‘Tis the season of comfort and joy as the carol remind us, but it is also the season of socializing and with that comes the spread of cold and flu viruses. Fortunately, you don’t just have to suffer. There are many great herbs for colds and flu—both to keep your immune system strong to prevent these nasty infections or to help your body fight them off. Here are some excellent choices:
Echinacea—Who hasn’t turned to this beautiful flowering plant for help preventing or fighting off a nasty virus or to shorten the duration of time spent suffering from a cold or flu? Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea or Echinacea angustifolia) has become the go-to herb for just such occasions for good reason: it works. Research in the journal Advances in Therapy found that Echinacea extracts significantly reduce the risk of recurring respiratory infections. Other research in the journal Cell Immunology has also been shown to reduce the severity of symptoms of respiratory infections. Use one teaspoon of the dried herb per cup of boiling water. Drink one cup three times daily at the first signs of a cold or flu.
Elderberry—One of the best antiviral herbs, dried elderberries, elder leaves or flowers can give your immune system the boost it needs to fend off viruses, including colds and flu. David Hoffman, FNIMH, AHG, herbalist and author of the book Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine, reports that an alcohol extract of elderberry was effective in laboratory tests against ten strains of influenza virus. It also reduced the duration of flu symptoms for 3 to 4 days in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study. Use two teaspoons of the dried flowers or herb per cup of boiling water. Drink one cup three times daily at the first signs of a cold or flu and throughout the infection.
Garlic—Garlic is a well-established antimicrobial herb. According to renowned botanist James Duke, author of The Green Pharmacy, garlic contains several different antimicrobial compounds that can help while battling colds and flu. One of the most antiviral compounds is known as allicin. Thanks to its pungent flavor and aroma, garlic is best suited as additions to foods like soups, stews, chili, curries or other savory fare, but it doesn’t make a particularly good tasting herbal tea. Alternatively, you can crush one clove of fresh garlic and mix it into a teaspoon of honey and eat at least one per day to help prevent or eliminate a cold or flu.
Lemon Balm—One of the most anti-viral herbs available, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), has been proven effective against the herpes virus but it can also help with cold and flu viruses. That’s because, according to Dr. Duke, lemon balm quickly and effectively slows the entry of the virus into the cells. Use one teaspoon of the dried herb per cup of boiling water. Drink one cup three times daily at the first signs of a cold or flu and throughout the infection. Keep in mind that lemon balm is not the same as lemongrass.
Peppermint—Peppermint (Mentha piperita) has natural antiviral properties but its potent vapors also help to alleviate sinus congestion linked with colds or flu. Use one teaspoon of the dried herb per cup of boiling water. Drink one cup three times daily at the first signs of a cold or flu and throughout the infection. If your sinuses are severely packed, you can also make a peppermint tea that you cool and use as a facial spritzer.
Yarrow—In the herbal world, yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is known as a diaphoretic herb—one that induces sweating. The skin is your body’s largest detoxification organ, and in some cases of high fever or serious infection, sweating is one of the best ways for the body to reduce its internal temperature and eliminate toxic buildup linked to infection. Many herbalists, myself included, recommend the use of yarrow in combination with potent antibacterial herbs like ginger and Echinacea to combat infections. Use one teaspoon of the dried herb per cup of boiling water. Drink one cup three times daily.