Wet socks might cure your cold this flu season

Natural, herbal tricks can keep you healthy when doctors cannot



Cold, wet socks encourage your body to spike a fever, and that’s bad news for your cold virus.

MAGGIE QUINLAN, Evergreen reporter

If you get a cold this winter your doctor can’t treat, you might turn to natural remedies from local naturopaths and herbalists, like sleeping in cold wet socks.

Kathleen Ojeda, co-owner of the Nest Birth & Wellness Center in Pullman, said the fundamental differences between naturopathic and conventional doctors allow naturopaths to treat a wider variety of illnesses.

“In a conventional model, if something doesn’t feel good, we get rid of it,” Ojeda said. “In the naturopathic model, we recognize those powerful forces of the body and support them so they can do even better and clear us out into a resolution.”

Some of the defining principles in naturopathic medicine are to treat the whole person, treat causes rather than symptoms and prioritize preventative medicine, Ojeda said.

Amanda Thiel, a graduate student at WSU studying ethnobotany and the owner of Isla Botanica herb shop, shares these values.

“Being aware of your symptoms and how you typically get sick is really helpful,” Thiel said. “Then you can act quickly and prime your body.”

In response to my early symptoms, I tried Ojeda’s suggested “warming socks” technique. To do this, Ojeda said to take a hot bath with Epsom salt, sauna or soak your feet in hot water to raise your body’s temperature.

As soon as you dry off, place a pair of wet, wool socks on your feet. Then you’ll cover those up with thick, dry socks and go to bed.

“Let’s kick the vital force into gear,” Ojeda said. “Let’s say ‘Do your job.’ ”

Vital force, Ojeda said, is a concept in naturopathy of an abstract life force energy that organizes our body and drives healing.

For example, Ojeda said if we have a cut, the body knows to how to reorganize and heal it. If we have an infection in the body, a foreign invader, the body knows how to spike a fever to get rid of the infection.

“It’s this beautifully orchestrated process to get everything into balance,” Ojeda said.

The “warming socks” technique supports a natural fever response and stimulates vital force, Ojeda said. Cold symptoms have functions. Fevers kill invading germs, while coughing and sneezing out mucus clears passages.

“The cold and wetness on your feet is a little push on your vital force that says, ‘Hey, you need to bring your body temp up,’ ” Ojeda said. “The body’s mechanism to spike a fever will give you an artificial fever state that kills off all the viruses.”

The increased blood flow to warm you up is also meant to clear your lymphatic system. The lymph system is a network of glands and pathways that carry fluid with dead cells. Swollen lymph nodes cause a sore throat.

I was a few days into a virus that made my tonsils swell when I talked to Ojeda, and after hearing my hoarse voice she suggested I try the sock method myself.

I opted to take a really hot shower and waited until my feet were hot and rosy to get out. Then I put on the damp, wrung-out wool socks with dry socks over them and went to bed.

I was up for several hours. The chilly, weird sensation of the socks on my feet surprisingly disappeared once I got in bed. The socks warmed up pretty quickly and I basically forgot about them.

What kept me up was my own pulse. My blood was pumping the way it does when I first hop off the treadmill, but it kept up for several hours straight even though I was lying still. It was painless but unsettling to be so conscious of my heartbeats. Maybe it’s just me.

Overall, this didn’t feel like any naturally occurring fever I’ve experienced, although it definitely seemed to get my lymphatic fluid grooving and significantly reduced my tonsil swelling.

My other cold symptoms lasted a couple days longer and I’m not sure the blood flow I gained was worth the sleep I lost. But don’t take my word for it. Why not try the socks yourself?

If the socks sound too uncomfortable for your sick self, Thiel said she understands. She suggested a hot shower followed by a cold rinse, which accomplishes a similar feat for your lymph. The cold rinse forces your body to pump blood and heat you up which can stimulate the lymphatic system, but isn’t as intense as the “warming socks” technique, Thiel said.

You can enhance your hot/cold shower by dripping a few drops of eucalyptus oil on the floor or shelf of your shower. Eucalyptus can help to improve breathing and clear sinuses.

But if the cool rinse is still too uncomfortable for you, prioritize warm foods and drinks. Tea with medicinal preventative herbs when you first get sick is your best bet, Thiel said.

Thiel said tea with echinacea flower increases white blood cell count and also has an effect on the lymphatic system.

“It helps flush it out,” Thiel said.

Elderberry is antiviral and shortens the duration of a cold by several days, Thiel said. Sage and yarrow are great for congestion because of their drying properties.

Thiel said because tea manufacturers cut very small herb pieces and teas may sit on shelves for a long time, many herbs become too dried out and less potent.

Thiel said Traditional Medicinals is one brand that does a great job of keeping the herbs powerful and their Gypsy Cold Care tea includes both echinacea flower and elderberry.

Hopefully with some combination of these natural treatments, you can handle whatever this cold season throws at you.