5 Herbs for Cold and Flu Season

In this post I’m going to introduce you to five herbs for cold and flu season. These herbs are a must for your herbal medicine chest, especially at this time of year.

Here in northern Arizona we’ve been having the most delicious cool nights and chilly mornings. I love the four seasons in this beautiful place, but no matter how much I’m enjoying the season of the moment, I’m always excited to feel a change in the air. Alas, I’m not the only one. Did you know that common cold and flu viruses thrive in cold dry weather? Yep! Now is the time to make sure your herbal medicine chest is stocked with herbs to defend yourself and your loved ones from colds and flu. Wondering what you should have on hand? In this post I’m going to introduce you to Five Herbs to Defend ‘You & Yours’ Against Colds & Flu. You might even have some of these herbs in your kitchen spice cupboard.

Maintaining a strong immune system is always the first and most important defense against colds and flu. A healthy diet (low in sugar and rich in vitamins and other nutrients), adequate rest and a balanced approach to stress all contribute to the health of your immune system. For people who still suffer from frequent colds or flu, immune strengthening herbs may be in order. If you seem to catch everything that’s going around, this article, Winter Health & Herbal Immune Tonics will help you evaluate and choose herbs to strengthen your immune system. Now is the time to get started.

Despite a healthy immune system our best efforts, sometimes our defenses fail. When that pesky cold or flu bug strikes, use these five herbs to fight back and return quickly to your normal state of vibrant health.

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Echinacea | Echinacea purpurea or angustifolia

Native to North American, Echinacea was used by native people for a wide range of ailments from sore throat, swollen glands and toothache to snake bite, venomous stings and poisoning. The wisdom of Native American healers has been corroborated in a plethora of pharmacological research, scientific trials and the experience of clinical herbalists using Echinacea to combat the common colds, enhance immune activity and relieve glandular inflammation. Echinacea produces an unmistakable, hearty purple flower with a spiny orange center. Though the entire plant from root to flower can be use medicinally, the roots are somewhat stronger.

If you are preparing your herbal medicine chest for the coming cold and flu season, make Echinacea your first line of defense for the common cold and infectious conditions in general. Echinacea has been shown in numerous studies to reduce the severity and duration of acute upper respiratory infections so it is best to reach for Echinacea at the first sign of a cold—sneezing, sniffles, scratchy throat or that hot, full-sinus feeling. In addition to immune stimulating properties, compounds in Echinacea show anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal activity. To prepare an Echinacea tea, simmer one heaping teaspoon of dried root in 1-2 cups of water for at least 20 minutes. The liquid extract or tincture of Echinacea is a quick and easy way to take Echinacea and it will last for many years in your medicine chest. The dosage for any tincture is dependent on the strength of the extract and should always appear on the bottle.

Elder Berry | Sambucus nigra

Also known as Black Elder Berry, this delicious dark blue berry is an immune stimulant with anti-viral properties traditionally used for cold and flu symptoms, including aches and pains, coughing, nasal congestion, mucous discharge and fever. Like Echinacea, consider Elder Berry in the front line of defense for on-coming colds or flu. Elder Berry can also be used in lower dose as a preventive during cold and flu season or when you are exposed to a higher risk of infection in air travel or large crowds. Dried Elder berries can be prepared as a tea by simmering one tablespoon in 1-2 cups of water for at least 15 minutes. You can also find Elder Berry as a tincture or alcohol-free glycerite. If you want to really feel empowered when it comes to care of yourself and your love ones, you can make our own Elder Berry Syrup with this simple recipe. Kids tend to be much more receptive to the sweet, rich berry flavor of this Elder Berry Syrup than they are to other cold remedies.

Ginger | Zingiber officianalis

This spicy, aromatic root is an excellent remedy for cold, congestive conditions of the respiratory tract and flu symptoms. Ginger’s diaphoretic (induces sweating), antipyretic (reduces fever), anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties offer welcome relief for the fever, body aches and headaches that often accompany flu. Sipping on a cup of Ginger tea can also quell nausea and vomiting and help you stay hydrated during a bout with the flu. Dried Ginger Root is considered hotter and somewhat more stimulating than the fresh root, though overall the plant is gentle and appropriate for both children and the elderly. Prepare a tea with the dried root by steeping one teaspoon in one cup of water for at least 15 minutes. If you’re making tea with the fresh root, chop up a piece about ¾-1½ inches in length and steep for at least 15 minutes. When you don’t feel up to making tea, the liquid extract of Ginger is a quick and easy alternative.

Oregon Grape Root | Berberis aquifolium

Oregon Grape Root is another North American native common throughout the forests and mountains of the western United States. The golden color of the root comes from berberine, a phyto-chemical with significant antibiotic and immune enhancing effects also found in Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), another familiar cold and flu remedy. Berberine’s primary immune enhancing action comes from the activation of white blood cells responsible for destroying bacteria, viruses, and other foreign invaders. Its ability to defend against a broad range of organisms makes Oregon Grape Root an important remedy to have on hand when colds, flu, digestive complaints and even urinary tract infections make unexpected visits.

As a bitter, Oregon Grape Root also has a pronounced effect on the liver, promoting liver function and stimulating the production and flow of bile. Its ability to promote digestion and elimination make it useful for chronic skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis and as a restorative to an embattled digestive following stomach flu with vomiting and diarrhea. In the latter case, it combines well with Ginger Root. For colds and sinus infection, Oregon Grape Root also combines well with Echinacea Root. For tea, simmer 1 teaspoon of the root in 2 cups water for at least 15 minutes. The liquid extract of Oregon Grape Root is another good way to make use of this bitter remedy.

Thyme | Thymus vulgaris

On this short list of 5 Herbal Defenders for Cold & Flu, Thyme is the most specific herb for lower respiratory congestion with bouts of coughing. This common culinary herb is an expectorant, bronchiodilator, mucolytic, antispasmodic, and anti-bacterial. These properties make it a specific for whooping cough, bronchitis and other infectious conditions that congest and constrict the lungs. Its anti-bacterial action also makes it an effective herb for many urinary tract infections. Thyme makes a lovely tea especially with a little honey and Ginger Root. Steep one teaspoon in one cup of hot water for at least 15 minutes. If you don’t have the herb in your medicine chest, don’t forget to check the spice rack in your kitchen. Thyme tincture is a quick and easy alternative to the tea.

Properly diluted, Thyme Essential Oil makes an effective chest rub. Simply add 1-2 drops to one teaspoon of unscented lotion, salve or carrier oil. You can also prepare a steam inhalation with the loose herb or the essential oil. To make a steam inhalation, simply add ¼ cup of dried Thyme or 2 drops of Thyme Essential Oil to a small pot of steaming hot water. Sit down at a table, cover your head and the steaming pot with a towel forming a tent. Gently inhale the medicinal vapors.

While there are many other herbs to reach for at the first sign of a cold or flu, these are some of my favorites that share a a long history of traditional use supported by modern clinical research. I hope you experience perfect health during the cold and flu season, but it is always a good idea to be prepared.

If you have questions, be sure to leave a comment below.

wishing you health and happiness,
Herbalist & Proprietress

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