If you’ve been interested in healing herbs, or alternative medicine, you probably have heard that Echinacea is good for supporting your immune system, and perhaps you even know that a sage or thyme gargle can combat sore throats, and soothing peppermint can relieve congestion.
Whether science has confirmed their efficacy, or whether the jury is still out on some plant medicines, I always turn to my herb garden or spice cupboard first when there’s a niggle in the household. I’ve even made a monthly routine of some remedies as a preventative. So far the herbs have stood up well to the test, even if it is just because I believe in them – a placebo effect, is still an effect!
However, I know that it is not just my personal fancy for these plant powerhouses that keep winter colds and flu at bay, but in combination with good living practices such as exercise, time spent in nature, meditation and healthy eating and sleeping habits, they do seem to combat nasties, help my body fight infections, or at the very least relieve symptoms and shorten the duration of being under the weather. And all without any other ill side effects.
Here follows my own top 3 tried and trusted remedies for winter colds and flu ailments.
Tomato Tea for Sore Throat and Congestion
This is a recipe I got of the internet a long time ago, and there’s many websites touting its fame. I tried it out of desperation after suffering from sinus congestion brought on by a flu a few years ago, and now have a dose at least once a month just because it is so good! The beauty of this is that it is simple to make, with ingredients you may even already have in your cupboard, or can very easily pick up even from the dairy, and it actually tastes pleasant too (if you like garlic and chillies!)
For a 4-cup dose (enough for 2 cups for 2 adults):
- 1l tomato Juice (100% pure juice, please! Juice your own if you can, or try McCoy’, or V8) *
- 4-6 cloves of garlic (more even, take as much as you can tolerate)
- 2 lemons, juice of (please use fresh lemons, not bottled lemon juice)
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper, ground (if you can take the heat, take even more, but add a little at a time because Cayenne is HOT) **
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, simmer for a few minutes, taking care that it doesn’t burn or boil over. Take off the heat and leave to cool down, but drink as hot as you possibly can. Drink one cup, and the other about 4-6 hours later. Repeat, if needed, for a few days.
Why does this work?
Tomato juice is nourishing – 125ml of tomato juice has around 30% of your daily vitamin C needs, 10% of your vitamin A, and a good dose of minerals, fibers and antioxidants such as lycopene too.
Garlic is an antiviral and antibacterial powerhouse, effectively fighting a broad spectrum of nasty microbes.
Lemon Juice is often included in remedies for its cleansing and healing actions. Not only is it rich in vitamins and minerals, but it has a mucous dissolving action as well.
Cayenne is my favourite of favourite healing spices, and if nothing else, I urge everyone to try some extra Cayenne (or other hot chillies) in their meals. In this case, as the other ingredients, it is chock-full of good vitamins, minerals and has antiviral and antibacterial action. It is also mucokinetic, moving mucous from your body, expelling all the baddies and clearing your congestion. Added to that impressive line-up the fact that is pain-relieving too, and you understand why I love it so much.
Drinking it hot is important, and breathing in deeply the steam from your cup (as much as you can with a blocked nose, that is), and bathing the back of your throat in the liquid. All of this helps this drink deliver its most fighting punch.
* I once tried Keri Tomato Juice, but it was really not a great one to use…
** You can use tobasco sauce or another hot sauce if you don’t have cayenne
Yarrow, Elderflower and Peppermint Tea for Fever
I strongly believe in the case for fevers, and don’t try to bring fevers down as soon as they manifest, but monitoring fevers, and having this tea on hand to gently induce perspiration to slowly lower a spiking fever, has been very handy in the past.
For 2 cups:
- 1 tsp dried yarrow
- 1 tsp dried peppermint
- 1 tsp dried elderflowers
Steep the herbs in 2 cups of just boiled water for at least 5 minutes. Add honey or lemon juice to taste, and take a cupful every 2-3 hours.
Why does this work?
Yarrow as a diaphoretic opens pores and induces perspiration while its astringent properties helps dry up and move excess mucous.
Peppermint not only tastes nice, but it is uplifting too. It is decongestant and a diaphoretic in its own right.
Elderflowers are also diaphoretic, and are relaxing. They may reduce the duration of an illness while helping to reduce nasal congestion and soothe swollen sinuses.
Eucalyptus Rub for Tight Chests
Vick’s Vaporub is a popular remedy for relieving tight chests, suppressing coughs, relieving aches, and opening sinuses – all which can help the person suffering from the cold or flu to get the rest they need to recover. The formula is over 200 years old, and is mostly made up of essential oils, which is great, but it does contain petroleum, which is not so great. As conscious consumers we know petroleum is not a good idea for the environment, or our bodies.
To make your own adult*** vaporub for topical application (chest, back, and even under the feet):
- ½ cup oil (olive, coconut, or almond)
- 30g (about 2Tbsp) of beeswax
- 20 drops Eucalyptus oil
- 20 drops Peppermint oil
- 10 drops Rosemary oil
Place oil and beeswax in a double boiler and heat until it is just melted. Add all the essential oils and stir well. Pour into a sealable container and store in a cool, dry place.
Why does this work?
Eucalyptus oil is antiseptic, antiviral, decongestant and expectorant.
Peppermint oil (menthol) is a cooling and refreshing cough suppressant. It is a good topical analgesic (soothes pain) and is anti-inflammatory.
Rosemary oil is antiseptic and helps open nasal passageways.
*** Some oils are not safe for babies or young children, and you should check with your aromatherapist or medical herbalist as to which oils to use and in which quantities if you want to make a vaporub for children under 10 years old.
A few extra bits and bobs
Some other remedies I’m fond of taking, or suggesting to anyone who mentions they have a cold or flu:
- Honey, Ginger and Lemon Tea is soothing, nutritive, and healing
- Turmeric Tea (also known as Golden Milk) is immune boosting, stress relieving and anti-inflammatory
- Sage and sea salt throat gargle is effective in killing germs
- Mullein flower oil helps soothe ear infections
- Rosehip syrup is high in vitamin C
- Horehound throat lollies soothes and heals mucous membranes
- Apple cider vinegar is alkalizing, creating a healthy blood pH balance that is inhospitable for bacteria and viruses
The Fragrant Pharmacy, Valerie Ann Worwood
The Complete Book of Herbs, Lesley Bremness
A Modern Herbal, Mrs. M. Grieve
Ouma’s Home Remedies, Reader’s Digest