8 DIY Cold Remedies My Abuelita Swears By (You Probably Already Have the Ingredients in Your Kitchen)

published Nov 6, 2021
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If your local coffee shop has already traded in pumpkin spiced everything for peppermint mocha goodies, it’s easy to marvel over where the year has gone. Winter is coming — and sniffles, sneezes, and sore throats are (unfortunately) upon us. 

There are plenty of ways to avoid being at the mercy of a nasty cold, and if anyone in my life is vigilant about that, it’s my abuelita, who always stresses that one must never go out with wet hair or have their feet exposed during cold and flu season. When my cousins and I were children, Pita would check us for socks inside the house multiple times a day over every holiday break. It was one of her many preventative measures for ensuring we wouldn’t fall ill in the colder weather. I can almost hear her urging me to blow dry my hair before setting foot outside. 

If the cough did come, Pita was always prepared with some formidable restorative treatments in her arsenal. Such is their efficacy that I still turn to them to ease my cold, flu, and allergy symptoms as an adult. Though you should always check with your doctor before attempting a new remedy, here are eight DIY and at-home cold remedies my abuelita swears by to help ease cold and flu symptoms. 

Warm Lime Juice and Honey  

Abuelita soothed our coughs as children with the simplest concoction: warm lime juice and honey. That’s it! Honey is credited with antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory traits, while limes are full of immunity-enhancing vitamin C. 

To make her blend, she would squeeze a shot or two’s worth of fresh lime juice, heat for a few seconds in the microwave to warm, and add honey to our desired level of taste or consistency. Then, we’d either knock it back or sip at it every four hours to relieve our coughs and sore throats. For immediate throat comfort, she would also drizzle honey onto a spoon, sprinkle it with lime juice, and have us suck on the combo like a lollipop. 

Alternatively, Pita dilutes the warm lime juice and honey with hot water for tea. She adds ginger for some extra boosting power in soothing coughs and sore throats. 

Caldo de Pollo

When I was little, the faintest sniffle would sound the alarm. Pita would grab her off-limits-to-us cuchillo and vehemently chop carrots, cilantro, potatoes, fresh puréed tomatoes, garlic, green onions, spices, and herbs for a huge pot of caldo de pollo. Her swiftness at neatly dicing and slicing is an art she’s still nagging me to master. 

Thankfully, I never had to assist her in the kitchen when I was sick. I was, however, required to finish every last drop of what she calls milagro en olla, or miracle in a pot. I would always feel revitalized after a day or two of eating the stuff. Abuelita attributes it to its nutritious content. Trust in her folk wisdom! It’s stocked with antioxidants and vitamin A from the carrots, and rich protein and zinc from the chicken. To this day, her caldo de pollo is what brings me out of every cold’s misery. It’s also one of the only foods I can manage to eat or crave when I have a bad bug or the flu. 

Recipes are simple and widely available online, just don’t forget to add fresh-squeezed lime juice when serving. If you already know a delicious chicken noodle soup recipe, that works wonders just as well. Abuelita says plenty of good can be done by just sticking to soft nutritious foods, soups, and warm liquids. 

Credit: Katie Currid

Vicks VapoRub 

The fragrant cure-all! The popular ointment contains eucalyptus, menthol, and camphor oils. Rub some on your chest, back, and over your throat for decongestion and to rid constant coughing. You must also apply to the soles of your feet at night time, and as Abuelita instructs, go to bed wearing socks. If nothing else, you’ll wake up with very soft feet! 

Guava, Lime, and Orange Peel Tea

This is Pita’s immune-boosting go-to potion because it’s packed with vitamin C. To make it, she dices two or three guavas, splits two limes into quarters, and gathers the orange peels from one or two medium oranges. She boils the ingredients with water in a medium or large saucepan until the guavas are very tender, and uses a bean masher to mush all the ingredients well. Then, she’ll strain the liquid, which leaves enough for a few servings — her favorite way to drink it is to take it hot and with a generous trickle of honey. 

Chamomile Tea With Honey, Lime, and Cinnamon

Abuelita’s favorite tea for throat lubrication, as well as relieving pain and inflammation, is chamomile, served with honey and lime. There is something truly soothing about a nice little cup of té de manzanilla, and its calming effects and medicinal claims are not just an old wives’ tale. Hot tea is good for opening up congested airways, as Pita says, and chamomile acts as a natural lubricant to reduce throat redness and swelling. Add cinnamon, which is shown to have many medicinal benefits, such as fighting infections and inflammation, and taste. 

Peppermint Tea and Relaxation 

Abuelita also brews peppermint tea for its sedative qualities as well as to help alleviate any soreness in the throat. Like many doctors, she insists that allowing the body sufficient rest is imperative to healing, so she would make us enjoy a cup of peppermint tea at night or before a nap, with honey in for extra power and comfort. 

Credit: I Spy DIY


You don’t need a fancy steamer to harness the relief of a good steam bath. According to my abuelita, all you need is a pot and a stove. Once the water gets hot enough, transfer it to a heat-safe bowl and lean over it to breathe the vapor in. (Be careful not to get too close or burn yourself.) You can also inhale the steam from a brewing pot of chamomile, or simply take a hot shower or bath. 

DIY Red Onion and Honey Cough Syrup

This homemade cough syrup has performed magic on my sore throats, colds, and coughs, and its taste is very mild and sweet. Because it’s loaded with antioxidants from the red onions, Pita believes it also helps keep our immune systems going strong.

She starts by thinly slicing a whole red onion and placing the slices in a bowl, exposing as much of the onion as possible. Next, she pours about a cup and a half of honey over the onions, covers the bowl, and lets it sit for two to three hours. After this time, a syrupy substance will have developed at the bottom of the bowl. This is the medicine! Pita transfers everything into a glass jar with a tight lid to store it for the duration of her cold, and takes a tablespoon every three or four hours. The onions continue to create more cough syrup as they sit, bringing a pep back in her step in no time!