The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
February 8, 2011

My Favorite Plastic-free Cold Remedies

Hacking cough, running nose, body aches and chills… these are just a few of the souvenirs I brought home from my trip to Florida last week. Fun times. So, anyway, I thought I would recap some of my favorite plastic-free cold remedies.

Vegetarian hot & sour soup in To-Go Ware tiffin

hot and sour soup in To-Go Ware tiffin

When I have a cold, my favorite treat is Chinese hot and sour soup. Living plastic-free, though, means that I can’t just pick up the phone and order it to be delivered. Lucky for me, Michael is usually on hand and willing to run down the street with our To-Go Ware stainless steel tiffin and fill it up for me. We’ve never had any hassle from either Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood — Great Wall or Becky’s Chinese — when we bring our own container, although the staff at Becky’s once tried to put the tiffin in a plastic bag. It’s got a handle. It doesn’t need any bag!

Spicy virgin bloody mary

spicy virgin bloody mary

The alcohol is unnecessary. I just get tomato or vegetable juice in a glass bottle and add a healthy dose of Tabasco or other pepper sauce, also in a glass bottle.

Okay… I just know that someone is going to tell me I can juice my own veggies or tomatoes. So I’ll just say it for you. I could juice my own veggies… if I had a juicer and if I didn’t feel like crap. The thing is… I don’t really drink juice very often… not enough to buy a juicer. I’d rather have whole fruits and vegetables that include all the fiber. So for the few times a year I drink juice, I’m happy buying it in a glass bottle.

Homemade Cough Syrup

homemade cough syrup

Ingredients: cayenne pepper, ground ginger, honey, apple cider vinegar, water. I wrote up the full homemade cough syrup recipe last year. The comments on that post are invaluable and include many other home remedies for coughs and colds, so be sure and click on the link. This particular concoction is very soothing (and surprisingly delicious in a weird way) but it doesn’t really suppress a cough. Still, it feels good going down.

Many people have mentioned slippery elm bark. Well, I went out last year and bought some, but it seems that I may have bought the wrong thing. Mine looks like shredded bark, but all the recipes I find online call for the powder. Is there anything I can do with the kind I purchased?

And one of you (I can’t remember who!) mentioned a recipe for homemade cough lozenges on my Facebook page last year. I’m going to try making them soon and will post the results here. I’m thinking of using honey, lemon juice, and ginger. What do you think? In the meantime, I’ll take my syrup and also drink a lot of…

Tea with honey and lemon

tea with honey and lemon

The tea comes from the Whole Foods bulk bin or from Lhasa Karnak herb shop in Berkeley, where I bring my own containers. I use a metal tea ball to steep it. The honey and lemon juice come in glass jars (or sometimes we get bulk honey in our own jar.) Tracey TieF turned me on to Lakewood organic lemon juice. Of course, I’d prefer fresh lemons, but when you’re sick and desperate and just home from a trip, you use what’s in the house. And I like having the bottled lemon juice on hand.

I do have fresh satsuma tangerines, though.  Yummy and good.

Ceramic neti pot

ceramic neti pot

This thing is wondrous. I rhapsodized about my little blue neti pot in a post last year. Click over to that link to see a photo of me pouring water through my nose and also a video with complete neti pot instructions.

Lots of cloth handkerchiefs

cloth handkerchiefs

Okay, this one is purely hypothetical. I don’t actually have lots of cloth handkerchiefs. I have enough for everyday sniffles but not enough to sop up what’s coming out of my nose at the moment. But they’re on my to-do list. Last year, many of you chided me for breaking down and buying a box of soft tree-killing Kleenex (the first box I’d bought in several years!) and recommended homemade hankies made from old t-shirts. It sounds like a great idea and much softer than the rough recycled toilet paper I’ve been using on my nose this time around. But right now, I don’t have any t-shirts I can cut up. I’ll put a WANTED ad on Freecycle and see if I can get a bunch. OR I could pay one of you crafty people to make some for me. What do you say??? Any Etsy sellers out there?

Natural memory foam pillow

Essencia pillow

The best thing for a cold? BED! And while my mattress is not plastic-free — I purchased it years and years ago — my pillow is. I’ll write more about natural pillows and mattresses in a future post. My pillow is from Essentia and was sent to me to review. And it’s my favorite place to put my head when I don’t feel well.

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39 Comments on "My Favorite Plastic-free Cold Remedies"

1 year 7 months ago

We have a coffee grinder that we use for a lot of things, including grinding herbs and spices.  So I don’t know about slippery elm bark specifically, but usually you can do it yourself in a grinder…or mortar and pestle if you have one and you’re patient.  Personally I love the idea but get frustrated after a couple minutes.  I know that’s how everything used to be done (even the carrots/celery/onions etc in Turkish lentil soup, apparently)….

3 years 6 months ago

Thanks Beth! All great ideas! :)

4 years 1 month ago

Just got black elderberry syrup by Gaia Herbs and it seems to be helping. And…glass bottle & metal lid!
Also, badger balm has a winter balm that I haven’t tried yet, but all metal.

Kathryn Muffley
4 years 3 months ago

I’ve been gargling with 1 part apple cider vinegar, 2 parts water for DECADES at the first sign of a scratchy, sore throat. Read about it in a book in the 70’s. I do it at least 4 times/day, more often sometimes.
Vinegar reduces pH, so the virus can’t reproduce to reach a number big enough to go systemic. The virus starts by taking over a cell, making lots of new viruses, then breaking out (destroying the cell) so more cells can be taken over by all those new viruses. At this stage if I notice a drippy nose, I NEVER blow! That just spreads the virus thru the nasal passage, where those cells will be invaded. Instead sniff it up. Later, if the virus succeeds and I get the cold, I blow.
By noticing early and gargling immediately and frequently, I avoid about 75% of colds. The few that progress to a cold are usually due to: 1) immune system down for various reasons. 2) not starting early enough or being regular in gargling. 3) getting a virus that is from another part of the world so my immune system doesn’t recognize it.
Sometimes I’ll eventually get the cold, but by holding it off for a couple of days it’s much milder and shorter. But more often, I find that vinegar gargling keeps the virus from going systemic and all I’ve had was a sore throat for a few days. It’s totally worth the 30-60 seconds of intensity a few times per day for a few days.

4 years 3 months ago

I’ve got a cold at the moment too. My cure is: the juice of half a squeezed lemon, a good spoonful of honey, some grated ginger root and (optional) whisky. Add boiling water. The left over lemon can then be smoothed over your hands as a nice skin moisturiser or used (when you feel better) to clean surfaces.

I like the idea of handkerchieves made from od t-shirts, excellent!

4 years 3 months ago

Best herbal remedy is Gui Zhi Tang in your case. Ask for it in China town and I am sure your herbalist will put it in a glass jar or paper bag for you. I am a herbalist who specialises in Chinese medicine and have moved away from plastic containers to glass jars for my patients herbs. We now have a reward system where patients get $1 off their herbs if they return the jar. Receipes for colds also include rice conjee (porridge) with ginger, eshallots (srping onions) and cinammon with soy to taste. Nice simple and easy to digest. Get well soon. Love your blog.

Sharon Rowe
4 years 3 months ago

I happened to inherit several dozen cloth handkerchiefs. I use a few dozen over and over again and still have a large untouched supply.

4 years 3 months ago

I’m sorry to hear you’re sick! What’s the recipe for homemade throat lozenges? We go through a lot of those here, my daughter has winter asthma and when she’s coughing at night she often wants a throat lozenge. It seems to calm her down. I’d love to know how to make those myself! They’re ridiculously expensive.

plastic-free citizen
4 years 3 months ago

i know you all love DIY around here but i just learned about hanky books and thought i might mention it. they use organic flannel cotton and sew them into ‘books.’ its a great gift idea or for yourself if you’ve felt self-conscious about a crumpled up hanky.

4 years 3 months ago

ugh! hope you get well very soon!! thx for this post!

4 years 3 months ago


firstly, love the site!

Not sure if you have access to any British TV in Okland.. i know when I lived in OKC i didnt :) but I now live in Norway and we get some good shows from the Brits.

Particularity one called “Grow your own Drugs”. I saw one show and had to download it all to see it all asap! There is also a book he has. But basically, he is a ethnobotnist and makes all his own ‘drug store needs’ like lotions and cough drops. Here is a small review of him, I have his book on order and cant wait to dive into it and start making everything!

4 years 3 months ago

I’m so sorry that you’re sick, that totally sucks! I have become a total honey convert in terms of night time cough suppression. I found that the trick was you have to take a full spoonful of honey, and then don’t eat or drink anything afterwards… like it’s the honey coating your throat that makes it work. I hate to think what it did to my teeth, but it sure stopped the cough so I could sleep! I think they’ve actually done studies showing that honey worked better than commercial cougy syrups in children:

I also read somewhere that dark chocolate is supposed to be a natural cough suppressant. I didn’t actually find this one to work, but it sure was a good excuse to pig out on chocolate!

4 years 3 months ago

Slippery elm bark makes a fine tea. In the future, you can look for the little paper yellow boxes of Thayer’s slippery elm lozenges (a mainstay for opera singers). I think they also make liquid drops in a glass bottle, but the little box is nice and portable, and has a wax paper liner.

As a singer, what worked best for me was prevention – at the first sign of itchy ears and throat, gargling and neti-pot action with salt water, loads of vitamin C, loads of water, and extra sleep. Caught soon enough, with a pre-sick day off of work, you can avoid the whole mucus-producing cycle of a cold, cough, subsequent bronchitis, etc.

4 years 3 months ago

Sleep, tea, honey and lemon (and a good book) are my favorite cold remedies. And that blue netti pot is so cute I would not be so reluctant to use it as I am my ugly white one (it’s just so much work!). I recently made some ginger syrup, and it has been working great as a cough suppressant for my son who’s waking up in the middle of the night coughing (

4 years 3 months ago

Re: juicing your own – I know this post is not about juicing but I couldn’t resist to add that there is a better (but more expensive for sure) thing than a juicer, which is a fancy blender like a Vitamix (or other people like one called Blendtec). You can ‘juice’ the whole fruit, and there is no leftover pulp, it is soo good at just pulverising everything and you get all the fiber. And it is great for making homemade almond milk, smoothies, ice cream, hot soups, etc. It is made of plastic, but I reasoned that it would save us from lots of single use plastic non-dairy milk tetrapaks, plastic ice cream containers, plastic smoothie/juice containers, etc, so it was a better alternative in the long run.

4 years 3 months ago

Have the cough syrup bookmarked. Never heard of that one before.

4 years 3 months ago

You know I also respond to The Word. And I’m healthy! Unbleached organic cotton flannel? Or unbleached organic birdseye? Or rayon made of organic unbleached bamboo (softest!). Your choice. (-:

4 years 3 months ago

You’ve got some of my favorites in there too – spicy foods & hot tea.

My best remedy is also plastic-free: denial! Never admit you’ve got a cold, that’s how the cold wins :)