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      Colds and Flu Herbal Remedies & Complementary Therapies

      With the media focusing on the spread of the ‘flu virus we could all do with an immune boost to try and prevent catching any nasty bugs at this time.  This page looks at how complementary therapies can help prevent viral spread through boosting immune systems and then at alternative treatments for colds and flu

      Herbal medicine provides a treasure chest of remedies to help boost the immune system and to reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms when we do get ill.

      Herbal Immune Boosters

      Usually taken as liquid tinctures, these herbal remedies can be bought in all good health food shops and online.  It is best to source organic tinctures to avoid any contamination by pesticides and herbicides.  Astragalus and Echinacea can be taken preventively all through the Autumn and Winter and Goldenseal is best used during an infection. 


      Astragalus    (also known as yellow vetch or Huang Qi)

      Astragalus has been used for hundreds of years in traditional Chinese medicine.  Research has shown it to stimulate the immune system and to provide general prevention of infection, including protection against viral infections such as the common cold.  It is best to start taking Astragalus preventively if you are prone to colds and ‘flu’s at certain times of year, for example at the change of seasons.  However, Astragalus should not be taken during an infection as it ‘nourishes’ the infection.


      Echinacea (purple coneflower)                                          

      Echinacea is a natural antibiotic as well as being anti-viral and ant-fungal.  It is best taken at the first signs of ‘flu or a cold and has been shown to reduce the severity of symptoms and the length of acute infections.  It boosts the immune system and is a very effective remedy against all kinds of bacterial infections, especially upper respiratory tract infections. (Do not take with immuno-suppressant medication)



      Goldenseal is very useful in the treatment of upper respiratory tract infections, especially those with yellowy green discharges and if the patient is suffering heat symptoms, such as a fever. It is effective in the treatment of colds, flu’s, sore throats and middle ear infections and is an effective immune enhancer.  Goldenseal is a very bitter herb and hence is cooling and drying.  It is a powerful healer of the linings of the respiratory and digestive tracts and is often used in digestive complaints such as peptic ulcers.  (Do not take in pregnancy as it stimulates the uterine muscles).


       Other herbal tinctures to consider during an infection



      Elderberry has traditionally been used to treat respiratory illnesses such as cold and flu. Some evidence suggests that chemicals in elderflower and elderberries may help reduce swelling in mucous membranes, such as the sinuses, and help relieve nasal congestion. Elder may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anticancer properties. It has also been traditionally used to treat wounds topically (applied to the skin). However, don't eat raw or unripe elderberries they may contain toxins!

      Elderflower /span>

      -         enhances the body’s natural defence mechanisms

      -         helps dispel catarrh

      -         soothes inflammation of the nose, throat and eyes


      -         is soothing and anti-inflammatory

      -         is an excellent cough remedy relaxing the respiratory system

      -         (Do not take in pregnancy, breast feeding or liver disease.  Not for prolonged use in children)


      -         specific for irritating bronchial coughs especially in children

      -         helps dispel copious catarrh

      -         soothing

      -         anti-bacterial



      -         use as a gargle to soothe sore throats and painful tonsils

      -         (Do not use in pregnancy)



      A healthy diet  = a healthy immune system

      By eating a balanced healthy diet, taking exercise and having a balanced home/work lifestyle you can ensure that your immune system is always in good health which will reduce your chances of contracting colds and ‘flu in the first place. 


      A very large percentage of your immune system is located in your gut, so by eating a nutritious diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains such as brown rice, fish and only a little meat, you can improve your digestion and hence your immunity.  Foods such as coffee, tea, alcohol, sugar, processed foods and fizzy drinks are all detrimental to your digestion and immune health. 



      Nutritional supplements to enhance immunity

      Vitamin C – research has shown that Vitamin C helps to lessen the symptoms and duration of colds.  It is active throughout the body and is important in the prevention of heart disease and cancer.


      Zinc – is important for a strong immune system, helping to protect the body against colds and ‘flu.  Zinc lozenges can be sucked at the start of a cold to help speed recovery.


      Essential Fatty Acids – fish or plant-based oils

      Omega 3 & 6 are essential fatty acids that play a key role in all processes of the body from boosting the immunity to the prevention of heart disease and improving joint health.

      Typical ‘flu symptoms:

      •   Fever and chills
      •   Aches and pains
      •   Tiredness and lethargy
      •   Loss of appetite
      •   Sore throat
      •   Cough
      •   Sneezing
      •   Runny nose
      •   Headache
      •   Possibly upset tummy


      The situation is often compounded by a secondary bacterial infection which may lead for example to a chest infection or ear infection.



      What to do at the first signs of a cold of ‘flu


      1 Stop taking Astragalus


      2 Take 2mls of Echinacea tincture regularly throughout the day in hot herbal tea such as peppermint (do not exceed the daily dose)


      3 Drink 3 cups of peppermint tea a day with 2–4mls of elderflower tincture added

      Peppermint helps the body to increase circulation and perspiration, thereby enhancing the body’s natural defences.

      Elderflowers are anti-microbial and decongestant


      4 To hot water add lemon juice  & sage tincture (2-4mls) and sip

      This helps to soothe sore throats.  Honey is a natural antiseptic and sage is anti-microbial


      5 Eat pungent foods

      Pungent foods such as garlic, onions, horseradish, mustard, cabbage and broccoli are rich in sulphur and are good for the lungs.  Try crushing a clove of garlic in honey and leave to infuse.  Either eat it all or just drink the resultant garlicky, gooey syrup.


      6 Steam inhalations

      Add essential oils such as mint, rosemary, chamomile, eucalyptus or fresh herbs or tinctures to a bowl of steaming hot water, cover your head with a tented towel and inhale the herby fumes.


       Things to do for children

      1 Peppermint tea sweetened with honey (which is very soothing and antiseptic) or apple juice – tinctures can be added such as Echinacea or Elderflower (doses vary with age and size of child)


      2 Chamomile tea to soothe and promote rest and sleep.  It is also anti-microbial and will therefore help to resolve infection, reduce fever and clear catarrhal congestion


      3 Red clover tincture relieves coughing and encourages the removal of mucus


      4 Hand and foot baths can be a good way of administering herbs to children

      Add to a basin of hand hot water any of the following:

      Peppermint, chamomile, elderflower, red clover or a teaspoon of English mustard powder


      Most of all, wrap up warm and cozy and drink plenty of fluids and eat simple foods such as soups.


      So think now about preparing your immune system to fight off the winter viruses and hopefully you will be well even if others around you are not.


        To purchase organic tinctures online see:


      To purchase dried herbs ask your herbalist or go to:



      Naturopath's treat the whole person not just the disease or condition. That's why you cannot use this site for diagnosis or treatment. The information we provide should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. We recommend that you visit a qualified naturopath or find a GP who is sympathetic to a naturopathic approach. Click here for our full disclaimer.



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