Herbal Remedies for Colds and Flu

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What are the best natural cold and flu remedies?

Many herbs have a long tradition of use against colds and flu, but while some have demonstrated strong antimicrobial and antiviral properties in the lab, relatively few herbal remedies for colds and flu have been scientifically tested for effectiveness on a large scale because of the expense of such research. “Pharmaceutical companies spend millions to study new drug formulations because they can patent them,” says Dr. Randy Horwitz, medical director for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. “But you can’t patent herbs, so there aren’t as many clinical studies. Instead, we usually evaluate them on a risk-benefit basis: We compare the potential risks associated with a medical condition (as well as the available therapies) and compare them to the potential benefit of herbal therapy.”Chicken Soup

Horwitz recommends one or more of the following herbal remedies for colds and flu: Kan Jang (a blend of the herbs Andrographis paniculata and Siberian ginseng), garlic, astragalus, medicinal mushrooms or black elderberry.

Several clinical studies have shown that Kan Jang reduces cold symptoms and duration if taken when symptoms first start. “The herbs work synergistically to stimulate the immune system,” Horwitz says.

Studies have shown that garlic has antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties. One clinical study found that taking garlic supplements can help prevent the common cold. Horwitz advises his patients to eat a whole garlic clove twice a day if coming down with a cold. “Fresh garlic is always best — cooking destroys some of its beneficial compounds,” he says. (Take it with olive oil or work it into a recipe if plain garlic is too much for you.)

Astragalus, a bitter-tasting Chinese root, can be chopped and added to soup, or taken as a 250-milligram capsule three times a day when symptoms appear. Research has shown that it increases antibody levels and stimulates T-cell activity. Medicinal mushrooms — such as reishi, shiitake and maitake — are extremely effective for boosting immunity, according to Horwitz. He recommends looking for a blended mushroom product and following the label’s directions for consumption. “I take them myself, along with astragalus, at the first sign of cold,” he says.

Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) works well for children with colds or flu. “The extract is safe, effective and tastes great,” Horwitz says. A study using the elderberry product Sambucol showed a reduction of cold symptoms and duration within two to four days of treatment. In another study, flu sufferers who took elderberry lozenges rapidly improved — with symptoms gone or reduced within 48 hours — while those in the placebo group experienced little or no improvement.

For a warming cold and flu-fighting remedy, try chicken soup. In a laboratory study published in 2000, University of Nebraska researchers found that chicken soup can relieve symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection. Specifically, chicken soup eased the inflammation of throat cells that can cause cold symptoms. The researchers weren’t able to identify a precise ingredient responsible for the alleviation, but they theorized a combination of the soup’s components working together gave it its benefit. The recipe tested featured chicken broth, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery, parsley, salt and pepper. Many veggies, particularly onions, have anti-inflammatory properties.

“Nothing will completely cure a cold or flu, but research has shown that these herbs can reduce the duration and discomfort,” Horwitz says. “To help prevent infections, wash your hands often, drink lots of fluids, and get eight hours of sleep each night.”

Read More: For more information on natural cold and flu remedies, read 19 Ways to Prevent and Treat Colds and Flu.

Photo By Dreamstime/Teresa Kasprzycka: The ingredients in a steaming bowl of chicken soup work together to ease stubborn cold symptoms.


Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on .