Herbal Flu Remedies
Categories: Health & Healing
It’s officially fall, which means cold and flu season is upon us. Of course, the best offense is a good defense (so wash your hands!), but that’s of little consolation if you’re already stuck in the throes of a terrible flu, cold, or other bug. We’ve compiled natural healing wisdom from some of our favorite authors and herbalists to help you make it through, whether you’re just coming down with something, are in the early stages, or are a few days in. While the herbs and tonics below are targeted to the flu, any of these treatments can also be effective in alleviating symptoms of the common cold, like congestion and chills. If we have your herbal interest piqued, check out this tutorial on how to make your own tinctures and check out some of our herbalism books.
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
Indigenous to North America and used widely among Native Americans, boneset is “indispensable in the northern climes for influenza,” according to Matthew Wood’s Earthwise Herbal. It’s particularly effective in treating the chills, aches, and fevers that come with the flu, and is also a powerful expectorant that gets mucus moving in the lungs. It’s most effective when taken at the onset of the virus, and can normalize the immune system via its effects on androgen hormones. It’s been used for centuries, and the anecdotal and historical claims of its inhibitory effect on viruses are backed up by clinical studies by the NIH.
Rhus Tox (Rhus toxicodendron)
Author and homeopath Shelley Keneipp recommends rhus tox (derived from poison ivy) as one of seven common herbal remedies for the flu, suggesting that it’s particularly effective if you’re experiencing intense aches, pains, and chills. We all know that a nasty bout can leave you feeling off your game, so if you’re also anxious, sad, restless, or even “mildly delirious” in addition to displaying the usual physical symptoms, rhus tox might be the remedy you’re looking for. To enhance its effects, she encourages light massage, lots of warm drinks and food, and generally staying cozy, and cautions against going outside if it’s chilly or wet.
Clove Nutmeg (Ravensara aromatica)
Medical Aromatherapy author Kurt Schnaubelt helpfully provides several natural options to ameliorate flu symptoms, but the one that’s the most useful when you’re really in deep is clove nutmeg. It can be applied topically or taken by mouth, two drops every two hours, to “energize during the most acute and debilitating days of a flu.” If you act quickly and are able to recognize your symptoms while you’re still in the early stages of infection, German chamomile is another way to go; it can “help the body detoxify the metabolic wastes of proliferating microorganisms.” It’s also a natural fever fighter.
Creeping Thyme (Thymus praecox)
Another flu-fighting herbal powerhouse is creeping thyme. As Icelandic Herbs author Annarósa Róbertsdóttir notes, “Creeping thyme has been used for centuries to treat colds, influenza, throat infections, coughs, asthma, and bronchitis.” It’s naturally antibacterial, an insecticide, and even a preservative—fresh fish that were kept on ice with creeping thyme had a shelf life ten to fifteen days(!) longer than their non-herbed comrades. While we won’t be replicating that particular study, it does give us faith (in addition to some powerful imagery) that creeping thyme will keep our insides healthy and fresh, which is all anyone can ask when overtaken by the flu. Please note that it’s contraindicated for pregnancy.
Arctic Poppy (Papaver radicatum)
Have you given up on aromatherapy and rhus tox, and even tried traditional over the counter medications, but still aren’t feeling much relief? In that case, there may only be one thing to do to mitigate your suffering: sleep it off. Getting sufficient rest is important when you’re well, but it’s even more critical when you’re sick. Unfortunately, coughing, sneezing, chills, and sweating can make getting to and staying asleep nothing more than an elusive dream. You can check out one of our earlier posts on natural insomnia remedies, or, if you’re ready to bring out the big guns, follow Róbertsdóttir’s recipe for an arctic poppy infusion (½ teaspoon in a cup, three times a day). Another alternative she suggests is roseroot, which you can take in a tincture of 2–4 mL three times a day. As a reminder, always consult with your doctor or medical provider before trying any alternative therapies, especially if you’re taking other medications or supplements.
Disclaimer: the information contained in this article, and the books from which it was sourced, is provided for informational purposes only. If you’re sick, please seek medical attention.