You can just feel yourself beginning to fight a cold. You feel unexplainably tired, have a little soreness or scratchiness in the back of your throat, or you are noticing that your nose is starting to run or get congested. You wonder if you are starting to get a cold. Now is the best time to kick that cold in the butt with some basic cold care 101.
You know the time-tested basics for treating this common viral infection: get lots of rest, eat healthily, and stay away from sugar and processed foods, but you want to add some extra pow to your fight!
Now is your chance—start early, and go strong! I always tell people that one of the secrets of using herbs to successfully fight off a cold or flu is to start using them at the very first sign of illness. When you have the thought, “I wonder if I’m starting to catch a cold?”, that is the time to start with the herbs, as opposed to later when you know for certain that you did catch a cold (although herbs can help then too)!
If you have already been using herbs to help with colds and the flu, then you have likely learned to keep some of your favourite herbs stocked at home to have on hand when you need them. This is great! But if you are new to this, and need something right now, you can likely find some herbal allies in your kitchen.
5 Kitchen Herbs with Cold-fighting Properties:
• Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
• Sage (Salvia officinalis)
• Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)
• Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.)
• Garlic (Allium sativum)
Although there are countless culinary herbs and spices that have medicinal uses, these five herbs are very common and you can likely find all or some of these, either dried or fresh, in your kitchen right now.
Simple Herbal Tea Simply Does Wonders
One easy and effective way to experiment with these herbs is to make an herbal tea. The warmth of the tea itself will provide comfort and help with some common cold symptoms like congestion and a scratchy, sore throat. Check out some simple recipes to make tea using these five herbs below!
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) tea is the first tea I’ll make if I feel myself fighting a cold. It is renowned as being highly anti-microbial, specifically to the respiratory system, and as a tea is a popular remedy for fighting off a cold or sore throat. It is also well-loved for treating coughs as it both produces expectoration and reduces spasm. It is commonly used along with other herbs in bronchitis, whooping cough and asthma.
Thyme Tea: use 1 tsp. dried thyme/cup boiling water; steep covered for 10 minutes; strain; sweeten with honey to taste. Adults can drink up to 3 cups/day, or the equivalent of 3–6g dried thyme/day prepared as a tea. I love to add some slices of fresh lemon to steep with this tea, for both flavour and added vitamin C.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) tea is my very favorite remedy for sore throats. Sage has a soothing action on the mucous membranes and makes an excellent remedy for inflammations of the mouth, throat and tonsils. It is very useful as a gargle for treating sore throats or laryngitis, and is even used by some singers to strengthen their vocal cords! Its anti-microbial, astringent and anti-inflammatory qualities make it a wonderful herb to use when you are fighting a cold, especially if accompanied by a sore throat. I never let myself run out of sage in the winter months!
Sage Tea: use 1 tsp. dried sage/cup boiling water; steep covered (with slice of fresh lemon if desired) for 10 minutes; strain; sweeten with honey to taste. Adults can drink up to 3 cups/day, or the equivalent of 4–6g dried sage/day prepared as a tea.
Precautions: Breastfeeding mothers should avoid this tea; it can be used to reduce breast milk when weaning. Avoid during pregnancy.
Ginger root (Zingiber officinalis) is a well-loved, universally used herb in the kitchen and herbal medicine cabinets alike. Most commonly used as a warming, digestive herb, it is popular for its ability to help reduce nausea. Ginger’s broad antimicrobial, decongesting and warming qualities make it popular to use alone or along with other herbs to support the immune system in acute infections like the common cold. Ginger tea will help warm your chills, and as a circulatory stimulant, it helps deliver the benefits of other herbs used around the body.
Ginger Tea: use 1 tbsp. fresh grated, 1 tsp. dried, or 1/2 tsp. powdered ginger root/cup of boiling water; steep covered for 10 minutes (and up to 2 hours if you have the time); strain. Adults can drink up to 3 cups/day, or the equivalent of 1.5–3g fresh, or 0.75–3 g powdered ginger root per day in 3 divided doses in a tea. A lot of people like the spiciness of ginger combined with the sweetness of honey, so add a little honey if it suits you!
Precautions: Ginger root should be used cautiously in people with a history of acid reflux/heartburn, and in people with gallstones and peptic ulceration. Check with your doctor or healthcare provider if you are taking blood-thinning medications or have increased risk of haemorrhage.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) is one of the oldest spices used around the world, with its medicinal use dating back thousands of years in Asia and India. Medicinally, cinnamon is best known as a digestive remedy that helps with indigestion, gas, nausea, diarrhea and stomach cramps; however, it is also widely used in other ways, including as a popular cold and flu remedy.
Its pleasant, sweet taste and warming qualities make it a winner right from the start, but considering its broad spectrum antimicrobial qualities and its ability to help manage a fever, cinnamon will bring more than just good flavour to your herbal cold care. When enjoyed in a warm beverage, cinnamon can help improve the congestion often associated with a cold, and blends well with other herbs used to treat colds, the flu and other respiratory infections, including coughs.
Cinnamon helps to improve circulation, and is an herb that is often used to enhance the action of other herbs in an herbal formula. Although it does a tremendous amount to improve the flavour of foods, beverages and herbal preparations, it is often blended with other herbs rather than used as a tea on its own. Try blending it with another herb on this list, and see what you think! And again, try using it at the first inkling of a cold or flu. Why wait?!
Cinnamon Tea: use ½ tsp. (1g) dried cinnamon/cup boiling water; steep covered for 10 minutes; strain. Adults can drink ½ cup up to 3 cups/day, or the equivalent of 1.5–3g per day in 3 divided doses as a tea.
Precautions: Use medicinally over the short term; it is contraindicated in large doses over extended periods of time. Avoid medicinal doses during pregnancy. Diabetics using cinnamon medicinally need to monitor their blood sugar levels, as cinnamon is known to lower these levels.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is probably the best-known of the medicinal kitchen herbs. It may not sound like a flavour you want to add to your tea, but many will swear by the cold-fighting abilities of the common kitchen herb, garlic. Garlic possesses antimicrobial qualities that act on bacteria, viruses and parasites of the digestive tract, all while supporting the development of beneficial bacteria in the gut. It is also very useful for treating infections of the respiratory tract, including colds and the flu, since its volatile oils are mostly excreted via the lungs.
Butt-kicking Hot Lemon & Garlic Tea: use 1 clove chopped fresh garlic and a slice or two of fresh lemon/cup boiling water; steep covered for 10 minutes; squeeze the juice from the lemon into your tea; strain; sweeten with honey. Adults can drink up to 3 cups/day during a cold, or 1 cup/day for prevention during the winter months.
Therapeutic doses of garlic may increase the activity of anticoagulant and antithrombotic medications like aspirin or warfarin. Be sure to consult with doctor if you are using these medications.
Where to Find These Herbs
• Fresh or dried at your local heath food shop or herb shop
• Your local herbalist
• Your local farmers market
• Grow yourself in garden or pots
Choosing Quality Herbs
In addition to choosing the right herb for you and for what is going on for you, you will want to make sure the herbs you are using are at their optimal medicinal potency. The quality of the herbs you are using is essential. Dried no-name brand cinnamon and ginger from the grocery store won’t have the medicinal potency that they would from a trusted local source. This could be another blog post, but for now, remember that when purchasing herbs, be sure to buy organic and local when you have the choice. If growing your own, be sure to follow best practices for harvesting and storing the herbs so that they will be at optimal medicinal potency when you need them!
Other Common Herbs that Can Help!
In addition to the kitchen allies I’ve talked about above, I nearly always use Echinacea tincture and Elderberry syrup to help fight common viral infections like colds and the flu. If you like, you can check out my blog post Elder for Natural Cold and Flu Care.
It is always important to seek appropriate medical care as needed, and to follow the standard protocols for when this is necessary. The use of herbs as described in this blog are not a substitute for medical care. If you have a medical condition or are taking medications, consult with your doctor or healthcare provider before using these herbs.
Do you have an herbal question for me? Send me a note through my contact page. I’m always looking for questions that I can answer in my blog—Herbal Q&A! Have fun bringing kitchen herbs into your life!