Herbal Way with Colds and Flues

The fall and winter are just knocking on our doors. On their cold winds arrive those colds and flues, bringing symptoms like runny nose, red eyes, headaches, fevers, sore throats and aches all over the body.

Ahhhh, a state of being that is so uncomfortable!

In attempt to ease those symptoms we reach for over the counter drugs, vaccines or, if we like it more “natural way”, we reach for herbs in form of teas, tinctures, etc.

Before we continue with herbal point of view, I would like to make a valuable point here. People often approach herbal medicine with the idea to “get rid of” inconvenient condition by avoiding drugs and taking herbs. It is a valid reason, since the latter are safe and have minimal or no side effects. But, herbalism has completely different approach to dis-ease than allopathic medicine. The symptoms of cold or flu are actually a good sign!

What do I mean by that? If we already got a virus of flu, the symptoms of cough, sore throat or fever are signs that our immune system is reacting to the foreign body and trying to do something about it (like raise the body temperature, for example).  The body reacts to the virus by creating inflammatory response, so we do not want to suppress those attempts of the immune system. We do not want to use herbs like allopathic drugs are used: treat the symptoms and forget about the underlying cause. This approach will ultimately weaken the defense system of the body. And, as one of my teachers says: herbalism is not simply using herbs instead of pharmaceuticals.

Let’s first see what is cold.

Cold is a response of your immune system to a short-lived infection of the upper respiratory system (caused by rhinovirus). We get cold from other person when those droplets, after coughing or sneezing, end up in the air and our mucus membranes get in touch with them. It lasts up to a week. The cold is most contagious during first 2-3 days, but after a week it is usually not. Symptoms are: runny nose, congestion in sinuses and headache, coughing, sore throat. 

What is the flu?

It is also caused by virus that attacks upper respiratory system (RNA virus). The symptoms are similar to the symptoms of the cold, except that they are followed by chills and fever, fatigue, weakness, severe headaches. It can last up to two weeks.

Both cold and flu are caused by virus, so antibiotics, that fight bacteria, are not useful in this scenario.

Allopathic medicine has its place and time. There are emergency situations and more complicated health conditions like cardiovascular issues, compromised immune systems,  meningitis, diabetes, etc. where the doctor is a way to go. In this series of articles we will address colds and flues that can be safely treated by herbs. It is not that necessary to swallow a pill every time we have headache or sore throat. If we suffer from more complex health conditions, we always want to be under the guidance and care of medical professional.

So, here are a few things we can do on the onset of cold or flu.

1) Rest – this is the simplest and, in busy lifestyles we have, one of the most overlooked healing tools. Your body recuperates the most while resting and sleeping. The energy we would usually use to do so many things can actually be used to support the body in fighting the virus. This way we can shorten duration of flu.

2) Eat only when hungry – if your body shuts down the appetite, it does it for a reason. It is using the same energy it would spend on digestion, on strengthening its defense mechanisms and getting the critter out. When hungry, eat easily digested and nourishing foods like soups.

3) If cold, bundle up. Wear a few extra layers of clothing, or simply go to bed and cover yourself with few more blankets.

4) Warm drinks – cold and flu usually start with chills. Stop consuming cold foods, like diary, and believe it or not, orange juice. Diary cools and produces mucus, which we already most probably have in excess, to begin with. Orange juice is also cooling, energetically, so avoid it.

5) Sweat out – after taking warm liquids, like soups or teas, go to bed and put a few blankets on yourself. Sweating out the flu has always worked for me. It pushes out the inflamed and sick energy, so to speak, while using the skin to do it, the biggest organ of elimination we have.

In the next article we will talk about prevention of colds and flu. In the meantime, sip on some astragalus tea. And prepare your jars with tight lid, honey, apple cider vinegar and brandy (vodka) so you can start making those precious homemade remedies for influenza that can save you a lot of money, shorten the duration of sickness and finally, make you feel good again.

Since most of those medicines take time to make, here is a recipe to get you started. We need to have those precious preparations on hand, ready to use, when we need them.

It is a famous folk medicine Fire Cider.

You will need:

½ cup fresh, grated ginger root

½ cup fresh, grated horseradish

10 cloves of garlic

1 medium size onion

2 chili peppers

1 tablespoon turmeric powder

2 tablespoons of rosemary

unpasteurized apple cider vinegar

¼ cup of raw honey

Put all solid ingredients in wide mouthed jar and cover with vinegar (no honey at this time). Let it sit two to three weeks. If using metal lid, put some wax paper under the lid so vinegar won’t come in contact with it and corrode it.  Shake every day; put some of your personal magic and energy to it. Some people like to bury the jar in the ground (17-21 days). I am sure Earth adds its healing, grounding and polarizing energies to it.

When done, strain it, discard (or stir them with some veggies) the ingredients and add some honey if needed, like ¼ cup. Stir it until it mixes well. Try it and add another ¼ if needed to suite your taste.

Fire cider can be taken 1 tablespoon every morning to help worm up and stimulate the immune system. On the onset of cold, take 3 tablespoons. You can also integrate it in your food, on salads, veggies, etc.

Stay warm and healthy,


Northeast Schol of Botaical Medicine (graduate)