4 Anti-Cold Cocktails That Work: From Ancient China to German Alcoholics and Modern Labs


The 2,000-year old cocktail: it tastes as bad as it looks… but it works.

My back hurts. So does my throat, and I feel like a sumo wrestler is sitting on my head trying to pop my eyes out.

Alas, the common cold has got me. Fortunately, I expect to be rid of it in 48-72 hours.

Like millions this time of year, I have the bug. But, thanks to Chinese and German friends and several helpful doctors, I’ve found a few effective treatments — the closest to cures I’ve experimented with — that can get you back on your feet faster. I suggest you test them in stages, from oldest to newest, as the side-effects tend to increase as we include modern drugs.

The Chinese Cure for the Common Cold–Simple and Direct

Despite some craziness like shark-fin soup and bear gallbladders, the Chinese have had a long time to experiment with the common cold.

In Beijing, I’d doubted the traditional Chinese approach to reducing fevers (bundle you up in winter clothing and force you to drink near-boiling tea or water until you sweat profusely), which ended up working like a charm, so I’ve been willing to test ideas that could have some clinical basis.

The ladies–my five surrogate mothers–at my neighborhood Chinese restaurant suggested the following fast-acting cold remedy (end product pictured in the first photo from this post), which — for me — cuts symptoms like sore throat and sinus pain by at least 50% over 24 hours.

Step 1: Get fresh ginger and the orange rind (peel) from one orange, preferably organic or otherwise not treated with pesticides. Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods will do. The Epsom salts will be explained and is not part of the recipe.


Step 2: Cut the ginger into small pieces and mash them down with the side of a large kitchen knife.


Step 3: Bring water to a low boil (medium setting on my electric stovetop) in a small pot and insert ginger pieces. Wait 20 minutes. Note: to help relieve the muscular pains that often come with a cold or flu, I’ll run a hot bath during this 20 minutes, put in the entire box of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), then soak for 10 minutes before coming back to the kitchen for step 4.

Step 4: Add the orange peel sections to the boiling water and wait an additional 10 minutes.

Step 5: Strain and serve. Be forewarned that it has a strong taste and a few dabs of organic honey will help those with girly-man stomachs (I’ll plead girly-man on this one). The liquid/tea/soup stores well in the refrigerator but tastes 10x worse cold.

The German Solution–Alcohol, Of Course!

The German solution I’ve been offered is easier to describe:

1. Get a deep-tissue massage
2. Chamomile Tea
3. Spiced Rum
4. Bed

I suspect the spiced rum could have an effect less from the alcohol and more from the cinnamon typically used to make it spicy. Though generally thought of as being viral, the common cold is often misdiagnosed or accompanied by other types of bacteria and infection.

Cinnamon has been shown to inhibit E. Coli and increase insulin sensitivity, among other things, which is why I take it supplementally prior to meals if I’m cycling off of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) as an insulin mimicker.

I’ll discuss ALA at greater length another time, but here is a preview from wikipedia: “Lipoic acid has been shown in cell culture experiments to increase cellular uptake of glucose by recruiting the glucose transporter GLUT4 to the cell membrane, suggesting its use in diabetes.”

Modern Non-Prescription Options

Though it’s true that “supplement,” “drug,” and “food” are largely legal distinctions and not biochemical ones, getting prescriptions is both time-consuming and expensive. For shortening the duration of the common cold, I use Zicam oral mist (nasal delivery can damage your sense of smell) every 3-4 hours, along with the following:

Garlic extract (2 capsules, 3x/daily), probiotic acidophilus cultures (one capsule per meal), 3mg melatonin prior to bed, 8-10 grams of vitamin C in 1g divided doses.

I don’t use echinacea because I’ve found the supporting research inconsistent and it upsets my stomach. I’m aware that some researchers dispute Linus Pauling’s conclusions about vitamin C, but I believe it’s because of insufficient dosing and spacing, as it is water soluble and can have a half-life of just 30-60 minutes.

From the non-ingestible standpoint, having suffered from sinus infections since childhood, I’m a proponent of sinus irrigation, which entails driving distilled water mixed with salt and baking soda in one nostril and out the other.

I’ll do this each morning and evening as soon as symptoms appear, and it all but eliminates the intra-cranial pressure and black-eye look so typical of sinus inflammation:

The NeilMed sinus rinse kit.

The Last Resort–Heavy Prescription Artillery

The common cold, as mentioned earlier, is generally thought of as a viral infection and attributed to any number of rhinoviruses and friends: “Common colds are most often caused by infection by one of the more than 100 serotypes of rhinovirus, a type of picornavirus. Other viruses causing colds are coronavirus, human parainfluenza viruses, human respiratory syncytial virus, adenoviruses, enteroviruses, or metapneumovirus. Due to the many different types of viruses, it is not possible to gain complete immunity to the common cold.”

Diverse as the causes might be, there is one combination of drugs–my personal holy trinity–that seems to kill off most variations of cold-related upper-respiratory issues if all else fails:


From left to right: the “Zmax” or azithromycin, an antibiotic (don’t use this and acidophilus at the same time); Flonase or generic fluticasone propionate, an anti-inflammatory nasal stray with little systemic absorption of the glucocorticoids; and Pseudovent, a decongestant and expectorant not unlike Primatene tablets.

These drugs all have side-effects and should not be used without medical supervision. If your HMO or doctor seems clueless, however, feel free to make suggestions.  Please note also that I use antibiotics only when warranted, as in the case of severe and recurring sinusitis with related causes.  Uninformed overuse of antibiotics can do more damage than anabolic steroids, so caveat emptor.


The common cold has been with us for millenia and will likely be with us for millenia to come. Is doesn’t mean you have to lay down and take it. Test some of these options, with the guidance of a doctor when needed, and perhaps we can save one more casualty from flu and cold season.


Odds and Ends: Fixed Gibberish

I had the strange marks and nonsense fixed on the popular “Top 5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades” post. It’s now readable again :)

Posted on: March 18, 2008.

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189 comments on “4 Anti-Cold Cocktails That Work: From Ancient China to German Alcoholics and Modern Labs

  1. Thanks, Tim, for the great info on your website. One thing I haven’t heard people mention is using hydrogen peroxide in the ears. The rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, often enters through the ear canal. So at the first sign of a cold (or as a preventative measure), I suggest the following:

    1.) Fill a medicine dropper with regular, 3% hydrogen peroxide (the kind at grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.).

    2.) Lie on your side and fill your ear canal with peroxide from the dropper (use about half of the dropper). You’ll probably hear bubbling, which means it’s oxidizing any of the nasty stuff hanging out in there. Wait about 5 minutes, until the bubbling subsides.

    3.) Sit up and drain the ear (it helps to have a tissue handy for this part). Repeat the process on the other ear.

    I’ve found this to be really effective at either stopping the cold before it ever starts, or at the very least, greatly reducing its effect.


    • Couldn’t agree more.. this has always been my personal trick.

      I’ve read that you should just do a few drops, and every few hours until the bubbling subsides.

      Currently I’m taking the 8-10 grams of Vitamin C, some Zinc, green tea of course, and a hot bath as well…


  2. Best solution for everything viral, bacteria or mold is Nano sized silver solution. It disrupts the inner-communication of the bad cells, without effecting the good cells. Just search nano silver, and suppliers will show up. I used to have to get anti-biotics for 2 weeks. This knocked it out in the 2nd day. Though I did up the dosage from 1 teaspoon twice a day, to 1 teaspoon every other hour. It is non-toxic at over a quart a day.


  3. Hey Tim!

    Holllly shit! The Chinese one worked like a charm!!

    Yesterday I got slammed by this nasty throat thing and a massive (“double hangover-ish”) headache. I couldn’t eat at all or else I would throw it up…

    I went to a local store and picked up some oranges and fresh ginger. I made the tea as you described and added a cinnamon stick and honey to it afterwards. I chugged it while soaking in a epsom salt bath.

    After 4 hours of napping and some aspirin. I still felt like shit, but after I went to bed and slept for 10 hours I woke up feeling like a God!

    The difference between yesterday and today is like night and day! I feel so much better. I would say 100% better! I thought I would have to miss work because I was feeling so shitty, but I feel just fine now.

    Thanks for your always great advice!


  4. Jus bring home a pint of RUM and get some chilli with lemon and some good songs…bring up the mood…feel the music and the rum taking over you..get some light food and then go off to sleep…..it will surely cure ur mood and your cold….


  5. I have tried the Neilmed sinus rinse kit several times; unfortunately, it causes severe pain in my ears by water getting trapped. Does anyone know why this happens?


  6. It’s interesting the Chinese have orange peels in their recipe for treatment of the common cold because it is during those times when I will have a craving to eat more of the thick peels of oranges, especially the pith where it is known greater concentrations of bioflavanoids are vs. the fruit segments.

    Thanks for sharing!


  7. - Olive Leaf Extract,
    (with a high listed amt. of the active ingredients – such as the Wal-Mart Spring Valley brand),
    Taken at least in triple amounts during an infection, seem to handle my own sinus infections as well an any antibiotics I’ve used.

    - Wisdom Brands Symfre Tea (loose leaf )
    GREAT for cold and upper respiratory symptoms and also very relaxing at night, like Nyquil. During the day, add plenty of Yerba Mate to the hot tea for a lift in energy (AND MOOD – you might start feeling better than before you even had the cold!)

    - Source Naturals Immune Fizz
    Best of all those fizzy herbal and vitamin cold tablets, very handy for work and travel (doesn’t taste bad, but looks gross in the glass, tho!)


  8. Tim,

    If I had to add to this list it would be Elderberry Syrup! Nature’s Way has a great product that the local natural food store lady swore by and after taking it I am a believer.


  9. Cinnamon is a Traditional Chinese cold cure, but only for colds that include a tight neck and clear mucus, if it’s a sore throat or colored mucus they like mint, which should only be boiled for 5 minutes or less.


  10. Well, these are all very cool. Have to say that I swear by Zicam (or its generic equivalent if you can find it) for stopping a cold dead in its mucusy tracks.


  11. A couple of other things that work really well is camu camu or bell peppers and papaya which has a very high Vitamin C content, Eating Zinc help with cold recovery on a cellular level and sitting in a sauna. Eating fresh garlic also helps.

    Also gargling salting water kills germs and cold cells in back of throat and snorting the salt water up the nose (I don’t like this one but it does work very well) learn this from a Russian friend.

    whfoods.com is a good resource for checking vit C levels in foods for instance.


  12. Getting a massage can actually help spread the cold so instead, get reflexology, that works really well. Getting a massage or acupuncture on a reg basis helps reduce stress which in turn helps prevent against colds and other things bc the immune system is working as is. Wrapping the body up in blankets to sweat the cold out works well but be sure to keep hydrated.

    Soaking in some Epsom salt or my favorite (dead sea salt) works great for muscle recovery.


  13. You know what I did that totally killed a year long sinus infection? I put a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar into the Neilmed bottle along with their saline and distilled water. I did this twice a day for about 3 days- Gone. And infection that didn’t go away with back to back courses of antibiotics. By the way, the Neilmed people are geniuses. That product is amazing.


  14. Hi Tim,

    The first cure works also with simply boiling the ginger in a glassfull of coke. It’s a bit faster thought I’d share..you’d be as good as new by the next morning


  15. At the first sniffle, I grab the Neti Pot, Spicy V8′s, Vitamins C/D and Zinc. Symptoms gone.

    I’ll give the Hot Tody a go next time. :)


  16. Tim,

    Wow, we seem to share a common anti-cold routine! I similarly take Zicam, vitamin C, and use my netipot as soon as I feel a cold brewing. The only cold I’ve gotten in 3 years has been when I went to Colombia and forgot my cold fighting kit. I also tend to drink cocimiento, a hot citrus beverage with brandy that my Cuban father-in-law taught me to make.

    Question though: why do you suggest you can’t take acidphilous and azithromycin at the same time? Many people take a probiotic when on an antibiotic to help preserve their normal GI flora.


  17. My remedy – originated with an old Russian remedy, but I’ve tweaked it over the years. Mash a large clove of garlic in a mug. Pour boiling water over, and let steep about 10 minutes. Add a tablespoon of honey, the juice of half a lemon, a pinch of cayenne…and if it’s bedtime, a shot of brandy.


  18. Thanks for the great post, Tim Ferriss.
    Here’s another really good one that most people don’t know about, but this works really well against mucus, in a natural way:
    Kuzu Root (white powder, usually is in chunks and available from Whole
    Foods or Rainbow Food Co-op, Trader Joe’s etc..)
    Umeboshi Paste (a little jar of paste made from the Umeboshi Plum)
    1/2 cup cool or cold water

    1. Mix several small chunks of Kuzu Root powder into half cup of COLD
    water. (It has to be cool or cold or else the Kuzu chunks will not
    2. Stir the Kuzu in the water until it’s a smooth greyish white color.
    3. Heat up that mixture on the stove until it turns clear and a little bit
    4. Pour into a cup (like a mug that you can drink from) and stir in a
    teaspoon of Umeboshi Paste until it’s a dark soup.


  19. Interesting will have too try the chinese cure.
    Have seen a tea of ginger and lemon as well.
    My current favorite cure is Johar Joshanda from Pakistan
    It takes the ick out of sick and tastes good doing it. I found it in a Halal Market even better its sold for 50 cents a packet and it works quickly.


  20. I lived in Norway for a few years, and they also bundle you up extremely warm and make you sweat it out. It always works. It’s also good to take zinc and L-Lysine a few times a week. The only times I get colds/flus are when I run out of those two items and don’t have time to get to the store to buy more.
    Once in my office, a few people got the flu. I told everyone to take zinc and L-Lysine. No one headed my advice and literally everyone else in the office (about 50) all got sick within the same week (it was a small college newspaper office). I was the only one who never got sick.


  21. Hey Tim,

    Just wanted to let you know that it’s actually a really bad idea to discourage people from taking Acidophilus (a probiotic) while on an antibiotic. If anything, you should encourage it. In fact, taking a probiotic with a sufficient amount of multiple strains allows the gut flora to be replentished while you’re taking such a harsh drug such as an antibiotic.

    It’s been shown by research that probiotic with antibiotic consumption decreases “sick time” and allows patients to get better faster.