Welcome to The Season. No, not the one of good cheer, candles, and gifts. I mean cold and flu season. Oh, yeah, THAT one. As the number of patients cancelling due to illness has increased and I, myself, have had a cold recently, it seemed appropriate to provide a few easy, TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) supports for you to have on hand.
When you are just starting to feel under the weather but aren't sure what's in store, green onion and bean curd soup is the recommendation. This can easily be taken with some good flavor in the form of miso soup, as long as the green onion goes beyond merely decorative.
TCM divides "colds" into two basic forms: wind-heat and wind-cold. There are other herbal formulas for each of these types as well that your acupuncturist can get for you that are stronger and more comprehensive but for availability and palatablity the remedies below are superior.
As the names suggest, wind heat will have signs of heat like a fever and sore throat. Folks are often thirsty and have a dry cough. They are hot but produce little to no perspiration to cool down. The easy OTC support of choice for wind-heat is peppermint tea.
Wind cold may have a fever but chills will predominate and body aches will be more pronounced. Likely you'll have a drippy nose. Think about how you feel if you go out underdressed in cold weather and that pretty much describes it, only covered in blankets and in bed. Interesting that we all refer to these illnesses as "colds." Outside of your doctor's office how many people do you hear saying, "I have a viral upper respiratory infection"?
Wind cold does best with cinnamon -based teas. There are a wide variety of pumpkin-spice variants available in your tea aisle. Pick one with actual cinnamon and ginger (not "natural flavors") or brew your own using cinnamon stick and ginger slices. If you are a sushi afficianado and have some perilla leaves (zi su ye), these too are beneficial as a tea.
If you are getting the bonus symptom of a cough, mi feng aka honey has been shown to be an effective mitigator. See e.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4264806/
There are many online recipes that add ginger and lemon to honey for homemade cough syrup. Fresh ginger (sheng jiang) does have some cough suppression and mucus-busting properties. Instead of lemon, I like to add Chen Pi, a dried citrus rind, to work on cough not simply add flavor. It is available through many on-line retailers and some Asian markets.
For productive coughs or illnesses with extra mucus, I also use mustard seed (Bai Jie zi) to break up the phlegm. Both the mustard seed and ginger are very warming so if you have a wind-heat type of cold you will definitely want to be balancing it out witb peppermint tea or, if available, substitute radish seed (lai fu zi) for mustard seed to break up phlegm without the heat. I know you are thinking "that sounded tasty until you added the mustard seed" but I still think it tastes better than a "grape flavored" OTC cough syrup from the pharmacy. And works just as well, if not better.
To make, cover the solid items* with about a half inch of water in a sauce pan. Enough so that they don't dry out with cooking. Boil and then turn down to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Strain out the solids. Carefully add the hot liquid to approximately an equal volume of honey and stir. Extra delicious taken warm. This can store covered in your fridge for about two weeks.
Of course, all your usual common sense still applies. Don't be giving honey to kids under a year old. See your physician if symptoms worsen or persist. Stay home, hydrating and napping as much as you possibly can. Let a low fever do its job but supress a dangerously high one with things like ibuprofen or aspirin. Wash your hands and cover that cough.
*I use 4-5 slices of fresh ginger, 1.5 tsp mustard seed, and two large pieces of Chen Pi. These can be strained and used again for a second cooking to make a larger volume if you have the unfortunate, but common, experience of multiple family members ill at the same time.