At the Onset of Cold and Flu

Written by: Katarina Subotich

We already talked in our first article about a few things we can do on the onset of cold and flu. Just to remind you: resting, eating nourishing foods, warming up, sweating it out. We can also take warm drinks and avoid consuming raw and cold foods. Just to add a couple of more tips:

-do not consume sugar! Sugar is known to inhibit the function of the immune system (besides all other bad things it does to our body), so on the onset of cold or flu please practice some sugar abstinence. There is a myth in some cultures that caramel milk will sooth your sore throat. Well, bad news. Milk will produce more mucus and sugar will slow down immune system and most probably increase inflammatory response.

-sauna- to help sweat it out you can use sauna. NOT when you already have a fever, but at the onset of flu, when you feel cold or have chills. If going to one feels troublesome, you can create one at home. Either take a hot bath, or put pot with hot water under the chair. Sit on the chair and cover yourself with a sheet and blanket, leaving your head out. The sheet should touch the floor all around you. When done, dry yourself and go to bed.

It all boils down to listening to your body and what it needs.

The herbs we use at the very onset of flu are known as immunostimulators. Those herbs are taken in shorter periods of time and usually in higher dosages more frequently. Do not get confused: most of the herbs do not stay in one group only. They often cross over from immune stimulating, to immunomodulating, as is case with elderberry. Those immunostimulting herbs have a task to increase specific functions of the immune system, like phagocytosis (a capacity of white blood cells to literally devour and destroy pathogen).

Most common herbs to take at the first sign of influenza are: elderberry, echinacea and ginger. We already covered elderberry in previous article on prevention, so let’s move on to echinacea.

-Echinacea ( Echinacea angustifolia, purpurea, pallida) is one of the most known, used and abused herbs today. Because it is so often marketed as an herb for cold and flu, immune system, etc. the health food stores are over flooded with different echinacea products. And because usually herbalist are not the people that market herbs, but the companies that want to make a big buck, they over did it, and mostly for a wrong reason. Traditional use of echinacea, by native peoples of America, is for snake bites. Eclectics used it for syphilis, infections of many kinds, gum problems and to promote digestion. Echinacea has antiseptic qualities so it is used to clean the wounds, or lower the fever due to infection. It does have its place in the treating of influenza, but ONLY at the onset, not during the whole period of having a cold.  

So how do you know when to take it and when not to? 

When you start feeling sick with flu, and you are cold and have chills, you DO NOT want to take Echinacea. Why?  Energetically, Echinacea is a cooling herb. When you already have symptom of coldness, you do not want cooling, but warming herbs. If there is a sense of heat at the onset, or lymphatic congestion, echinacea will be your herb of choice.

You might feel neither coldness nor heat, just the scratchy throat, light headache or aches in the body; echinacea can be taken at this stage.

And yes, my teacher 7Song said many years back: I hope they take off the shelfs the echinacea/goldenseal combination. It does not make sense to use it for cold and flu and promote it as “natural antibiotic” because it is simply not.

When using echinacea at the first sign of a cold or flu or for an infection, take the tincture in small but frequent doses: 25 drops every 30 minutes to an hour would be a good example. A cup of tea may be used every two hours or so, until the symptoms disappear. The mild numbness of the mouth is the sign of good and fresh echinacea (it is natural effect it has, so do not worry). Due to the tingly sensation, it will promote saliva production and that will further aid to digestion.  If the cold or flu has “settled in” echinacea can be discontinued.

If using Echinacea in capsules or as a decoction the total daily dose ranges from 3-9 grams.

Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) is an herb with wide range of actions. Due to its warming qualities it will help move the blood, expectorate mucus, and aid to sluggish digestion. It is one of the culinary herbs, so we can integrate it to our daily diet. Due to this moving energy ginger carries, it is often added to herbal formulas as carrier (similar to cayenne) and to help reduce the pain (for example, menstrual pain due to blood stagnation). It is diaphoretic, meaning it will help sweat out. It is often used to combat nausea (not ginger ale soda kind of thing, please).

Cayenne (Capiscum annuum) is very HOT herb often used in culinary purposes. It has dispersing and warming qualities and it speeds up transportation of other herbs to its target tissue. Therefore it is often added to formulas. Obviously, it will increase circulation so it is beneficial for stagnant blood conditions. In the case of cold and flu it will help warm up if having chills, it will break the stagnation and help sweat out.

Let’s from talking move to making herbal preparations. Here are a few recipes.

Ginger tea

1 piece fresh ginger

 Squirt of lemon

 Dash of honey

Just-boiled water

Grate ginger. Put it in a cup together with honey and lemon. Cover it and let it sit for 15 minutes. You can drink the liquid and chew on some pieces of ginger. How much water you put in this tea will determine its strength (read hotness). 


Cayenne tea

1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder (or more or less)

tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon honey (or to taste)

8 oz just boiled water.

Place the cayenne pepper in the cup, add honey and lemon and pour the water over it. Stir it. Hotter you drink it, better.


Influenza tincture

1 part elderberry 

1 part elderflower 

1 part echinacea 

½ part oregano 

½ part licorice 

To make this tincture we will use folk method. You can decide what 1 part will mean to you (one tablespoon, one teaspoon, etc.). I used to make tinctures of all herbs separately, and I still do, but not too long ago one of my teachers, Rosemary Gladstar, said that, when making formulas, she puts all herbs together. This way herbs synchronize their energies and create unified field. And, definitely take less space on your shelf (one jar vs. many jars).

Back to our recipe, put all herbs in dry, wide mouthed jar and cover with alcohol (vodka, brandy). Make sure the alcohol is for at least two fingers above the herbs. Tighten the lid, label your jar (ingredients, date when you made it) and let it sit for 4-6 weeks (if having emergency situation before 4 weeks, take from jar amount you need, and leave the rest of herbs to sit some more). Shake it occasionally, and when time is up, strain the herbs and bottle the tincture. On the onset of flu, use it frequently, 40 drops on every 30-60 minutes.

Garlic Honey

This syrup comes from Rosmary Gladstar and it is handed to her from Hari Das Baba. That means it is really ancient….

Fresh ginger

Fresh garlic


Pinch of cayenne
Juice garlic and ginger in a juicer, not blander, so you literally get the juice. The final quantity should be 1-2 cups of fresh juice of each (meaning 2-4 cups total).  Put the juice in sauce pan and add ¼ cup of honey to each cup of juice. Do not overheat, just to melt the honey and thicken a bit the juice. Add pinch of cayenne and put in jar. You can wrap the jar in blankets (original recipe) and put it in ground for 17 days. If living in the city and don’t have a yard, please do not give up this recipe, made it without burying it. In any case let it sit for 17 days. It is very strong smelling but ok tasting. Suggested dose for chronic problems is 1 teaspoon 3 times daily. For onset of cold or flu, use ¼ teaspoon every hour. It blends well with salad, rice and veggies.

Next article is on sore throat and coughs. In the meantime, keep your home medicine chests growing.

Be well,


Northeast School of Botanical Medicine graduate