Cold and flu season is upon us. There are many herbs available that can help you get through this winter. Are you ready?
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Before we talk about herbs that can help with a cold or flu, please know that the flu can turn very serious very quickly. Always talk to your doctor before starting something new and special attention should be taken to the very young, elderly, and with those who have underlying conditions such as asthma or having a compromised immune system. The flu could lead to the contraction of pneumonia or strep throat. See a doctor if you start coughing up blood, you have trouble breathing, can’t keep fluids down, have a very high fever, or experience confusion.
Since the flu and common cold are both viruses and not bacteria you will not be prescribed antibiotics to treat them. You usually just have to wait it out or take over the counter painkillers and decongestants. There are some herbs available that can help prevent colds and flu as well as help you get through the sickness if you manage to catch either. I’m very prone to getting colds and many of these herbs I have personally worked pretty well for me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you too.
If you have never heard of elderberries let me introduce you to this amazing plant. Elderberries (Sambucus nigra) are approved by the German Commission E (German FDA) for treating coughs, bronchitis, fevers, and colds. It has shown to be effective against 10 different strains of influenza when vaccinations are only effective against a few. In the same study, they found it only took 3-4 days for flu symptoms to stop. Another study found that those taking an elderberry extract had reduced cold symptoms and the cold lasted two days shorter than those on the placebo. It works by preventing viruses from affecting healthy cells and stimulates the immune system. You can get over the counter elderberry extracts called Sambucol, which is a patented herbal extract from Israel. You can also make your own elderberry extract or elderberry syrup.
Find dried elderberries here.
2. Cat’s Claw
Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) is a viny plant from the coffee family that grows in South and Central America. It has a lot of history in folk medicine for treating various conditions but it is not a well-studied plant today. It can stimulate the immune system and is also an anti-inflammatory. Due to its immune system stimulating properties it is possible that it can help treat the common cold but more studies are needed.
Find dried cat’s claw here.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) is another well-known herb for colds and flu but it is better known for its ability to prevent rather than treat. It is approved by the German Commission E to be used for colds, coughs, bronchitis, fevers, colds, and more. Echinacea has properties that allow the herb to help destroy bacteria and viruses as well as activate white blood cells that fight off diseases. There are over 200 ways to prepare the herb which makes studying the herb difficult. It has been found though that when taken properly, it can help prevent the common cold but other studies show that it is not very effective in actually treating colds or flu once you have it. If you are allergic to ragweed or the sunflower family you could also be allergic to echinacea.
Find dried echinacea here.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) isn’t used too much in treating specifically colds or flu but more so in stomach problems such as nausea and vomiting. Anti-emetics are present in ginger which helps control nausea and vomiting, something many people experience when they have the flu. Ginger can also stimulate saliva, bile, gastric juices, and causes the stomach to contract and move food into the intestines. When it comes to colds and flu ginger can help relieve congestion, scratchy throats, and help manage nausea and vomiting.
Find dried ginger here.
If you’re sick don’t worry about anyone thinking your breath stinks of garlic and load up that chicken noodle soup with garlic. Garlic (Allium sativa) is very tasty but also contains antibacterial and antifungal properties and is rich in antioxidants. It is nowhere near as strong as penicillin and should not be used as a replacement for antibiotics. Now you may be wondering why I included garlic on this list since colds and flu are viruses and not caused by bacteria. The reason this herb is included is that colds and flu weaken your immune system and can allow bacterial infections in. Adding garlic to your diet (at least 600 milligrams) or taking garlic capsules while you have the flu could possibly help prevent you from contracting a bacterial infection.
Find garlic capsules here.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is a plant that looks similar to lambs ear but grows much, much larger. One of mullein’s best attributes is its ability to help with upper respiratory congestion. It helps by letting your central nervous sytem know that it needs to move phlegm out of your body but it can also stimulate your cough reflexes. It also helps reduce soreness which is beneficial for both colds and flu.
Find dried mullein here.
Be cautious and learn the safety of each herb before using them. Not all of these herbs are safe for children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Some herbs can cause allergic reactions or interact with medications and preexisting conditions.
–WebMD Vitamins & Supplements Center
– University of Maryland Medical Center Cat’s Claw
– University of Maryland Medical Center Garlic
– University of Maryland Medical Center Ginger
–Flu Emergency: When to Call a Doctor
– Balch, Phyllis A., and Stacey J. Bell. “Prescription for Herbal Healing.” Prescription for Herbal Healing, 2nd ed., Bottom Line Books, 2014, pp. 43-44, 61–63, 70-74, 104.