Balm For The Soul: How I Survive Cold And Flu Season Without Artificial Food Coloring

Thrills and Chills

I am gonna write about synthetic food coloring and the sad state of every “cold relief” aisle in US stores, oh yes…but first, a word from my circus brain.

This week has been a bit of a roller coaster in my world – Scary, thrilling, emotional, and very fun.  The upshots are that I got to spend time with my awesome sister and her husband, my daughter just got accepted into the gifted program, I’ve reconnected with loads of old friends who shared the common bond of parenthood, and I have the chance to syndicate some of my work on a major blogging network.  We’ve had laughs, celebrations, tears, and release.  But then there are the low stomach-flipping drops and unexpected turns.  The awful fight with my daughter as she resists getting ready for school, the mental exhaustion and burnout of someone I dearly love, the anxiety of someone close to me who will not seek the help she needs, the courageous and unknown path of a seriously ill relative, the heartache of two abandoned friends and their grieving kids, and my inability to control or help any of it.  As satisfied as I am that my own journey of discovery is helping others, I still wish I could find a catch-all remedy to help *everyone.*

Deep breaths.  I gotta start somewhere, and every little bit could help somebody, SOMEwhere.  So I’ll say many prayers, TRY to keep calm, and carry on.  Thank you for listening…And now back to our regular programming…

The Ickies

I swiftly ditched synthetic food dyes and colorings after I discovered our sensitivity last summer.  In the midst of this unpredictable winter, the many dye-free sinuses and ears in this house have suffered still.  But I’ve trashed all of those red, pink, and yellow pills and elixirs that used to hide in cabinets past their expiration dates, gunk up sticky refrigerator shelves, and congregate anonymously at the bottom of my purse.  What are we to do?  The dyes are seemingly everywhere – in the obvious places like green or red Nyquil, the purple children’s liquid Tylenol and Advil, the pink Benadryl, and those Contac capsules full of teensy rainbow sprinkles that were so fun to pry apart and liberate when I was a kid.

The less obvious dyed remedies include children’s vitamins, liquid hand soaps, gel hand sanitizers, throat lozenges, and those temporary tattoos and lollipops that the pediatrician kindly offers your sick kid.  Red and yellow dyes in these products can cause hives, asthma, moodiness, and swelling.  I used to assume that certain antihistamines were off limits because of the irritability side effects we experienced.  Turns out they were loaded with red and yellow dyes.

Have you ever had that moment when you realize that the cure is worse than the disease? Yeah, I had that too as I read dozens of unpronounceable ingredient labels on cold meds, but then I picked up yet another annoying bug from my school-aged daughter and needed RELIEF, like NOW.

It ain’t easy bein’ green, guys, especially during cold and flu season.   I admit that it’s way less time-consuming to figure out familiar, synthetic OTC meds with vague names, than it is to figure out natural remedies with vague names.  It took me a LONG time to find some dye-free products that work, but only because I read every label.  I am sharing some of my favorite fixes here,  and if you have found some great solutions, please leave them in a comment!

The Remedies

Here are some old and new tricks you can use to up your immunity and ease your discomfort from a cold or flu:

Manage stress, get proper sleep, avoid dairy, avoid sugary foods and drinks, drink extra water, run a humidifier in whatever room you are using, irrigate and cleanse sinuses with a neti pot, ease throat swelling with a salt water gargle, relieve sinus pressure with alternating hot and cold packs every 10-20 minutes, take a steamy shower, eat lots of chicken soup or vegan broth with salt, and keep the decaffeinated hot tea coming.

Some folks swear by garlic, oregano, extra vitamin D, and beta glucans supplements.  I swear by Black Elderberry Syrup. I use the Gaia brand, but there are others, or you can make your own. This stuff works to kill flu symptoms within 24 hours, but without all of the chemical additives of Tamiflu. I’ve had great results with Boiron’s “Cold Calm” and “oscillococcinum”, which I’ve found in Publix grocery stores and Whole Foods.  Many suggest taking daily probiotics to strengthen the immune system.  I love Inner-Eco non-dairy liquid probiotics, which are shipped cold and sold from a refrigerator case in most health food stores. Honey and cinnamon mixed together provide anti-bacterial and anti-viral support.

Pass on the bright red and yellow Hall’s and Sucrets, and choose dye-free cough drops, such as Burt’s Bees brand, instead.

I use Similasan nose spray to instantly clear up a stuffy nose.

If you have these symptoms, you’ll need to seek a doctor’s care:  Shortness of breath, fever of 102 degrees or higher for several days, a sore throat that won’t go away after 10 days, a cough that won’t go away after 10 days, chest pain or tightness, prolonged headache or facial pain, faintness, persistent vomiting, disorientation, or any symptom that seems to get worse instead of better.

While you’re at the doctor’s office, ask them to write “dye-free” on your prescriptions.  My daughter loves the taste of plain old liquid Amoxicillin without added flavors or food dyes.  We have had luck getting dye-free meds with Walgreens and Publix pharmacies.  You can find out what additives are in your prescription medications by checking this web site.

If your regular pharmacy cannot fill your prescription with a dye-free alternative, try looking up your nearest compounding pharmacies here.  They can fill your prescriptions without additives.

Encourage your kids to wash their hands often (and you too!) with dye-free hand soaps and hand sanitizers.  I have always thought that our foods receive no extra nutritive benefit from dyes, and I am equally mystified at our need to dress up our hand soaps.  I mean, they’re only used for a few seconds, and then washed down the drain, so who cares if they’re – gasp!- clear?  I buy large bottles of Dr. Bronner’s soap from the grocery and then refill old soap dispensers with a 1:1 diluted mix.  It isn’t “magic” as the chatty label suggests, but it saves me loads of money and is better for the planet.

I came up with a wonderful recipe for Chicken & Dumplings that tastes like a delicious liquid panacea for whatever ails me.  I’ve disagreed with various family members over the best way to make the dumplings – flat rolled, or drop dumplings?  (I won’t tell you how each of us feels about this hot issue, because I’d love to hear your thoughts on this)…So here it is, complete with a little compromise, one time-saving short cut, and a little evaporated milk…but the steamy benefits of this comfort food kinda cancel out the potential for an even stuffier nose…


The Recipe

Most Awesome Chicken And Dumplings


2.5-3 lbs Meaty chicken pieces (I like to use thighs…”fat is flavor” and “feed a cold” seem appropriate here)

6-8 cups chicken broth

1 Medium onion, diced

1 small Garlic bud, chopped (I used a couple of tablespoons of minced garlic)

1/2 teaspoon or more Dry sage, crushed

1 Bay leaf

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 can Evaporated milk (or coconut milk)

1 package frozen flat dumplings (I like Mary Hill’s – or use store-bought biscuit dough…or make your own.)

1:2 mix of flour and water, to thicken as needed


Cook the chicken in the broth with onion, garlic, sage, salt, pepper, and bay leaf for about 20-30 minutes.  If using bone-in meat, remove chicken from broth, cool, and then remove the meat from the bones.  Return meat to the broth.

Add the evaporated milk and bring to a simmering boil.  Drop dumplings into broth and cook on low, uncovered, for 20 minutes.  Discard bay leaf.  Thicken, if needed, with mixture of 1 tablespoon flour and 2 tablespoons water.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.  And for goodness sake, please don’t get so busy and/or worn out that you forget to put the leftovers in the refrigerator!  This soup is even better on Day Two…

The Recovery

I am so very blessed to have a strong and caring family and really sweet friends.  One person referred to her friends as a “balm for the soul”, how appropriate.  So – after you slurp up your soup and take care of you, please go tell the people you love how much you appreciate them.  Our time is valuable but fleeting.  I’m going to try to make amends with a seven-year-old who is mad at me for “kidnapping” her stuffed dolphins (I took them to the bathroom to lure her out of bed today…EVIL MOM!).  Then, I’m going to carve out some time for “quality of life improvement” with my family…deadlines be damned.

“And instead of saying all of your goodbyes – let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round…”

(From “Do You Realize?” by The Flaming Lips)


What are your favorite dye-free cold and flu remedies?  Are you a flat or drop dumpling sort of person?


10 Responses to “Balm For The Soul: How I Survive Cold And Flu Season Without Artificial Food Coloring”
  1. Jaimie says:

    Love this! A few things that I also find helpful for myself and the kids when we are battling a cold/flu is rubbing Vicks on the bottoms of our feet and then slipping on a nice, thick pair of socks! It works like a charm every time! Very good if you have that nagging cough due to sinus drainage. Also, for sure throat pain, my grandmother, who is always using home remedies instead of OTC meds, makes a gargle of vinegar, honey and cayenne pepper! Mix and gargle several times a day and no lie, your throat feels better immediately! It’s wonderful and I do it every time I get an irritated throat. : ) Just a few things I thought I would mention so that others can benefit. No dye worries!

  2. Nonna says:

    P.S. Home-made and rolled thin.

  3. Corey says:

    WE use Similasan products for cold relief, and the dye free Ibruprofen, and benedryl when needed. Our hand sanitizer is….ummm…I hope I don’t have to go out to my truck to read it…I know I can remember. Come on, old lady….remember…….ummmm…….dang it…have to look it up. HOld on…..
    CLEANWELL. Yeah, that’s it. 🙂 good stuff. Smells like pizza. 🙂

  4. Indie Mama says:

    I should say that we found dye-free benadryl (diphenhydramine) equivalent at Walgreens, and it’s called “Wal-Dryl” (Yeah…Would liked to have been in on the meeting for THAT decision, sheesh. Way to be creative, guys!).

  5. Joni says:

    Great information here on what to look out for and where. At the risk of looking like a troll (I’m really not), I just want to let you know that certified pure therapeutic grade essential oils can replace all of these synthetic medication – and they are definitely dye-free! I’ve treated headaches, allergies, colds, flu, stomach aches, etc. all successfully, all with essential oils. They also have the benefit of an unlimited shelf-life – no more emptying out and throwing away all the expired medications you have to have on hand “just in case”.

    Oh my, I really am sounding like one of those trolls! Sorry about that. You really should check them out, though!

    • Indie Mama says:

      Thanks Joni for sharing that suggestion, and as long as you are trying to help then there is no doubt that you are not a troll. 😉 Could you give info on how you administer different oils for common cold & flu symptoms? I am sure I’m not the only one who is kinda clueless on the right methods!

  6. Therapeutic grade essential oils!!
    If you are already sick with cold or flu symptoms, you can put 2-3 drops of oregano oil on the bottoms of your feet two to three times a day. After 2-3 days, it should kick that bug right out of your system. (For kids, you can mix one drop of oregano oil with your favorite natural lotion or another oil such as olive or coconut.)
    If you’re trying not to get sick when everyone around you is already sick, try doTerra’s OnGuard blend or an oil called Thieves. Also, on the bottoms of feet at bedtime.
    Lavender works great for soothing sore throats as does lemon oil.
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