Sick woman thermometer fever bed flu

Six Things You MUST Keep on Hand for Cold & Flu Season

♦ READING TIME: 6 min, 7 sec

My niece started kindergarten this year. Really, is there anything more adorable than this rite of passage? Picture it:

  • Cute little girl heading off to class in her brand new school dress…
  • Cute little girl coming home with her very first homework assignment…
  • Cute little girl stricken ill with the latest round of EbolaBubonicPlagueBirdFlu that is infecting every classmate in her !@*#^! schoolroom!

I love my nieces and nephews, but you can’t deny that once a kid starts school, they are going to endure the immune system hardening that is just part of being a member of the human herd. They are going to pick up every virus within sneezing distance while they sit at their shiny new desks, and like it or not, they’re going to bring that virus back home to you.

Now I don’t have kids, myself. But in addition to the aforementioned nieces and nephews that live near us, I also have a passel of friends who are raising the next generation of little peoples. Consequently, even though I’m not a parent, I, too, swim in the viral stew that is part of the Parenting Package.

Of course there are things you can do to keep your immune system—and that of your kiddos—in fighting form. After all, just because a virus enters your system, it doesn’t mean you have to succumb to its dastardly clutches. Some of my favorite preventative strategies include:

  • Loads of Vitamin D, via sun exposure and/or supplementation with a combination of D3 and K2
  • Stress reduction
  • Plenty of sleep
  • Sticking to a healthy diet at least 80{5b94df0808d5051ae4460ba229ec68b809d99f898aebd4fa5019c7ba642362c2} of the time
  • Drastically minimizing refined sugars

But even the best of intentions can go awry. We travel. We attend parties. Work gets crazy. And before we know it, we’re sleep-deprived, stressed out, undernourished wrecks, ripe for a viral ambush.

Unfortunately, the above-described perfect storm happened to me a few months ago. And double-unfortunately, my immune-compromised situation perfectly coincided with the post-Christmas back-to-school season for the kiddos of friends and family. Before I knew it, I was as sick as I’d ever been as an adult. Partially bedridden with an almost narcoleptic feeling of exhaustion. For almost TWO WEEKS.

So how did I handle it? Well, aside from withdrawing from the world and watching untold hours of Netflix, I fell back upon my in-house store of items that I keep in stock for just such an unfortunate occasion. After all, emergencies aren’t just about earthquakes and tornadoes! You need emergency kits for the more mundane calamities of life, too.

Here are my top 6 “Sick Kit” items, in descending order of awesomeness:


mother child daughter congestion steam vapor essential oils flu cold

A picture is worth a 1000 words: here’s how to make a steam tent!

Peppermint and eucalyptus essential oils

For me, the worst part of a cold is the unrelenting congestion. I get horrendous sinus headaches that make me want to curl in a ball and sob…except the sobbing would only make the congestion worse, so I usually just do the curl-in-a-ball part.

And then I turn to my secret weapon: the towel steam tent! It’s super easy and super effective. You simply boil a pot of water, remove it from the heat, and add 1-2 drops of peppermint and 6-8 drops of eucalyptus oil. Then you put your head over the steam, drape a large towel over both you and the steam pot, and breathe in the steam until you get bored (for me, that’s about 5 minutes).

Repeat as often as needed. Keep a box of tissues nearby, as this is shockingly effective at loosening up nasal congestion.

Saline nasal spray

woman nasal congestion saline spray flu cold allergies

This woman looks way more elegant than I do when I rinse my sinuses.

This is an adjunct to the steam tent. Some people like to use a neti pot, but I prefer to buy the premade saline spray at the drugstore.

I know there are people who can pour the saline solution directly through their nostrils, but that makes me feel like I’m drowning, so what I do instead is tilt my head back, close off my throat with my tongue, and direct a stream of saline into each nostril. Then I pinch my nose closed with a tissue and tip forward at the waist. I then tilt my head to one side, then the other, effectively swishing the saline around my sinus openings.

I know it sounds goofy—probably looks goofy, too—but I was taught this technique by a former NASA flight surgeon who said this was what he taught his astronaut and pilot patients to do when they had congestion issues. It’s completely drug-free and thus doesn’t affect flight performance. So there. :p

REAL chicken broth

Chicken broth stew soup sinus congestion flu

This is totally not how I make chicken broth, but you get the point.

Turns out grandma was right: chicken broth is MAGIC for colds!

Some as-yet-unidentified element of broth helps clear mucous better than either plain cold or warm water, and in addition to breaking up congestion, it also alleviates many of the other general discomforts of illness.

But don’t use that crap boxed stuff you can buy off the shelf at the grocery store. Either order frozen batches of the real deal from any of the myriad vendors online, or make your own next time you roast a chicken and then freeze it for when you need it.

Chest congestion reliever (guaifenesin)

cough syrup decongestant chest lungs flu

…and the cherry flavor is AWESOME!

Sometimes, even using all the natural remedies you can think of, you still can’t get rid of the crud that sets up shop in your lungs. This is where actual pharmaceuticals come in.

Guaifenesin is what you want, but it’s a bitch to find it in its isolated form. Almost every cough remedy you find on the shelf claims to be both a cough suppressor AND expectorant. How can something that’s supposed to stop you from coughing also help you cough crud up??

So spend the time searching the bottom shelves of the cough medicine aisle. Eventually, you’ll find the guaifenesin-only syrup. Pick up a bottle and stash it at home for if/when you need it.

Sore throat spray and/or lozenges

Chloraseptic throat spray flu cold laryngitis

A childhood memory that tastes just as awful as you remember…but it WORKS!

You know that part of a cold where your throat hurts so bad, you can hardly swallow? And how when you’re in that much pain, sleep is pretty much impossible? And how one of the best things you can do to get over a cold is to sleep, sleep, and sleep some more?

Yeah, saltwater gargles and honey-laden tea can sooth inflamed throat tissues for a few minutes, but for lasting throat pain relief, you’ll need something a little more heavy duty.

There are numerous natural remedies on the shelves at health food stores, but for me, I keep an emergency bottle of Chloraseptic in my medicine chest.

There have been concerns raised in the past few years about the phenol content in this popular throat spray, so now the directions say to spit it out after you let it bathe your throat for several seconds. Being a geek, I just dove into the research on phenol hazards at the percentage (1.4{5b94df0808d5051ae4460ba229ec68b809d99f898aebd4fa5019c7ba642362c2}) used in Chloraseptic. Even at the largest size available, you get a maximum of 2g phenol in a bottle. The LD50 indicates that a woman of my size would need to ingest 12 full bottles of Chloraseptic at a sitting to be at any risk. I think I’m safe.

Cough syrup

Cough syrup cold flu

Gee, this looks suspiciously like the guaifenesin up above….

Eventually, you get to the point in the cold cycle where you just have a lingering annoying cough.

It’s not bringing up any chest congestion; it’s just keeping you from getting your much-needed rest.

Sometimes keeping your throat well-hydrated with copious amounts of warm liquid, or even a teaspoon of honey, can keep it at bay. But other times, you need to bring out the big guns: specifically, you need dextromethorphan(Or codeine…but my mom is viciously allergic to the stuff, so I avoid it, too, out of an abundance of caution.)

You can find dextromethorphan in the same area of the drugstore as you unearthed that bottle of guaifenesin.

* * * * *

So those are my top 6 Sick Kit must-haves. I left out things like pain relievers and tissues because those are the sorts of items people usually have on hand as part of daily life. But if by chance you don’t, give some thought to what else you need to stock up on for the next time YOU’RE laid low by the latest rhinovirus.

If you have kiddos, you’ll want to augment this with child-specific medications. Additionally, you’ll need to take into consideration what your kid will actually agree to endure in the name of recovery. And that preceding sentence? Yeah, that applies to your life partners, too. After all, one doesn’t have to be chronologically “a kid” in order to act like one. Especially when they’re sick. 😀

Want to learn even more about to prepare yourself for emergencies?
Download my free “Emergency Preparedness for Women” guide

Comments 4

  1. Don’t forget elderberry syrup. Commonly folks say that all elderberry does is enhance the immune system and the same can be done via a glass of orange juice…….HA! Not so. It does support a healthy(er) immune system but it also stops the spread of the virus to healthy cells. Here’s a snip of an article (I’ll link to also) .

    “The active ingredients in the elderberry were found to halt the spread of the virus by disarming the enzyme responsible for attacking the cell walls of a healthy organism. The study, which was reported in The Journal of International Medical Research, showed that on average, flu patients given the elderberry extract recovered within 3.1 days compared to 7.1 days for those given the placebo. As proof that elder has more to it than the enzyme-neutralizing constituents, researchers found that the patients who took it also had higher levels of antibodies against the flu virus. ”

    I have a compromised immune system due to a solid organ transplant, so every virus passing by tries to set-up shop. I have taken elderberry syrup 3x per day for the pass few years (mostly during flu season) and have escaped the dreaded infection all but once, had the stomach flu for 3 days. Elderberry has also helped eliminate the wart virus from my nieces’ hands. I thought that was pretty amazing in itself. Anyway, I use elderberry, Chinese star anise, true cinnamon, ginger and cloves. If you would like the recipe please let me know.


    1. Post

      Dave, thanks so much for sharing the info about Amazing Elderberry! We have wild elderberry that grows in my part of the country (Sambucus mexicana), so it would be fun to make the syrup using local resources. Feel free to post your recipe here so that others can benefit from your wisdom, as well!

  2. Hi Kathleen,
    I’ve searched around the net and viewed many varying recipes for the elderberry syrup. Different recipes with different ingredients. This recipe includes other ingredients helpful in preventing and battling viruses (colds, flu, H1N1, Avian and believe it or not wart virus). In prevention of the virus I it is recommended taking 1 tablespoon of the syrup 3 times a day. If you have been exposed to or if you suspect your are coming down with a virus, it is recommended to take 1 tablespoon every two hours until the symptoms are gone.

    Chinese star anise contains – shikimic acid. This is an active ingredient in Tamiflu.

    Ginger – great for nausea, anti-inflammatory, and respiratory inflections .

    Ceylon cinnamon – support the immune system and prevent colds and flu.

    Cloves – anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities.

    There are herbs that have been added to other recipes such as Yarrow and Goji berries. These are great immune boosters and anti-viral.

    Recipe calls for: 1/2 cup elderberries to 2 cups of water. Increase the recipe by this amount.

    My latest recipe was made as follows:

    (2) – cups elderberry
    (8) – cups for filtered or reverse osmosis water
    (4) – whole cloves
    (3) – 3″sticks of (ceylon) cinnamon
    (5) – Chinese star anise
    1/2 tbs of grated ginger
    (4) – cups raw honey or sugar (see below)

    * Using non-stick sauce pan
    * Add to pan: elderberry, cinnamon, Chinese star anise, ginger, cloves, water
    * Bring to rolling boil on medium heat (watch the pot – don’t boil hard)
    * Cover pan with lid & lower heat to simmer (open vent completely)

    ** You want to reduce by half the amount of liquid.

    * Total time on heat to reduce = @ 2 hrs

    * Remove cinnamon, cloves, star anise

    * Filter berries through small strainer or cheese cloth (mashing berries against side to get ALL juice out)

    * Yield= @ 4-1/2 cups juice

    Add 4 cups of raw honey (make sure the juice temp is no more than 120 degrees so the benefits of the honey is not ruined. You can use cane sugar instead of honey – sugar would be 10 cups of sugar for this recipe – (2-1/2 cups sugar per 1 cup liquid).

    * Once the honey or sugar is completely dissolved you can can it.

    ** Using sugar – this will yield @ 6-1/2 pints of syrup. Sugar will produce a much more “sugary ” and thick syrup.

    **Refrigerate the syrup after opening. Will last in fridge for about 2 months after opening. Freeze excess for later use.

    If you decide to actually water bath/can the elderberry syrup, lemon juice will need to be added (not sure how much though).

    Please feel free to ask questions ~~~ I’m sure I left out something or not clear on a process.


    1. I did fail to mention that the elderberry in the recipe is dried ripe European elderberry. Seeds, unripe berries, bark, leaves of the elder tree are toxic. The American Elder has the same medicinal benefits as the European Elder but I don’t have any elders around me.

      Substitute 1 cup fresh elderberries for the 1/2 cup dry berries.

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