We all know far too well that uncomfortable feeling that accompanies the onset of any cold or flu. Chills, fever, lethargy, coughing, and runny noses are all too familiar as the daylight hours become shorter, school starts back up, and people become more prone to staying indoors in close quarters with their colleagues, family, and friends.
Largely, the ability of an individual to fend off these invading viruses has a lot of do with how well their immune system is built up from healthy habits such as a quality diet, frequent exercise, proper sunlight levels, low amounts of stress, and good sanitary practices. However, even the healthiest of individuals can catch a bout of the flu because, well, those pesky virus invaders are just too darn scheming!
If you often find yourself staring vacuously down the pharmacy aisle this time of year, maybe it’s time you tried your hand at the pharmaceutical companies herbal counterparts. You may find they work just as well (or better!) for lessening the duration and intensity of your illness.
Raw garlic (Allium sativum)
- Garlic is a powerful superfood that is not only used as a wonderful treatment for colds and flu, but also as an effective prophylactic when eaten in the form of one clove a day. Garlic contains an organosulfur compound known as alliin, which converts to allicin when crushed or chewed. This compound is what gives garlic its antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties.
- When feeling illness set in, take 300 to 500 mg of garlic in capsule form three times daily, or simply eat a few raw cloves with your daily meals.
- At high doses, raw garlic can irritate the intestinal lining, so it is recommended to eat it with some form of fat such as avocados or cream cheese.
Echinacea root (Echinacea purpurea or E. angustifolia)
- Echinacea is often the herb many people turn to for their cold and flu symptoms due to its effectiveness at fending off both bacterial and viral invaders. It is especially useful for infections of the upper respiratory tract, something you often find with colds.
- The polysaccharides in Echinacea are what activate the body’s macrophages, which are what fend off foreign invaders and pathogens in the body. They also possess awesome immune-enhancing and anti-viral properties.
- Taking 500 mg in capsule form or 2-4 ml of tincture four times daily should help lessen the duration of your cold or flu.
- Wild Echinacea is at risk of being overharvested, so only buy Echinacea from reliable sources that cultivate their own plants rather than wild harvesting.
Elderberry and Elder flower (Sambucus nigra)
- Both the berries and flowers of the elder tree are known for their treatment of cold and flu symptoms. Preparation of these herbs makes an effective alternative to conventional cold syrups or cough drops.
- Sambucus is known to increase cytokine production, which strengthens cell membranes to prevent the penetration of viruses, and it shows an anti-inflammatory response to symptoms associated with hay fever or inflammation of the nasal passages that may accompany seasonal illnesses.
- Fortunately for us, the berries of Sambucus conveniently ripen right as the cold and flu season is about to kick off, making it a perfect herb to harvest yourself!
- In a double-blind placebo controlled study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, participants were given 4 tablespoons of elderberry extract for three days while others received a placebo. Of the people taking the extract, 90% of them were completely over their flu in two to three days compared to the six days it took participants taking the placebo to get over their flu. This extract was effective in vitro against 10 strains of influenza virus. Wow!
- An elderberry and flower infusion can be made by pouring 1 cup near-boiling water over 2 teaspoon of dried or fresh blossoms and berries and allowing to steep 6 – 10 minutes. Drink three times daily. 2 – 4 ml of an elderberry and elderflower tincture may also be taken three times daily.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
- Astragalus root has been used for many years in Chinese medicine, but as more scientific research and findings are becoming available on this herb, the more it is touted for its use for immune system support.
- Studies indicate that the polysaccharides in astragalus intensify phagocytosis, allowing to control and prevent further bacteria and viruses from invading the body. The root is said to strengthen all aspects of the immune system and may even have valuable anticancer effects!
- It is recommended to take 500 to 1,000 mg of this root or 3 ml of the root tincture two or three times a day. You should avoid taking this herb if you have a fever.
- As a prophylactic, simply add this root to your seasonal soups and let it simmer away with your vegetables! You don’t eat the root, but simply allow its medicinal constituents to infuse into the soup.
Rose hips (Rosa sp.)
- When people notice a cold coming on, they instantly run to sources of vitamin C in the form of supplements or more often juice. You should be aware, however, that juice may be providing you with more sugars than it does vitamin C! Rose hips are one of the richest sources of vitamin C, boasting almost 60 times more of the vitamin than most citrus fruits! They are also all natural and don’t contain any added sugars, making it a win-win in my book! With this in mind, rose hips are said to support immune-system function by increasing white blood cell activity.
- These berries of the rose bush are also said to contain high quantities of bio-flavonoids that are vital for building and strengthening body tissues, including maintaining a strong capillary system.
- The vitamin C content in these berries is said to decline rapidly in storage, so often it is best to use fresh off the bush! Lucky for us, mother nature ripens these fruits just after the first frost of the year making them readily available for your cold and flu prevention and treatment!
- Usually take 5-10 grams of rose hips per day in the form of fresh tea. It can be, and is encouraged, to combine these fruits with other immune boosting herbs such as those listed above. It is often recommended to get 1,000 mg of vitamin C up to three times a day when battling an illness.