As an Acupuncturist who focuses a lot on health, I’ve been proud that I’ve gone for many years without getting a cold or flu. But this year, probably because of increased stress and some shifts in my daily rhythms, I've already gone through two!
While I was laid out on the couch with body aches and a constant nasal drip, I reflected on how, although I felt miserable and wanted to be well again as soon as possible, I was getting some much needed down time, and was listening to my body in a way I forget to do when I’m running around and taking my wellness for granted.
So I am inspired to share with you some of my favorite remedies to treat a cold or flu once you've got it. And I want to remind all of us to notice and appreciate when we do feel well and healthy, and to pay attention to what our bodies need, as that is the best preventative measure I know for staying well and balanced for the rest of the season.
Colds and flus are both caused by viruses entering and proliferating in the body. Although there may be some health benefits to having a cold or flu, in that the virus attacks and destroys our weakest cells, helping us to clear those cells out, fighting off a virus also takes a lot of our vital energy and weakens our body, making us potentially more susceptible to more colds or flus. Note that antibiotics are generally ineffective against colds and flus since they treat bacterial infections, not viruses.
Because viruses grow exponentially, supporting the body as soon as even the most minor symptoms appear can make a big difference in the length and severity of a cold or flu. Although we are often hesitant to take a day off at the first sign of a cold or flu, spending that one day resting and giving the body a chance to recover can save us a week or more of misery if we allow the virus to settle in and spread massively. So take that day off, rest, and let your body focus all it's energy on overcoming the virus, drink a lot of warm liquids to keep the mucus that clears out the virus flowing smoothly, and stay warm, as viruses don't proliferate as well at higher temperatures.
(Wherever tinctures are suggested, note that glycerine based tinctures may be used for those with alcohol sensitivities)
☞ Echinacea / Goldenseal or Echinacea / Redroot Tincture: Echinacea has been shown to shorten the duration and severity of a cold when taken frequently at the beginning stages. I recommend 2 droppers full of an organic root tincture, taken under the tongue or mixed with water every 2 waking hours or at least 3 times a day. I like tinctures that include Goldenseal or Red Root, which both boost the immune supporting properties of Echinacea. People with auto-immune conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis or Lupus should consult a doctor before using herbs that boost the immune system.
☞ Elderberry: Elderberry boosts the production of some immune cells and can also diminish a virus's ability to spread. It contains a lot of Quercitin, an anti-oxidant with strong antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. It is delicious as a tincture or syrup, and can be added to other medicines that taste yucky to help them go down more easily. Look for a tincture or a syrup with less sweetener, and avoid sugar or cane - syrup based sweeteners- honey sweetened is the best in my opinion.
☞ Mushrooms: Many mushroom species contain beta glucans and proteoglycans in particular configurations that 'fit' perfectly with cellular receptor sites that support the immune system. Reishi, Agaricus and Cordyceps in particular, have powerful immune enhancing properties, as well as many other beneficial influences on the body. People with tendencies toward fungal infections, or Candida yeast infections should use mushroom formulas cautiously.
My favorite mushroom formulas:
☞ Dragon Herbs '4 Kings': includes Reishi, Cordyceps, Agaricus, Maitake.
☞ Fungi Perfecti's Host Defense 'My Community': Contains 17 powerful mushrooms for immune system health.
☞ Propolis: Propolis comes from resin that bees collect from trees and plants and use to protect their hives. It stimulates the immune system and is one of the most broad spectrum microbicidal compounds in the world. It is also a powerful anti- oxidant and is used topically for healing wounds and infections. Depending on your preference you can take propolis as a liquid extract or in capsules. Those with bee-related allergies should stay away from Propolis in any form.
☞ Chinese Herb Formulas: There are many great Chinese herbal antiviral, cold and cough formulas, some of which you can get easily at a health food store. However I strongly recommend that you get the advice of a Licensed Chinese Medicine practitioner before choosing these, as these formulas are strong and very specific for certain patterns, and the wrong formula can sometimes throw you off more than the cold itself. Chinese Medicine uses a holistic pattern and constitutional basis for diagnosis and herbal prescription which is very in depth and takes years of study to master, so if you are drawn to it, go see an Acupuncturist / Herbalist and get treated for your cold to reduce it’s severity and duration!
Staying hydrated and staying warm when you have a cold are very important, and drinking hot tea is a great way to accomplish both. Hydration thins your mucus secretions which helps move viruses and dead cells out of your body faster. Viruses replicate more slowly at higher temperatures, so warmth helps slow the spread of the virus in your body.
Some great teas for colds and flus:
☞ Make some ginger tea: slice about an inch of ginger, skin and all and put it in a pot with 2-4 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10-20 minutes. Pour into a mug, add a little honey and some fresh lemon juice. You can pour more water over the ginger and reboil 2-4 times. Drink throughout the day to keep your body warm, and encourage sweating. I love to get in a hot bath (or shower) with my tea, then wrap up immediately after to stay warm and sweat.
☞ Cold and Flu Blend: A combination of 1/2 tsp each Elderflower, Yarrow, Boneset, Linden, Peppermint, and Ginger steeped in 3 cups boiling water.
☞ Gypsy Cold Care Tea and Throat Coat Tea from Traditional Medicinals
☞ Warm broth is also a great nourishing, warming drink
☞ Vitamin C: My favorite is Healthforce Vitamineral C.
☞ Vitamin D: I like the liquid kind, which is often more concentrated, but capsules are also good.
☞ Zinc: Taking zinc within 1 day of first symptoms can cut down the cold by 24 hours according to research. The syrup is more effective and tends to have fewer side effects. Zinc is not recommended for those with an underlying health condition, such as asthma, or low immune function. It is not recommended to take more than 50 mg a day.
Many essential oils have strong microbial, as well as decongestant effects. Research has shown that essential oil vapors reduce contagion, neutralize air borne illnesses and enhance immunity, even at fairly low concentrations. The most effective method of vaporizing the oils into the air is to use a diffuser, but if you don’t have one, you can also just put a drop or two in your hand, rub it between your palms and inhale it from your cupped hands.
You can make your own blend of oils such as Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Sage or Ravensara, or use a pre-made blend designed to enhance breathing and immunity.
Some of my favorite blends:
☞ Floracopeia’s Breathe blend: White Sage, Eucalyptus and Silver Fir.
☞ Do Terra’s Breathe blend: Ravensara, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Lemon, Laurel Leaf, Tea Tree
☞ Do Terra’s Immune OnGuard blend: Cinnamon, Clove, Eucalyptus Globulus, Rosemary, Wild Orange
☞ Blowing your nose is an important way to move dead cells and viruses out of the body. Just be gentle, blocking one nostril at a time.
☞ Nasal rinsing is also a very important tool for clearing out the sinuses and preventing sinus infections. You must use a saline solution or your mucus membranes will burn when you rinse them. You can rinse daily while your sinuses are draining. I like the Neil Med pre made isotonic saline packets and plastic squeeze bottle, which allows you to control the pressure and volume of the rinse.
☞ Warm Compresses: If your sinuses get stopped up or sore, try warm compresses, like a buckwheat heat pack that you can microwave, a grain filled eye pillow warmed in the microwave or a small glass jar filled with hot water and held against the sinuses.
☞ Steam: take steamy showers and/or brew up a nasal steam to help open your sinuses: Use 3 cups of boiling water in a deep container such as a pot or large bowl. Add 5 drops of essential oil. Some good combinations for the sinuses:
☞ Lavender, Rosemary and Bergamot.
☞ 3 drops Eucalyptus, 1-2 drops Peppermint. Don’t use Thyme or Oregano oils as they can be irritating to the sinuses. Hold your head over the pot and cover with a towel to keep the steam in. Breathe in the moist scented air as long as it feels good.
☞ Herbal nasal inhalers that you can get at the health food store are nice, soothing temporary relief for clogged nasal passages. Block one nostril and inhale the menthol and minty vapors that help open your sinuses. You can make a home made version by adding a few drops of Peppermint and / or Eucalyptus essential oil to some rock salt and placing it in a small vial or bottle with a lid. Open and inhale the scent as needed. (Recipe from Mountain Rose Herbs)
☞ Herbs: An herbal formula I like to help reduce massive nasal dripping is Dragon Herb’s Perilla Clear. ☞ Anti-histamines can dry the sinuses and prolong the infection by irritating the nose and throat. They also can increase the chances of sinus infections as they encourage the secretions to collect in the sinuses, rather than flow out through the nose.
Hopefully all of the above strategies will keep the virus out of your lungs, but if it does settle there, here’s a few good remedies. (Note that if you have a prolonged cough, you should get checked by a physician to monitor for bronchitis or pneumonia. Treating these more serious conditions is beyond the scope of this article.)
☞ Benedictine Healing Products' Deep Lung Formula,
☞ Yerba Santa tincture is quite drying to the lung secretions and is good for moist productive coughs
☞ Osha Root is an excellent herb for the lungs and is also strongly antiviral. It increases expectoration to help clear mucus from the sinuses and lungs and increases dilation of the bronchi by increasing blood circulation to the lungs. Osha also increases the bodies uptake and utilization of oxygen and helps to numb the irritated tissue of a sore throat. You can find Osha as a tincture, cough syrup or throat spray.
Herbal Cough Syrups:
Note: Most cough medications including medicated syrups suppress coughs as well as promoting expectoration. Suppressing a productive cough reduces the amount of infected mucus that your body is able to eliminate and keeps it in the lungs, which can slow healing. Unless you have an unrelenting cough that keeps you from sleeping, you may be better off choosing an unmedicated herbal cough syrup.
☞ Wild Cherry Bark Cough Syrup
☞ Osha Root Cough Syrup
Herb Teas: There are many herbal teas you can buy that contain demulcent (read: soothing to the throat and lung tissues) herbs that will help the throat and gently calm a cough.
I personally like:
☞ Traditional Medicinals’ Throat Coat, and Herba Tussin teas.
You can find Echinacea, propolis or other herbal throat sprays at the health food store. These can be helpful for sore throats and mild coughs, however spraying the throat for many days can also cause irritation to the throat membranes.
Hot compresses: Placed over the lungs (microwaved heat packs or a hot water bottle) can be soothing and help calm a cough as well.
All of the recommendations in this article are of products that I like. I am not an affiliate for any company and do not make any money from these recommendations.
This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease.