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Fighting a Cold, the Old Way

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Honey, it seems, has some special properties that coat the throat. A Penn State study published last year found it superior to dextromethorphan in controlling coughs in children.

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Next, I shelled out $14 for a kosher chicken -- so much for frugality! -- and cooked chicken soup with roasted baby carrots and tomatoes, wild rice and garlic. Carrots are rich in beta carotene, which is converted by the body to Vitamin A. Tomatoes are filled with Vitamin C, good for immunity. Garlic and its cousin the onion are loaded with allicin, an antimicrobial. Steam from the chicken soup helps soothe and open bronchioles. But forget all the scientific stuff. The bottom line: It tasted great.

And still we coughed.

That brought me to "A Spoonful of Ginger: Irresistible, Health-Giving Recipes from Asian Kitchens," by Nina Simonds. There I found pear congee, purported to "cure coughing, cure throat irritation, alleviate dizziness and fever."

Eureka! I bought all the ingredients. Then reality hit. The idea of standing up to poach pears before adding them to a gruel-like rice broth seemed, well, ridiculous even to my desperate self. Most families stricken by colds would need to hire a professional chef to prepare pear congee to treat a cough. This cold clearly had gone to my brain cells, too.

So I called Paul Anderson, a naturopathic physician at Bastyr University in Seattle, who not only didn't laugh but offered some other options and reinforced the use of honey, at least for those 2 and older. Milky-white, raw, unprocessed honey seems to stick to the throat best, he said.

Other options: cherry bark extract, an antitussive found in many health-food stores. Organic Throat Coat, made by Traditional Medicinals of Sebastopol, Calif., includes the extract in a caffeine-free tea bag (about $5 for 15 bags). As its name implies, it's a bit medicinal tasting, but it was soothing.

Mint "can also have a calming effect" on the irritated nerves that help produce the cough reflex, Anderson said. Both marshmallow root ($27 per pound) and mullen -- sometimes called mullein -- (about $5 per four-ounce box) have similar action. They can be bought in dried form and steeped for tea.

Then there's black elderberry. Find it in Sambucol lozenges ($12 per bottle of 30) or in syrups in health-food stores and pharmacies. It's also available in extract ($12 per ounce) that can be added to hot or cold liquids. There's some evidence that it helps control coughs.

Now that I'm feeling a little better, I finally made that pear congee. It wasn't worth the effort. I should have remembered the old adage: Treat a cold and it lasts seven days. Leave it alone and it's gone in a week.


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