Useful Herbs to Beat That Cold

Herbs in my daughter’s cold-busting brew

Last week, our 9 year old called from school, asking to be collected earlier due to an intense headache and overall malaise. We realized that the symptoms were no different to those of many other children who had fallen victim to the virus “that is going around” at our kids’ school. While she was not feverish, her headache was very intense, she had a dry cough, and said their muscles ached. We brought her home and treated her “the natural way” with medicinal herbs and lots of TLC.

After 36 hours, and lots and lots of sleep, she was as good as new! It might have been luck, but I would like to think that the speedy recovery was due in part to thethe herbs. I find comfort on the fact that although she felt quite miserable, we didn’t need to resort to using medications. The smell and taste of the brew we prepared for her comforted her and helped her have a restful time to recharge.

These are the herbs I included in her “brew”; I chose these based on her symptoms.. this is by no means a comprehensive list of the effective medicinal plants that are available to treat cold and flu symptoms.

Thymus vulgaris: Thyme is not just to season your potatoes! This aromatic herb is also known for its antimicrobial properties, especially when it comes to the respiratory tract. It can be used in gargles for tonsillitis and laryngitis, and can be used as a tea for bronchitis. This herb is also very useful in cases of “slow digestion”.

Rosmarinus officinalis: Another herb that goes well beyond chicken. It too has antimicrobial properties, and while its more suitable for digestive issues, I added it to my daughter’s regimen because she complained of a queasy stomach as well, and this herb is known for its calming effects on the digestive tract, while also targeting headaches.

Zingiber officinalis. I had already discuss Ginger in my recent blog post about digestive herbs, but its stimulant and anti-inflammatory actions also make it suitable to be used to beat a cold. In traditional herbal medicine, a diaphoretic -fever-inducing- action is desired whenever there is a fever to accelerate the healing process. It also works well for nausea and is effective for circulatory issues.

Sambucus nigra: Elderberry treats cold and flu symptoms by reducing congestion and possibly increasing sweat. One clinical study has suggested that Elderberries have antiviral properties, and a different study showed that standardized elderberry extract can shorten the duration of the flu. Some in vitro studies have demonstrated that elderberries could inhibit the viral enzymes that allow viruses to enter cells.

Glycyrrhiza glabra: Not just for candies, licorice is a do-it-all herb. It can promote expectoration, therefore it is widely used for coughs; it can act as a soothing coat for an irritated throat and it has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties — two key actions when it comes to colds and flus. Licorice is widely used in cases of chronic stress as well — blog post about “Adaptogens and stress” to follow. This herb is metabolized in the body to substances that are similar to those produced by the adrenal glands, therefore it can induce elevated blood pressure, so it interacts with blood pressure medication.

Melissa officinalis: Lemon balm also has antiviral properties, and it can also bring on a good sweat, making it suitable to treat colds and flus. It also has relaxing properties, and since my little one was feeling quite restless about being ill, I thought it would make a good addition to her treatment.

Lavandula officinalis. Although lavender doesn’t have a specific anti-cold/anti-flu properties per se, it is antiinflammatory and useful in the treatment of headaches, which my daughter had, and quite strong. It is also an excellent relaxing herb, which I am sure helped her ease into her healing slumber. It also tastes good in a tea, so why not?

Other well-known herbs commonly used to treat the symptoms of colds and flus are Echinacea — used as you feel the cold coming on- Goldenseal — with excellent antimicrobial properties; Horehound -suitable when coughs are problematic; Boneset — traditionally used when bone pain is prominent; garlic — also with good antimicrobial properties; oil of oregano — with good antiviral and antimicrobial qualities.

If you notice in the photo, some of these herbs have a “woody” quality to them, therefore a decoction — herbs spent longer in the rolling boil, as opposed to letting them steep like you would for a tea- is more suitable to extract all their medicinal power. My daughter drank 3–4 cups of the medicinal brew over the course of 1 1/2 days, and she was good to go!

While there are certainly situations when pharmacological treatment is needed, a cold or mild case of flu are definitely among those times when you can, and should, definitely take advantage of the healing powers of plants.

What are your favourite ways to naturally treat your cold? Do you resort to natural treatments at all, or just let your body deal with it? I woudl love to know!


Hoffman. Medical Herbalism.