The dreaded cold and flu
However, herbs could be dangerous if you are not choosing them wisely. Herbs have side effects, they could be contraindicated in certain conditions and they could interact with prescription or OTC medications.
Always research the herbs carefully, before you decide to use them. I will introduce you to some of the herbs that could be helpful combating the uncomfortable symptoms.
This post is strictly informational.
Read the descriptions of the herbs, read books, or my best advice, consult a certified herbalist and double check for prescription and OTC medication interactions with your medical doctor.
The flu and the common cold are caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms, sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between them.
The symptoms start suddenly. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold.
If the symptoms last longer than 7-8 days, the cough turns productive and changes color, bacterial infection is possible. See your doctor.
Common cold symptoms:
Colds are usually milder than the flu. People are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose and generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bronchitis or bacterial infections.
Herbs could be helpful in treating both cold and flu symptoms:
Astralagus (astralagus membranaceus) also called Huang qi
This herb is an overall tonic in Chinese medicine. It rebuilds the immune system, antibiotic and antiviral, and a great herb to combat flu symptoms. Improves stamina and it is safe for long term use in conditions such as chronic fatigue. Also used in prevention of cancers, it is believed to generate anti-cancer cells in the body prevents the growth of cancerous cells.
People who have had transplant surgery should not take Astragalus due to its immune boosting effects. Astragalus may also interfere with blood clotting and should not be taken with blood-thinning medications. People with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and type 1 diabetes should consult a doctor before using this medicinal herb. Avoid using it if you're receiving chemotherapy. This herb may increase the effect of blood pressure, diabetes, anti-viral, blood thinning and immuno-suppressant medications.
Astragalus is available as decoction, tincture, tablets or capsules, topically, and even in injectable forms in Asian clinical settings. Tea is made from 3-6 grams of dried root per 12 oz of water. The mixture should be boiled five minutes and allowed to steep a further 20 minutes. Supplements generally contain 500 mg and 2-3 tablets or capsules are usually the recommended daily dosage. Tincture dose usually is 3-5 ml three times a day. An ointment can be prepared for topical use with a concentration of 10% astragalus.
Balloonflower (platycodon grandiflorum)
Promotes productive cough, effectively clears the lung and helps to prevent infection in colds. Used in sore throat, pneumonia, pleurisy, bronchitis, tuberculosis and lung abscess due to its action of promoting pus drainage. Also used in diabetes and high cholesterol level.
Balloon flower root should not to be taken for a chronic cough or by those patients who cough up blood. As with all herbs, it is best to consult a licensed practitioner or physician.
Liquid extract: root powder 1:1 25% ethanol. Daily dosage: Powder - 6 g daily; 0.5 g as a single dose, decoction - 1 g daily; 0.2 g as a single dose
Basil (ocimum basilicum)
Basil relaxes both the digestive and respiratory systems. Also relieves colic, indigestion, constipation, nausea as well as colds, flu, cough and asthma symptoms. This herb eases headache (especially migraine), muscle tension and nerve pain. Boosts memory, helps the body to overcome infections and reduces stress. Toxic to mosquitoes, makes a great insect repellent.
Basil lowers blood sugar level, use very cautiously with insulin and oral diabetic medications for medicinal purposes. You can use it in small doses in food.
Recommended: using the fresh or dried leaves in food regularly. Also making it into tea relieves colic or indigestion. Two tablespoon put freshly chopped basil directly into one cup of boiling water not the strainer. 5-10 minutes steeping releases the herbs oils. You can add honey to taste, but it is not recommended to add sugar or milk. You can use the tea as insect repellent as well by soaking cotton balls in the tea and placing them around the house or outside. You can also rinse your hand and exposed body parts with the tea to repel insects.
Boneset (eupatorium perfoliatum)
Boneset's laxative effect treats constipation and aids poor liver function. Research indicates that it might prevent secondary tumors in cancer due to its lactone content. Also helps with congestion and fever, used to treat colds and flu, also relieves pain caused by rheumatism.
Although the plant only contains small amount of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, those who are suffering from liver disease such as cirrhosis or hepatitis should not use it. Others who should avoid the use of boneset include women who are pregnant and breast-feeding. No-one should use it for longer than 2-3 months at a time in my opinion.
The type of administration of boneset depends on the condition for which is being taken. The traditional means are as a tincture or a tea. It is thought that a hot tea is best for the treatment of colds and fevers, even though it does have a bitter taste. Teas are made by adding boiling water to approximately 1 to 2 grams of the herb (about 1/2 teaspoon). This is allowed to steep for a maximum of 15 minutes and then drunk. Three cups a day should not be exceeded. The tincture is best used as a tonic or laxative. It should be taken thirty minutes before meals, about 3/4 teaspoon three times a day.
Cowslip (Primula veris)
Cowslip has been used for centuries to make sedative tea. Its leaves are said to be mildly narcotic, and it is used as an herbal remedy for insomnia as hell as hyperactivity. The flowers are thought to be a milder sedative, and are used to calm children and help them sleep. The roots are expectorant, and can be used to treat cough, common cold and flu. In Europe, cowslip is widely used for whooping cough and asthma. Some herbalists recommend it to treat Parkinson’s tremors.
Cowslip should not be used by pregnant women, or persons who are using blood thinning medications.
When prepared as a tea (one teaspoon steeped in 1 cup boiling water for poured over it for 10-15 minutes) should drink one cup 3 times per day with meals. When using it as extract, follow the manufacturer’s instruction.
Echinacea (echinacea angustifolia) also called purple cone flower
Echinacea is a popular antiviral herb. It contains caffeic acid, chicoric acid and echinacin, compounds with specific antiviral activity. It is also an immune system stimulant that helps the body to defend itself against viral infections. It is great to treat sinus infections, tonsillitis, cold and flu. Also used for urinary tract infection and AIDS therapy, stimulates the body's defenses against disease. The tincture makes a good mouthwash to treat gum disease as well as wash for wounds, insect bites and stings.
High dose may cause nausea and dizziness. Avoid if you're allergic to ragweed or if you have multiple sclerosis, tuberculosis. It is contraindicated in autoimmune diseases such as Lupus. Use only for short time treatments, taken for more than 2-3 weeks can cause liver toxicity. It should not be used with drugs known to elevate liver enzymes. Children under 2 and the elderly should not use this herb. Taken with the blood thinner Coumadin also known as Warfarin can increase bleeding time without an increased INR. It can counteract immuno-suppressant drugs as well. It might interfere with embrional angiogenesis altering fetal development. Do not take it during pregnancy. Do not use it with Tylenol and the herbs Willow and Meadowsweet. Echinacea may cause inflammation of the liver if used with medications such as anabolic steroids, methotrexate.
Dried herb in capsule form can be taken in doses of 1000mg three times daily. The usual dose of extract is 10 to 30 ml a day depending on the manufacturer.
Elderberry (sambucus canadensis)
This herb is used to treat cough, cold, flu and bronchitis. This herb thought to block the replication of viruses by altering their DNA. Studies showed great promises in treating HIV, herpes and Epstein-Barrr viruses with elderberry. Also used in skin lotions to soften skin.
Dried and cooked fruit and flower is safe, but raw berries are toxic. The stem contains cyanide, can be very toxic. Large dose might cause diarrhea.
The flower usually administered as tea or alcoholic extract and is often found in composite herbal remedies. The traditional dose is 3-5 g of the flower, and this is typically administered 2-3 times a day.
Garlic (allium sativum)
Garlic clears phlegm, thus providing treatment for colds, bronchitis, tuberculosis and whooping cough. Stimulates the immune system, fights infection as well as lowers blood pressure, triglyceride and cholesterol as well as fights cancer.
It interferes with anticoagulants such as Coumadin. Do not use large amount with Aspirin, interferes with anti-platelet activity. Garlic passes into breast milk, causing colic to infants.
It can cause heartburn or flatulence.
The usual daily oral dosage is 4 grams of fresh garlic or 8 milligrams of garlic oil per day. For high cholesterol and hardening of the arteries, typical doses range from 600 to 900 milligrams daily. For high blood pressure, take 200 to 300 milligrams 3 times daily. Garlic oil can be made by crushing cloves and steeping in olive oil for one to two weeks.
Goldenseal (hydrastis canadensis)
Goldenseal is a bitter herb, it stimulates the secretion and flow of bile and also used as an expectorant. It is used to treat cold and flu, sinus infections and non-productive cough. It also has strong activity against a variety of bacteria, yeast, and fungi including E. Coli and Candida. Goldenseal is used for infections of the mucus membranes, including the mouth, sinuses, throat, the intestines, stomach, urinary tract and vagina.
Goldenseal should not be used by pregnant women. One of goldenseal's main constituents, berberine, has been reported to cause uterine contractions. Do not use if you have heart disease, diabetes, glaucoma, a stroke, or high blood pressure. Do not take daily for more than a week at a time, increases bilirubin with prolonged use. Not recommended for children.
The usual standardized extract of goldenseal root is 30 to 120 mg up to 3 times a day. In capsules or tablets of 500 to 1,000 mg of goldenseal root the recommended dose is up to 3 times a day. Tinctures of goldenseal root may be used in the quantity of 2 to 3 ml 3 times a day. To use goldenseal root as a mouthwash for a sore throat, mouth or gums, mix ½ a teaspoon of goldenseal root powder with ¼ teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm water. Rinse with the mouthwash, but do not swallow.
Hyssop (hyssopus officionalis)
This herb has been used at least for two millenniums to treat chest colds, cough, sore throat and laryngitis. It is an excellent aid for getting tough mucus up. Also used as digestion aid with fatty meals. This herb made into essential oil used to heal scars and bruises. (Add 10 drops to 5ml almond oil)You can use hyssop essential oil in steaming inhalation when you have stuffy sinuses and is hard to bring up the mucus. Never use the oil internally! Put 2 drops of hyssop oils and 1 drop of peppermint oil in a small pot of water, heat it and inhale the steam. You can make a chest rub by adding 10 drops of hyssop oil to 5ml almond or sunflower oil, rub it into your chest and upper back before you go to sleep. Poultices can help in the treatment of conjunctivitis and as a natural remedy for bruises, insect bites, and muscle pain.
Overuse of essential oil may lead to convulsions. Avoid using if you're pregnant or have high blood pressure and are taking blood pressure medications.
Hyssop leaves can be prepared for medicinal use as infusion, decoction, or poultice. For a tea, 1 tsp. herb should be boiled with 1 cup water. The usual dose is 1 to 2 cups per day. To prepare a poultice, the fresh or dried herb should be soaked in a small amount of boiling water for 15 minutes and place on a cloth for application. The crushed fresh leaves, if available, can also be applied directly to the skin for similar effects.
Lemon balm (melissa officionalis)
This tasty herb is used as a digestion aid, helps to ease nausea, headache, migraine and insomnia. Decongestant, used to treat colds and flu. Symptoms of PMS, painful periods, anxiety and depression respond well to lemon balm. Also helps lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It is also used in skin oils to prevent wrinkles and deeply hydrate the skin.
Do not use if you're taking thyroid medications or diagnosed with kidney and liver disease. Do not use if you have been diagnosed with glaucoma and if you're taking sedatives or sleep medications.
To make lemon balm tea, pour a cup of hot water over 2 to 4 grams (about one tablespoon) of crushed lemon balm leaves, steep for 5 to 10 minutes, and strain. Drink several times daily for difficulty sleeping, or reducing stomach complaints, flatulence, or bloating. For cold sores or herpes sores, steep 2 to 4 tablespoon of crushed leaf in 1 cup boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Apply tea with cotton balls to the sore few times a day. For gastrointestinal complaints, lemon balm may be combined with peppermint and chamomile. Dry extracts of the herb are used in natural treatments for hyperglycemia, up to 80 mg total daily, along with other supportive herbal remedies for proper blood glucose levels.
Licorice (glycyrrhiza glabra) also called Gan cao
Licorice educes the strong, choking urge of coughing, helps to lubricate the lung and liquefy the mucus. It is used to treat bronchitis, hay fever, flu, whooping cough, asthma and sore throat as well as gastritis, peptic ulcer, premenstrual syndrome, low adrenal function and rheumatism. Licorice has at least eight compounds that are MAO inhibitors which are potent antidepressants. Licorice is a little known antidepressant compared to St. John's Wort. Also used in flavoring food, tobacco, drinks, medicine and candy.
Avoid using it if you have high blood pressure or osteoporosis. Licorice contains the ingredient glycyrhizin. Taking it with Digoxin together can produce dangerously irregular heart rhythms and even in extreme cases, cardiac arrest. The combination can also cause dangerously low potassium levels due to its sodium retaining effect, resulting numbing weakness, muscle pain and even paralysis. Licorice can also interact with blood pressure medication or any beta and calcium channel blockers as well as with steroids such as prednisone and cortisone. In high doses Licorice elevates blood pressure and sugar level. Do not use longer than six weeks.
Licorice may come in an extract format or in root form. The extract can come in teas, capsules, tablets, and in combination with other herbal remedies. Recommended dosage is 1 teaspoon (2-4 grams) of the root in a tea or other form daily.
Lime flower, linden flower (tilia europaea, spp)
This herb is great to ease stress related conditions such as nervous tension, irritability and tension headache. Helps to calm restlessness, promotes good sleep. It is also used to treat headache, feverish cold and flu. It reduces high blood pressure, helps with palpitations. Externally ease the pain of burns and scalds. Also used for incontinence (strengthens the urethra muscles), fever and treatment of bronchitis.
Should not be used frequently by people, who have history of heart disease, prolonged use in high dose is associated with heart damage.
Lime flower is most frequently taken as an herbal tea, although it is also available as an extract or in capsules. To make an infusion, place 3 flowers in 1 cup of hot water. It may be sweetened with honey. Take 8 ounces of infusion three times per day to relieve stress, indigestion, headaches and tension. It can also be added to the bath to calm down after a stressful day. The infusion can also be used as a compress for eye infections or added to a face lotion. Tincture can be taken in doses of 2-1/2 to 5 ml at bedtime for occasional insomnia.
I used my notes from Herbalogy, Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as well as aromatherapy and Homeopathy classes and lectures.
Books I studied and used information from include:
The Holistic herbal directory by Penelope Ody
Herbs by Lesley Bremness
The new age herbalist by Richard Mabey
The top 100 herbal remedies by Anne Mcintyre
The herbal drug store by Linda b White MD, Steven Foster
Integrative medicine by David Rakel
Prescription for nutritional healing by James F. Balch MD and Phyllis Balch CNC
The green pharmacy by James A Duke PhD
The herbal drugstore by Linda B White MD
The new age herbalist by Richard Mabey
Nursing drug guide by Amy M. Karch
Nutritional healing by James and Phyllis Balch
Natural healing by Gary Null
Symptoms and remedies by the Johns Hopkins
Natural standards by Ethan M. Basch and Catherine E. Ulbricht
Homeopahic medicines by Stephen Cummings MD and Dana Ullman MPH
Jarrett, Lonny S. Nourishing Destiny: The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine.
Stockbridge, MA: Spirit Path Press, 2001.