If you're not already sniffing, chances are it won't be long before you too are one of the 4.1 million people in the UK currently struck by a cold or laid up with flu.

But, while there is no known cure for the common cold, there are ways you can protect yourself and prevent it. Deborah Tucknott uncovers some cold comforts.

Keeping colds at bay Echinacea A herbal remedy which boosts the immune system.

For the first six days of each month throughout winter, try taking two droppers of echinacea root tincture (30 drops) five times a day to strengthen your immune system.

Buy a good quality product which should tingle on the tongue. If you're likely to forget or are at work all day where an air-conditioning system is spreading everyone's germs put ten droppers worth (10ml/150 drops) in a litre bottle of water, take it to work and drink it throughout the day. Once it's gone, you know you've taken your daily dose.

Don't use if you suffer from autoimmune problems. Try FSC or Bioforce brands, available from GNC, Health House and Neal's Yard. Also try Echinacea and Marshmallow syrup, available from Neal's Yard, (£4.50), E-Kid-Nachea or E-Kid-Nachea Plus for children from Dolphin House Shop (£11.95).

Grapefruit seed extract This is a natural antibiotic also sold under the name Citricidal which can keep bugs at bay and help treat those which have already got to you.

Drops can be swallowed, gargled or used as nose or ear drops. At the slightest hint of a cold, add one gramme of vitamin C and a few drops of Citricidal to a glass of water and take every three hours.

Take Citricidal to work and use its bug-busting properties to keep your phone, computer keyboard and desk clean and free from cold germs.

Black elderberry Colds and flu are viruses. Viruses have spikes which land on your cells and replicate and spread quickly. Black elderberry will coat those spikes so the virus can't land on the cells. As soon as you feel the first symptoms of a cold coming on, take 20 to 30 drops of a tincture in a glass of water twice a day for a few days until they subside.

If you're at work, take it in a water bottle. If you already have a cold, it's still not too late to use it. Also try Sambucal which contains black elderberry, propolis and vitamin C and is available from the Dolphin House Shop (£8.90 for the adult mix and £7.90 for a children's version).

This herb's immune-supporting properties have been valued by the Chinese for centuries. Contains ingredients such as amino acids and trace minerals and studies have shown it reduces the severity and length of a cold. Take it continuously between October and March.

Cat's Claw Studies have found this to be a powerful anti-viral herbal remedy which contains compounds which may help strengthen the immune system. Brighton-based Rio Health also sells it as tea and does a stronger version of cat's claw called samento.

During your tea break, swap your tea or coffee for cats claw tea bags. If you like, add a few slice of root ginger, a dash of lemon juice and honey.

Pau d'arco A tree bark herbal supplement which boosts the immune system and helps prevent colds and flu. Use it throughout the year to maintain your health and up the dosage in the winter months if necessary. Rio Health also sells it as tea.

Garlic Garlic is nature's antibiotic and has powerful viral and antibacterial properties. Eating it raw will have the most beneficial effect, especially if you feel yourself coming down with something. If you add it when cooking, allow one clove per person but if the smell and taste is too much for you, try odourless capsules available from healthfood shops.

Bee propolis This comes from natural resin and sap, part of a tree's immune system.

Bees collect it and turn it into propolis which provides the immune system for the hive and makes it sterile. Used when you're feeling well, it can help boost your immune system and keep colds at bay. It can come in capsules, tablets, liquid and soap. Try Comvita Propolis Elixir available from Infinity Foods (£8.65).

Essential oils Surround yourself with the aroma of essential oils to keep viruses at bay.

At home, use an oil burner with oils such as rosemary, lavender marjoram, lemon or tea tree, all of which are immune-enhancing.

Blend the essential oil with a carrier oil and massage on your skin (only tea tree and lavender is gentle enough), add a few drops to a handkerchief, a bath, a vaporiser or make an atomiser containing water with a few drops of an oil to spray around you at work.

Tea tree oil can also be used to clean your phone, keyboard and desk. Oils are available in most health food shops and Boots. Choose pure essential oils, not aromatic oils.

Nutrition We all know it's important to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables to keep viruses at bay but here are some extra tips:

Eat red, yellow and green fruit and vegetables which contains powerful antioxidants to maintain the health of your mucus membranes.

Avoid coffee, tea, alcohol and sugar if you feel you are prone to a cold as this weakens your immune system.

Sugar feeds bacteria. If you don't think you're getting enough nutrients, try a ready-made superfood mix such as Gillian McKeith's brand or Green Edge from GNC.

Probiotics support your digestive system and help your body defend itself. Eat live plain yogurt or try acidophilus supplements by Biocare or Solgar from health food shops.

Make sure you get plenty of vitamin C. Boost your uptake continuously between October and March. For a quick fix, try Emergen-C sachet which contains 1,000mg of vitamin C in handy doses (65p from Dolphin House Shop) or try Berocca tablets available from most chemists.

Take zinc which can shorten the length of a cold by as much as a week if taken at the outset and Vitamin A which maintains your mucus membranes and protects your immune cells.

Use paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen for those bunged-up headaches and aching joints.

Wash your hands frequently to avoid infection.

Exercise to prevent colds but rest if you have one.

Have a laugh. Humour is a great immune system booster while stress can deplete it.

old favourite cold comforts including Beechams powders, Vicks VapoRub rub, Tunes and other lozenges. Also try Vicks Soothing VapoBath with extracts of eucalyptus, mental and lavender (from chemists and supermarkets £3.99).

Make colds more bearable Chicken soup This is more than an old wives' tale as it thins the mucus and makes a good decongestant, as does onion and garlic. Steer clear of too much meat, dairy products, wheat, eggs and soya which may encourage mucus production.

Honey, lemon and ginger You don't need to be told how important it is to drink plenty of fluids but here are some comforting recipes for you to try:

Ginger is a powerful antioxidant and a warming and soothing cold remedy which can loosen catarrh and phlegm. Add five slices of ginger root and a stick of cinnamon in a flask of hot water. Keeping the drink in a flask means you have it to hand when you want it.

Honey is a soothing remedy in drinks. Pour hot water over half a squeezed lemon, one teaspoon of honey and a little grated ginger. Mix pure apple juice, a stick of cinnamon and a pinch of pepper with the hot water.

Teas Red raspberry, peppermint, elderflower, catnip or boneset teas are recomended to combat colds. Red raspberry and boneset help the sweating process and provide calcium lost during perspiration,as well as cleaning and clearing the blood stream and lymph system. Neal's Yard does a range of herbs for teas including catnip and boneset. Its experts can make up a herb or tincture mix to suit your particular symptoms.

Barberry bark and golden seal Both are decongestants which dry up mucus. Available as tinctures or dried herbs from Neal's Yard. Mix with water and drink. Try taking five to ten drops of echinacea root tincture and five drops of barberry bark tincture hourly to stimulate the immune system.

Cayenne pepper Used for centuries to ward off colds and flu. It helps you to detox by causing the skin to sweat, eyes to water and nose to run.

At the onset of a sore throat or cold symptoms, put a teaspoon of cayenne pepper in a glass of warm water with the juice of a lemon and a teaspoon of honey and stir. Gargle or drink slowly.

Eucalyptus oil Add five drops to a bowl of hot water and inhale the steam to relieve congestion or put a couple of drops on your pillow. Don't try if you have asthma.

Also try Eucalyptus Salve which you can rub on your chest or add to steaming water (available from Neal's Yard, £5.75) or Olbas Oil (available from Health House and Infinity Foods, about £2.19) which contains eucalyptus oil and other ingredients to help clear congestion.

Other natural-based chest rubs to try include Tiger Balm (from Infinity Foods, £4.39) and Chest Rub by Earth Mother (from Dolphin House Shop, £6.50).

Tea tree oil For a sore throat, add five drops to warm water and gargle three times a day or add to steaming water and inhale.

Nasal sprays Try Sterimar, a natural decongestant made from sea water which gently cleans nasal passages, allowing you to breath easily (from Boots and other chemists, £5.99).

Stockists Boots North Street, Brighton, 01273 207461 or log on to www.boots.com Dolphin House Shop New Road, Brighton, 01273 721720 Down To Earth Portland Road, Hove, 01273 770600 GNC Churchill Square, Brighton, 01273 710150 Health House Western Road, Brighton, 01273 775558 Holland And Barrett North Street, Brighton, 01273 746343 Lloyds Arundel Road, Kemp Town, Brighton, 01273 606829;

Carden Avenue, Brighton, 01273 508198;

Matlock Road, Brighton, 01273 552060;

Church Road, Hove, 01273 732216 or log on to www.lloydspharmacy.co.uk Infinity Foods North Road, Brighton, 01273 603563 Neal's Yard Kensington Gardens, Brighton, 01273 601464 Rio Health 24-hour hotline 01273 570987, log on to www.riohealth.co.uk Superdrug Churchill Square, Brighton, 01273 739562;

London Road, Brighton, 01273 688400;

St James's Street, Brighton, 01273 607211 or log on to www.superdrug.com WITH thanks to Brighton naturopath Helen Goodwin and other experts for their advice. For further advice on beating colds and flu and supplements, call 07887 553598 or email helengoodwin@btinternet.com Helen also offers a 28-day immune-boosting programme for £62 which includes a book, fresh herbal teas and tinctures specifically designed to help build a strong immune system.