Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Herbal Remedies to Fight the Cold and Flu

Here are my favorite herbal and aromatherapy-based remedies for the cold and flu.

Lavender essential oil is is my #1 favorite remedy.  It has the most uses of almost any essential oil.  Lavender essential oil has natural antiviral and antibiotic properties.  It is an effective decongestant when inhaled, alieviates  body aches when added to a bath, warm compress, or body oil or lotion and applied to the body.  I have put a few drops on cotton balls and placed the cotton ball in my ears (like ear buds) to cope with ear ache pain.  Many warm mist vaporizers have a way to medications or aromatherapy oils to the steam. 

You can add some lavender oil and water to a spray bottle and use the mist to naturally disinfect your home.  Natural cleaning is essential to stop the spread of germs, and lavender does a great job of disinfecting.  By disinfecting commonly-touched areas, like door knobs, telephones, countertops, etc., you help prevent the spread of disease.  Bonus- lavender smells great. 

Please note, these healing properties are attributed only to the actual plant-based essential oil.  Synthetic fragrance oils have none of the chemical compounds of the real thing, and are worthless for aromatherapy.  NEVER ingest essential oils.

Herbal Tea
Any member of the mint family (peppermint, spearmint, etc.) will help thin mucus.  Add some lemon for some extra Vitamin C.  You can add mullein to help with chest congestion, anise for sinus congestion, and Slippery Elm for a sore throat.

However, here is what I drink when I feel a cold or flu coming on:
  • Ginger root, a piece about the size of your thumb, peeled (aches and fever relief)
  • Garlic cloves, at least three, peeled and cut in half (boost immune function)
  • 9 whole cloves- the kind you stick in a ham (pain relief)
  • 3-4 cinamon sticks, broken (sore throat relief)
  • 1 Tablespoon of thyme (antibiotic)
  • 5 cups of water, cool
  • Honey to taste (enzymes, anti-bacterial, anti-viral properties)
Add all ingredients to a pot filled with 4 cups of cool water.  Bring the water up to a boil.  Allow to boil for 10 minutes and reduce to simmer for another 20 minutes or until the water has reduced by half.  While this is simmering, in another pot, heat the remaining cup of water to steaming.  Remove from heat, add the thyme, and inhale while waiting for the first mixture to reduce.  When the first mixture is ready, add one tablespoon of the thyme liquid to the ginger-based liquid, and pass through a mesh strainer.  Ginger and garlic are both strong tastes.  When tea is cool enough to drink, add honey to taste.  Do not add honey to boiling liquid.  It will destroy the enzyemes that give honey its healing properties.

It is recommended to begin drinking this tea at the onset of symptoms for greatest relief.  Of course, if you have an allergy to any ingredient, leave it out.

(Technically, this is called a decoction, not a tea, because it uses roots and barks which must be added to cool water and brought to a boil  A tea uses leaf or flower parts of the plant and are added to hot, but not boiling water.)

Herbal Tinctures (Extracts)
Tinctures offer concentrated herbal properties in a standardized dosage.  Some of the tinctures reputed to help fight the flu include elderberry and golden seal.  Reports on echinacea are conflicting.  There are many studies (as well as lengthy, historical usage) to suggest that echinacea is effective if begun at the onset of symptoms.  There are, however, many studies that show echinacea to be ineffective on the flu.

Where to Buy Herbal and Aromatherapy Supplies
I have had good experiences ordering from the following companies:
Next blog entry: Frugal and Natural Homemade Cleaning Supplies

Live better, a little every day.


  1. Yes, echinacea is not really a good idea for flu or common cold. It works on the body by prompting an immuno-boost by adverse stimuli. If used over too much time or too frequently it can over tax that stimulus pathway and actually drop your overall immune system. Maximum length of use is about 2wks and then you need at least a week off it. Recommending for tincture is good, as some of the medically active components are not water soluable and only come out in alcohol. Traditionally it was used as part of a larger formula to treat what we would now recognize as certain types of cancer.

    There has also been some interesting research out of east asia about star anise extract being particularly effective on some of the newer flu strains like bird flu and h1n1-a. One study even came up with it being more effective than tamiflu.

  2. Thanks, Sena, for that tip about star anise extract. You wouldn't happen to have those studies on hand? If not, I'll try to find them.

    I have never had a good result with echinacea myself. On the other hand, I have friends who swear by it. I have heard that it can only be taken for two weeks, and that you have to take it right away at the onset of symptoms. Otherwise, forget it.

    Personally, to boost immune function, I'd just as soon eat a lot of garlic- goes great in tomato sauce.

  3. A good Cough syrup is to mix 2 parts raw honey to 1 part apple cider vinegar (with mother). Take 1 Tbsp every 4 hours.