Bath Salts and Cayenne Tea: How to kick a cold

I have not posted for a while. First there was vacation: wedding in Boston, then visiting a friend who just moved to the midwest, patriotism stirring in my breast as I wandered alongside fields and fields of corn and soy, marveling at their vastness, wishing I didn’t find their beauty a bit deceptive in light of what I know about industrial food. But there is no questioning the fertility of the land, the ability to feed and nurture, and my oh my was it beautiful out there.


Then there was the start of school and the onset of Craft Beer Week. Having visited several establishments in the midwest where my food options as a vegetarian consisted entirely of fried things (even the salads were loaded with meat, but who needs salad when there are fried pickles?), I was feeling eager to dive into my CSA head first and get back on a healthy track. After Craft Beer Week.

I love craft beer, and I loved beer week last year, and I was psyched to participate in the Second Annual NYC celebration of craft breweries, many of them local, some of them a bit farther afield. I wanted to patronize establishments that have chosen to support the small breweries that really drive innovation in the beer world, that appreciate all the wonderful things that beer can be. Mostly, I wanted to drink some old favorites at a discount, revel in the opportunity to drink beers on cask that are not usually available that way, and try new beers and new bars that serve up the good stuff.

 Alas, my body had other plans. We had a great first weekend of Beer Week, really. We visited two of the cask festival venues, had great conversations with strangers, tried some new beers. Then Shawn got a stomach bug. I managed to keep it at bay by living on toast and yogurt and miso soup, and Shawn recovered just fine by midweek, in time for us to squeeze in a Wednesday trip to Bar Great Harry. Then, about an hour before leaving class on Thursday, I got that feeling. You know: that sticky feeling in the back of the throat that says, “I am a cold, and I am coming to get you.” Were it not Craft Beer Week, and had I not made plans to meet some friends who are moving away all too soon, and had said friends not whipped up an incredible feast for us to share, I quite likely would have crawled home, slinked into the bath tub, passed out, and worked on nipping it in the bud.

But these friends are moving away, and we had to help them not waste their CSA goodies, and I wasn’t sick yet, and there were craft beer-serving bars in their neighborhood. So I made an enjoyable social decision, but a poor health decision.

In examining how to kick a cold, let’s start with how not to: Do not insist on drinking beers, sitting outside in the cool autumn air. Do not depend on the acidity in your friend’s delicious home-pickled beets to singlehandedly eradicate any bug that may be creeping into your system. Do not proclaim raisin mead delicious and have a second glass that is slightly larger than the first because your friends need to clean out their liquor cabinet before the move. Do not stay out until past your bedtime and then cross your fingers, hoping the raw garlic you down at past-bedtime will work magic overnight (I am pro-raw garlic for colds, but it was too little too late). No regrets, but it’s no way to kick a cold.

Needless to say, I felt bad the next day. That sticky-throated feeling does not lie. Fortunately, I am the most self-indulgent sick person on the planet, so I did what I always do when I get a cold: sleep, use neti pot, drink honey-lemon-cayenne, watch bad TV, bathe, repeat. If there’s a way to clear out a cold in just one day, I have yet to find it, but I swear by this method for kicking colds sooner rather than later and for generally treating yourself right. There’s also garlic chopped and soup consumed and various other tricks, but here are the main components in greater detail:

Sleep: Self-explanatory. Get as comfy as possible. I recommend an eye mask to block the light. If you nap all day and have a hard time bedding down at night, sip a toddy and get under the covers immediately, while you’re still warm and woozy.

Use neti pot: This is helpful when sick, but I highly recommend using this daily for allergies and keeping bugs at bay. I cannot remember the last cold I caught when using the neti pot consistently. Did I mention that I skipped three days last week? My bad.

Drink honey-lemon-cayenne:Any hot tea will do in a pinch. Ginger is an old favorite, regular honey-lemon is great, but I cannot recommend the honey-lemon-cayenne highly enough. The honey is soothing, the lemon astringent and vitamin-packed, and the sprinkle of cayenne provides heat that starts moving nasties out of your system right away.

Watch bad TV: Also self-explanatory. I need not reveal exactly what garbage I have been taking in. That won’t help anyone.

Bathe: Here is where the artistry comes in. I love nothing more than a hot bath when I am sick. The body’s natural response to many sicknesses is to raise its temperature with a fever. If you have a fever, a hot bath is most likely ill-advised (your body is already doing the heating, and you don’t want to get cooked). If, however, you do not have a fever, there’s nothing like getting toasty in the bath, breathing in some essential oils, sweating out some toxins, and savoring those quiet moments with ears underwater, listening to your own heart to provide relief and make you feel like you’re conquering that pesky cold. I have spent years perfecting my cold season bath salts. It is a work in progress, but here is the basic recipe for the latest incarnation:

 Bath Salts for Sickos:

  • 2 cups epsom salts
  • 1 tsp – 2 tbsp. ground dried mustard, however much you want (start low, go higher if you want)
  • 2 tbsp. ground ginger (or make a tea from fresh ginger and add directly to the bath water)
  • Essential oils. These days, I like a combination of lemon, eucalyptus and thyme for a cold, but there are many combinations that work wonders. Just remember that lots and lots of plants go into these essential oils, and they are powerful. Most of them are too potent to be applied directly on the skin, and you should go easy in your bath, too. I usually use 5-8 drops in the tub, and I wouldn’t go higher than that.

Put these things in a tupperware container or jar, put the lid on and shake until everything is combined. Sprinkle into a hot tub and get in. The mustard and ginger will help get you sweating, so skip these ingredients if you’re planning on, say, leaving the house or engaging in any kind of social activity immediately following your bath. If you have time to lie down in jammies or sweats, cozy and out of sight, throw them in.

Either way, take lots of baths, sip your fluids, get lots of sleep, and good luck kicking any colds that come your way.


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