Cold season got you down?

Fall has quite clearly arrived… and with it comes the dreaded onslaught of cold and flu season. Cold and flu viruses each cause upper respiratory congestion – a runny nose, sneezing, sinus congestion, a scratchy throat or worse. Both can produce a cough, but flus tend to linger more in the lower respira­tory tract. Influenza downright ambushes you. In addition to attacking the upper respiratory tract and mi­grating down, flu brings on malaise, headache, muscle aches, fever, chills, exhaustion, and loss of appetite. You generally feel awful. Symptoms start to wane after two to five days, although weakness and fatigue may linger for a couple of weeks.

With all of these symptoms and terrible things that you will have to deal with should you find yourself stuck with a cold or the flu, it may seem like the best idea for dealing with fall and winter is simply to pull out a big comfy blanket, make some tea and hibernate for the season.

But alas, this is not a realistic option for many of us. Luckily, naturopaths and homeopathic doctors across the globe have been researching natural remedies for these ailments… and the list of what they have come up with is nothing short of miraculous! Try applying the following advice to your own health plan and see if it makes a difference for you.

Natural cold and flu remedies:


The most thoroughly researched herb for fending off colds and flus is Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, E. pallida, and E. purpurea). This herb’s main claim to fame is its ability to enhance general immunity – it stimulates white blood cell growth, one of the body’s first lines of defense against illness. It also increases the production of interferon and other virus-fighting substances and increases your immune cells’ ability to engulf and destroy invading microbes.

Compounds found in elderberry (Sambucus nigra) can inhibit the enzyme that flu viruses use to penetrate cell membranes. In one test-tube study, a syrup made from elderberry juice, raspberry extract, glucose, citric acid, and honey inhibited a variety of both type A and type B ­influenza viruses.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is another herb that is well-known in China as a tonic and adaptogen. Many studies show that it boosts the immune system and fights viruses, bacteria, and inflammation. Taken regu­larly over time, it can provide ongoing ­immune-system support.

For such a common kitchen staple, garlic (Allium sativum) can benefit your health in many ways, including boosting immune function and inhibiting or killing a broad range of microbes. Test-tube studies show that garlic is active against the viruses that cause colds and flus. Some of garlic’s active ingredients are eliminated through our lungs, right where you want them to target infections. Garlic also promotes expectoration, to help you cough up mucus. During cold and flu season, you may want to take garlic supplements and eat plenty of garlic. We tend to blend raw garlic into foods or add it to dishes just before serving to preserve its active ingredients.

According to test tube studies, St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) can inhibit influenza A viruses and parainflu­enza virus (which produces flulike symptoms), but not rhinovirus (a prominent cold virus). In mice it has fought para­influenza infection, but researchers have yet to study the effects of St. John’s wort on people with the flu.

Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) contains glycyrrhizin, which in test-tube studies inactivates and inhibits the growth of a range of viruses, including influenza viruses. Somewhat like Echinacea, licorice contains polysaccharide ingredients that can spark the body’s production of interferon (proteins released by virus-infected cells to prevent the virus from multiplying) and activate various white blood cells.

Lemon balm

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) inhibits the influenza A virus in test-tube studies. This herb is also packed with nutrients, including lots of carotenoids and flavonoids, and helps ease seasonal allergies.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) shows some antiviral effects in test-tube studies against parainfluenza and many other bacteria. Try making this herb into a medicinal tea to both calm your system and help you relax.

Herbal decongestants:

Peppermint (Mentha ¥piperita) oil and pure menthol are often included in commercial products such as nasal decongestants, throat lozenges, cough drops, chest rubs, and inhalants. The same goes for oil of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus). Both herbs contain compounds that relax the airways and open congested sinuses and nasal passages. In one study, people who inhaled menthol indicated that it relieved their respiratory discomfort, maybe because menthol stimulates cold receptors. For example, just stepping into the cold outdoors can relieve stuffiness. You can try putting a few drops of peppermint or eucalyptus oil onto a cotton ball and setting it on your nightstand to breathe in the vapors as you sleep. Make sure that you don’t get the oil in your eyes or rub it on mucus membranes, and never apply essential oils in or near the noses of infants or small children, because this has been reported to cause respiratory arrest.

Herbs for aches and pains:

The essential oil of peppermint can also be applied externally to stimulate nerves that perceive cold and decrease pain-transmission signals. Rub peppermint oil on your temples to reduce a headache (but don’t get any in your eyes), or add two drops of peppermint oil to your bath. Peppermint oil combines nicely with essential oils of lavender (Lavandula spp.), an herb often praised for the relaxing effects of its scent, as well as eucalyptus. Taken internally, a peppermint tea made from one teaspoon of dried peppermint leaves and flowers for each cup of boiled water promotes sweating, which can help modulate fever.


Ginger (Zingiber officinale) can fight inflammation and pain. It can also act as an expectorant and has a warming effect that may help if you’re chilled. To make a tea, try adding ½ teaspoon of the powder or two droppers of an alcohol extract to a cup of hot water. Don’t worry about straining the ginger; it will just settle on the bottom of the cup. Add honey and lemon to taste.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is currently popular for its ability to ease migraines, but it has an even longer history of use for relieving fever, arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.

The flowers of yarrow (Achillea millefolium) fight inflammation and muscle spasms and promote sweating. Herbalists have long included them in cold and flu remedies.

Herbs to soothe sore throats and coughs:

Known as demulcents, these herbs contain thick substances that coat and soothe irritated respiratory linings. A commonly recommended demulcent, mullein (Verbascum thapsus), also can help loosen a cough and fight viruses. Lab tests show that its leaves and flowers possess potent activity against the herpes virus, but do not completely inactivate flu viruses.


Other demulcents include the root of marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), the bark of slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), and the leaves of plantain (Plantago spp.).


Expectorants, which help loosen res­piratory secretions so that they can be coughed up, include horehound (Mar­rubium vulgare), eucalyptus, and thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Thyme fights microbes, and its flavonoids help decrease smooth muscle spasms to open tight ­airways.

To try them all or not to try them all?

Some of these remedies will work for you… and some may not. Trial and error is one way to go about it, but your best and safest bet is to ask you family physician what they would recommend. You can even bring them this list and get them to assess what might be the most helpful for you to try. Remember: you always want to keep your doctor in the loop as to anything that you are doing for your health!




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