Ah the dreaded cold and flu ‘season’… While prevention is best, what to do when the symptoms hit...
The first medicinal herbs that I reach for as the calendar changes to autumn?
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia) is a great choice for overall general symptoms when you feel under the weather. This powerhouse is full of bioflavonoids and other proteins that destroy the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect your cells. By enhancing general immunity, it can be useful as a first line of defense against illness and shortening the duration of symptoms.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra). Elderberry syrup (with raw honey) – elderberries are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants - namely two flavonoids, quercetin and rutin. These flavanoids prompt the immune system to step-up its production of proteins that are important for cell signalling and immune response against inflammation and infection. By reducing inflammation elderberry can help relive sinus congestion and is also great at reducing cold and flu symptoms. Along with its anti-inflammatory actions, elderberry is an alterative, diuretic and antiviral herb that destroys the ability of cold and flu viruses from entering the cell and replicating. I do prefer to use this one at the onset of cold and flu season as a daily supplement for its ability to balance and boost the immune system. Add some antibacterial, antiseptic and antimicrobial local raw honey and the infection doesn’t stand a chance!
If you’re feeling more specific illness symptoms that include congestion and sinus pressure, coughs and a sore throat, you want more targeted herbs to reduce the severity and duration of your suffering and to help address the root cause of the infection. These can include:
Andrographis (Andrographis paniculate) – an immune stimulant referred to as the “King of Bitters”, this herb is great for upper respiratory tract infections and the common cold. It is energetically a cold herb and in TCM it is believed to enter the lung and digestive channels where it is used for clearing heat and drying dampness. It can be used in combination with warming herbs like astragalus and ginger. It is a great choice for acute immune support.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) – used by Native Americans for centuries for its medicinal properties, this herb exerts its effects on numerous systems in the body including the immune and digestive systems. It is an astringent that helps to balance and tighten the mucous membranes making it a great choice for well-established colds and flus as well as sinus infections and for restoring health to the inflamed passages.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) – traditionally used as an immune support, oregano contains volatile oils that support the body’s natural defenses. High in antioxidants, this plant from the mint family is good for stimulating the immune system, promoting healing and reducing inflammation. I love this as a tea (with added lemon and raw honey) to help with congestion and sinus issues.
For immediate relief when symptoms are irritating and uncomfortable, try the following:
Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) – the root has been used as a remedy for thousands of years to help with respiratory, skin and digestive conditions in part due to the mucilage it contains. Known as a demulcent and used to soothe mucous membranes, marshmallow is a slimy, cooling and moistening herb. A cold infusion of this herb is great for a sore throat and non-productive coughs.
Wild Cherry Bark (Prunus serota)– a staple in my cough blends, this is used to soothe a dry, irritating cough and help promote a productive one. A member of the rose family it is widely used as a medicinal herb and is best known for calming the respiratory system through the potent cyanogenic glycosides it contains. Wild Cherry has astringent properties and is energetically warming. I love this herb in tincture form for its relaxing action on the respiratory nerves.
By working with your body to boost the immune system, herbs are a great way to support your natural defenses and keep you feeling good while cold and flu season abounds - and to help soothe your symptoms and speed up your recovery should you get sick.