The common cold, a type of upper respiratory infection, is one of the world’s most widespread viral conditions. Most adults experience two to three colds each year, and children have five to seven. While there is still no cure for the common cold, over-the-counter treatments and home remedies may provide symptom relief. Garlic and honey have been used for centuries as folk remedies for the common cold. Research supports the use of honey for cough caused by a cold, but evidence for effectiveness of garlic is lacking.
While garlic has a long history as a traditional remedy for the common cold, there is limited research to demonstrate its usefulness. A study published in October 1992 in "Planta Medica" found that several substances in garlic were able to kill one type of cold virus in the laboratory. This effect was strongest with two chemicals called allicin and ajoene, present in high concentrations in garlic. However, there is minimal evidence suggesting the antiviral properties seen in the laboratory are effective for treating colds in people. A November 2014 "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews" article reported that research to date indicates no reduction of cold symptoms or the time to recover from a cold when taking a garlic supplement. The authors concluded there is currently insufficient evidence to recommend garlic for treating colds. However, they also noted that the lack of evidence may be due to insufficient research.
Honey will not shorten the duration of a cold, but it can help relieve the cough from a cold. Honey coats the throat, which helps soothe the irritated tissue and decrease the frequency of a cough. A December 2007 "JAMA Pediatrics" article reported that taking honey 30 minutes before bedtime reduced coughing and improved sleep in children with a cold. Based on this and other studies, a December 2014 "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews" article concluded that honey is effective for coughs due to colds in children -- on par with the popular over-the-counter cough medicine dextromethorphan (Delsym, Robitussin). Honey is relatively inexpensive, safe for most people and can be used several times per day as needed.
Honey Plus Garlic
To date, there is no human research evaluating the use of garlic in combination with honey to treat the common cold. A September 2013 article in the "Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine" reported that a combination of garlic and honey inhibited growth of some disease-causing bacteria in the laboratory. Effectiveness against bacteria, however, often doesn't apply to viruses. Additionally, human studies are lacking.
The medicinal use of garlic is further complicated because the presence of potentially beneficial ingredients varies depending on its form. While chopped or crushed raw garlic contains allicin, it is no longer present after cooking. The contents of garlic supplements also vary, depending on the production method. For example, powdered garlic does not contain allicin, but some garlic oils contain both allicin and ajoene.
Warnings and Precautions
Any cold that includes shortness of breath, chest pain, rash or fever should be reported to your doctor immediately -- these could be signs of pneumonia or another serious health problem. In addition, a cold lasting longer than seven to 10 days could indicate another illness or complication and requires medical attention.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents and other caregivers not to give honey to children younger than 1 year because it could lead to infant botulism.