a very fine mesh or with a muslin cloth.
Don’t give Gordolobo tea to children under 12, pregnant or breastfeeding women or anyone suffering from hepatitis.
I hope you enjoyed and can maybe even benefit from these natural remedies. Have you tried any of these or do you know of any other herbal infusions to combat coughs and colds? I’d love to read about them so please leave me a comment below!
You can catch up on my previous Warming Winter Drinks post here: Warming drinks for winter in Mexico #2 Hot Chocolate
Mejor con salud - Los beneficios ocultos del te de canela
Hive and Honey Apiary