Are Herbal Remedies Safe?

The good news is that, in general, most of natural remedies won’t hurt you (although it can’t hurt to check with your doctor).

And there may be several upsides to herbal supplements. “I believe that most of the over-the-counter products just mask symptoms, which is great to get you through the day,” Dr. Leopold says. “But many of the natural oral supplements are working more with the body, maybe stimulating the immune system and also helping the body to heal.”

Here is a list of well known herbal compounds that have been recently tested for their effectiveness against the common cold.


The herb Echinacea purpurea is one of the best known and widely available herbal cold treatments. Two studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found no benefit from echinacea in a juice formulation or in an unrefined combination of root and herb. However, mixing 15 to 20 drops of an echinacea tincture with warm water four or five times a day (or as directed on the bottle) was found to be beneficial for most of the test subjects.


Although this Asian herb is taken mainly to boost energy, stamina, and overall health, researchers have begun to examine its efficacy in fighting the common cold. A 2005 study conducted by Canadian researchers found that taking ginseng every day reduced the severity and duration of cold symptoms, and appeared to prevent colds as well.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C may be the most studied of the available alternative remedies. Again, study results have been mixed, but experts seem to more strongly support vitamin C than other remedies. The recommended everyday intake is 75 milligrams per day for adult women and 90 milligrams per day for adult men. Some practitioners recommend that people with colds take a gram or so of vitamin C several times a day, depending on what other medical conditions they may have.


A 1996 study found that zinc lozenges reduced the duration of the common cold from 7.6 days to 4.4 days. However, there may be some risk to Zicam Cold Remedy products. In 2006, the manufacturer of the zinc spray paid $12 million to settle 340 lawsuits from consumers who claimed to have lost their sense of smell after using the product. And in June 2009, the FDA warned consumers to stop using three Zicam products due to the risk of a loss of the sense of smell.