Cold and flu season is here – so now’s a good time to make sure you’re ready when that scratchy sore throat, runny nose and fuzzy head strike.

[Read more: Get a flu jab and 9 other ways to protect yourself against flu if you’re older]

And that doesn’t necessarily mean heading to the pharmacy to stock up on drugs – there are plenty of alternative and at-home remedies that can be just as effective. Some may seem obvious, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that sometimes the simplest remedies are the best.

From sleep to supplements, these are the alternative cold and flu remedies you need to know about.

Sleep

How: Make sure you’re getting the required seven to eight hours sleep a night. Exercising regularly, cutting down on caffeine (especially in the afternoon) and alcohol will all help promote better quality sleep.

Why: When you’re run down, you’re more susceptible to illness – and that includes colds and flu. In one study, those who got less than seven hours sleep were three times more likely to get a cold. Plus, when you’re in the midst of a cold or flu, you need extra shut-eye to combat infection. So don’t fight the drowsiness – a duvet day is totally justified.

Water

How: Make sure you’re drinking at least three litres (women) or four litres (men) of water a day when you’re sick.

Why: You need plenty of liquids in order to replace those lost due to fever and infection. Plus, if you’re dehydrated it can slow mucus production, which is needed to expel viruses.

Zinc

How: You should be able to get enough zinc from a balanced diet, but zinc lozenges have the added benefit of killing viruses in your throat.

Why: “Aiding the functioning of your immune system, zinc can help to protect the body against colds, flu and other common infections,” explains Alex Thompson, Holland & Barrett nutritionist. “It supports the body’s natural defence and repair systems, helping to battle illness. Taken when the first signs of cold and flu appear, or as a daily supplement during the winter months, it will give you an extra boost to fight infection.” Try Natures Aid Zinc Lozenges, £3.45.

Vitamin C

How: Take it in tablet form or load up on vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi fruit, red and yellow peppers and green leafy vegetables.

Why: Making sure you always consume lots of vitamin C will not only help prevent colds (particularly in cold weather), but studies have shown that a hefty dose of the vitamin at the first sign of symptoms can help clear a cold up faster. 

[Read more: Cold and flu old wives tales, debunked] 

Vitamin D

How: During the winter months, when it’s harder to get Vitamin D from sunlight, a supplement may be advisable – but no more than 25 micrograms a day.

Why: It’s not exactly known why, but a British study in 2011 found that those who consumed more vitamin D experience fewer respiratory infections (including the common cold), even when they took into account other lifestyle factors. Other studies have suggested the effect is more pronounced for those deficient in Vitamin D to begin with – for example,e people who don’t go out in the sun much.

Eucalyptus oil

How: Add a few drops of this potent oil to a warm bath.

Why: “When cold or flu does strike, one of the most annoying symptoms can be a persistent blocked nose,” says Alex. “Known for its decongestive properties, eucalyptus pure essential oil can be added to a warm bath to help relieve the well-known ‘bunged-up’ feeling and sore throat so commonly associated with winter bugs.” Try Miaroma Eucalyptus Pure Essential Oil, £4.99 for 10ml.

Selenium

How: Brazil nuts are a very good source of selenium.

Why: “Good for boosting your immune system, selenium aids the body in defending itself against harmful bacteria that can lead to colds and flu,” explains Alex.

[Read more: 5 healing and medicinal plants you can grow in your garden]

Echinacea

How: A traditional herbal remedy, echinacea is available as a tablet, tea or throat spray.

Why: Well, it’s debatable whether it really works. There is some evidence that products derived from this herb can help to modestly alleviate the symptoms of the common cold, but it’s probably not preventative. So try it when a cold strikes, but don’t expect a complete cure.