Here comes the season when people start feeling miserable and grumpy all the time. The cold and flu season is not to be taken lightly, and we recommend trading in chemical-laden medicines for natural cold and flu relief.
I’m a full-blown wimp when it comes to colds and flu. I whine, complain, and cause everyone around me to pray for deliverance. And while it’s easy to pop this pill or down that syrup to relieve the excruciating symptoms (and provide peace for my loved ones), I prefer to be miserable for a few days rather than risk the addition of secondary upper and lower respiratory infections that so often follow the use of these chemical-laden treatments.
Fortunately, for my family’s sanity, we’ve learned to use several gentle herbs that not only effectively ease the debilitating symptoms but assist in ridding the body of these nasty little viruses without the dreaded side effects of man-made treatments.
First Things First
Before reaching for symptom-relieving herbs, however, first, fortify the immune system to speed the healing process. This is readily accomplished using highly effective elderberry syrup.
Research has verified not only elderberry’s ability to ward off illness by boosting the immune system but also its efficacy at reducing the duration of cold and flu symptoms.
Taken every 2-4 hours at the onset of symptoms—as opposed to the twice-daily recommendation for prevention—elderberry is proven to shorten cold and flu symptoms by one to four days.
To further reinforce immunity, echinacea and garlic may be added to the syrup, taken as a tea or tincture, or used alone in the absence of elderberry.
Of all the symptom-relieving herbs in my medicine chest, ginger is perhaps my favorite due to its many uses. While this spicy rhizome’s taste may not be pleasing to some, its ability to relieve minor sore throats, calm headaches, reduce fever and ease nausea overshadow any complaints.
If that isn’t enough, ginger also contains antiviral properties that further assist the body in healing. This gentle herb is even safe for pregnant or nursing women, making it a good choice when other medications may be off-limits.
Any form of ginger may be used, with some being better for cold and flu symptoms than others. For instance, candied ginger, while a delightful treat, is best avoided when combatting an illness since refined sugar is known to suppress the immune system (although candied ginger works wonders for nausea, including morning sickness).
You can, however, effectively use fresh, dried, and powdered forms in teas, syrups, and electuaries (medicinal substances mixed with honey or another type of sweetener).
For example, a warm foot bath with a tablespoon of powdered ginger added works well for easing headaches. You can also create a throat-soothing and fever-reducing tea by simmering sliced ginger root for 15-20 minutes. If you prefer, you can even gargle the tea to ease a sore throat.
Slip N’ Slide Herbs
Marshmallow root and slippery elm bark are demulcents, meaning they produce a thick, sticky substance that coats irritated membranes. As such, these two herbs are perhaps the best choices for severe sore throats and dry coughs and can be used interchangeably.
Used long ago as a nourishing food, slippery elm is quite tasty, especially when lightly sweetened with honey or maple syrup. The pleasant flavor makes this herb an especially good choice for finicky childhood taste buds.
Marshmallow root, on the other hand, has a somewhat less enjoyable flavor yet works as well as slippery elm. As a bonus, marshmallow can be easily grown throughout many areas of the country.
While either herb may be used in any cold and flu remedy to ease both sore throats and coughs, preparation is slightly different for each. Slippery elm should be added to boiling water and steeped for 20 minutes before consuming as a tea. Marshmallow root, however, should be added only to cold water and allowed to infuse overnight.
Both herbs may also be used as a gargle instead of a tea. Before consuming either herb, consider that both may slow the absorption of some medications due to the coating/film they create in the digestive system. As such, it’s best to discuss their use with your physician before consuming.
For many, the most troublesome cold and flu symptoms stem from stuffy heads and burning chests. Not only does congestion cause headaches, coughs, and sore throats, but when drainage lands in the stomach, we find ourselves battling nausea, too.
To ease congestion and further promote healing, include peppermint, eucalyptus, and cayenne with the aforementioned herbals.
Peppermint is the most enjoyable decongestant, as the familiar scent recalls fond Christmas memories. Enjoy a honey-sweetened peppermint tea made with fresh or dried herbs, inhaling the minty aroma with each sip for minor congestion.
For more severe cases, pour boiling water in a heat-proof bowl, and add 1 to 2 drops of peppermint essential oil. Place your head over the bowl and cover with a loose towel. Inhale through the nose for sinus congestion or through the mouth for chest congestion.
Adding a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil offers a more potent remedy, especially helpful for those tough days when congestion is extra thick.
For relief while sleeping, place the essential oils in a diffuser and replenish as needed.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. While the spiciness of cayenne pepper may be too much for children and those who dislike spicy foods, cayenne’s decongestant properties are worth considering.
When consumed, the spicy herb stimulates the mucus membranes of the nose and sinuses, effectively thinning and liquifying mucus. This action helps the body in ridding itself of congestion.
Cayenne may be taken in the form of food—think tacos—or used as a gargle or tea when added to warm water.
Two common cold and flu remedies
- Fresh or dried herbs
- Raw honey
- Filtered water
- Make a strong herbal tea by filling a jar ¾ full with fresh herbs or ¼ full with dried herbs. Pour simmering water over herbs. Cover. Steep until cool. For a stronger tea, place in refrigerator and steep overnight. Strain.
- Heat tea over low heat until warm. Keep below 100°F to preserve the honey’s medicinal properties.
- Remove from heat. Add 2 cups honey for every 1 cup of tea. Stir until combined.
- Pour into sterile jar and store in the refrigerator. Keeps well for several months.
- Raw honey
- Powdered herbs
- Mix herbs and enough honey to form a thick paste.
- Label and store in a glass jar.
- Take by the spoonful or add to tea.
Sore throat: 2 tablespoons ginger and ¼ cup raw honey. Add 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper for added relief. Start with 1 teaspoon and increase to 1 tablespoon, as needed.
Immunity booster: ½ tablespoon each of garlic, cinnamon, echinacea, and ashwagandha and ¼ cup raw honey. Take ½ to 1 teaspoon two to three times daily.
Calming: To promote sleep and relaxation, choose chamomile, lemon balm, lavender, and/or passionflower for a total of 2 tablespoons of herbs for every ¼ cup of honey. Take 1 tablespoon in a tea or by the spoonful, as needed.
Note: Children under the age of 1 should not consume honey
When faced with a cold or flu, nature supplies several remedies to ease symptoms without the negative side effects often associated with conventional treatments.
Although creating these remedies does take a little more time than simply popping a cap or blister pack, the benefits of gentle relief while building the immune system for faster recovery make it well worth the extra effort.
Useful resources to check out: