Saturday, October 29, 2011

Herbal remedies for a sore throat ~ part 3

Sage leaves

This is third part of a series on Herbal Remedies for colds and the flu.

Many sore throats are a result of a viral infection and while they cause considerable discomfort they will go away on their own. However, a small percentage is caused by streptococcus, which is a potentially serious infection. If you have a severe sore throat that lasts for more than a week see your doctor to get a test for streptococcus. 

Sore throats can really be a pain. Luckily there are a variety of herbal treatments that can help prevent a situation from worsening, or can soothe an already raging sore throat. 

One way we differentiate sore throats in Traditional Chinese Medicine is by deducing whether they are caused by Wind-Heat or Wind-Cold. 

A Wind-Cold pattern may include a slight fever with more chills than fever, aversion to cold, sudden onset and the throat is itchy and slightly sore. Herbal strategies for this type of sickness include releasing the exterior with stimulating diaphoretic herbs. In general we'll have more success using spicy, pungent and warming herbs. (Garlic, ginger, cottonwood buds, bee balm, etc)

A Wind-Heat pattern may include a high fever with slight chills, sweating, aversion to heat, yellow secretions (through coughing, nasal discharge or even a yellow coating on the tongue) and a swollen sore throat. Herbal strategies for this type of sickness includes releasing the exterior through relaxing diaphoretics and using bitter, cooling herbs. (Boneset, elder flowers, horehound, marshmallow, Echinacea)

One way we differentiate herbs in western herbalism is by herbal actions. I've broken this materia medical for sore throats into four different categories. Rather than think of using one or the other, consider your specific symptoms and put together a blend that fits your particular circumstance. Also keep in mind that herbs rarely fit neatly into categories. Marshmallow root for example is demulcent, cooling, anti-microbial and immune supportive. 

Demulcent herbs: These herbs are slimy in nature and help to coat the mucous membranes of the throat. This can bring instant relief to dry itchy throats. Demulcent herbs include licorice, marshmallow, and slippery elm. 

Astringent herbs: These herbs can tighten the pores of the mucous membranes, helping to close out further infection and reduce inflammation and swelling. Astringent herbs include horehound, sage (Salvia officinalis), and red clover. 

Antimicrobial herbs: These help to eliminate pathogens. Examples include cottonwood buds (Populus balsimifera), bee balm (Monarda spp.), garlic, ginger and goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis). I often like to take these infused in honey. Honey is soothing to the throat and is also antimicrobial. 

Lymphatic herbs: Lymphatic herbs stimulate movement of lymph and can be very helpful when dealing with a sore throat combined with swollen lymph glands. Examples include Echinacea, calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis), cleavers (Galium aparine), burdock root (Arctium lappa), red root (Ceanothus spp.) and mullein (Verbascum thapsus).

Demulcent Herbs

Licorice tea
Licorice is a wonderfully soothing and demulcent root that can help with a variety of cold and flu symptoms, including sore throats, coughing, and even bronchitis. Licorice is readily found in tea bags at grocery stores. Or you can buy the root in bulk and simmer for twenty minutes, strain, and enjoy. Licorice is not for use during pregnancy or nursing and should be approached with caution for those with hypertension or diabetes. Licorice root has also been shown to be anti-viral and is commonly used for cold sores

Slippery Elm Gruel (Ulmus spp.)
To make gruel, place a tablespoon of powdered slippery elm into a pint jar and add a 1/4 cup of hot water and stir/shake well. Once it is mixed thoroughly, fill the jar with lukewarm water. Shake and stir well and then drink. This nutritive gruel is an easily digestible food for those too weak to eat normal foods. This blend is also one of my favorite remedies for heart burn and gastric ulcers. 

Slippery elm trees are in trouble. Habitat loss and infestations have taken a big toll. Look for slippery elm that is cultivated. If you can’t find it, consider using other species of elm or substituting marshmallow. 

Slippery Elm Lozenges (Ulmus spp.)
This is a wonderful recipe I first learned from the Gallagher family at I now have a batch ready at all times so they are on hand when needed. Slippery elm is another herb that has been hard hit, both by the marketing industry and unethical harvesting, as well as by diseases affecting the tree itself. If you choose to buy slippery elm, please make sure it comes from a sustainable source. 

The following recipe originally comes from Leslie Tierra and is copied here from her wonderful book for kids of all ages: A Kid’s Herb Book
  1. Make a tea of licorice using ½ cup of water and 1 teaspoon chopped licorice root. Simmer covered for 10 minutes, then strain. You should have ¼ cup tea. If less, add a little water to make ¼ cup liquid. 
  2. Put ½ cup slippery elm powder in a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour ¼ cup tea (or plain water if you don’t have licorice tea) into the hold and gently mix into the slippery elm powder to make a smooth dough.
  3. Sprinkle some slippery elm powder on a clean flat surface and roll out the dough to ¼ inch thickness. 
  4. Cut lozenges into small circles – a tiny bottle cap, such as the lid from a vanilla extract bottle works well. Or roll dough into small balls, flatten and smooth the edges with your fingers. Make sure all the edges are smooth so the lozenges aren’t sharp when you suck on them. You can press designs into each lozenge if you like. Set evenly spaced on a plate. Leave out uncovered overnight or for a day or two until completely hardened. (If you live in a really damp environment you may need to put them in the oven on the lowest setting to get them completely dry.) 
  5. Store in a dark bottle or tin in a cool, dry, dark place. (Mine keep for months – but it depends on how dry you can get them.) 
  6. Suck on the pill so it dissolves in your mouth and coats your throat to heal your throat and lungs. These can be taken liberally. 

Marshmallow tea (Althea officinalis)
To make marshmallow tea simply put ¼ cup of marshmallow root in a pint size jar. Fill this jar with cold to lukewarm water and let sit for a minimum of four hours. You will notice that this brew will get more mucilaginous (thick) and slippery with time. Strain when ready and drink as desired. 

Marhsmallow root tea
If you need the marshmallow tea NOW, you can also decoct the root by simmering it for twenty minutes. The cold infusion is slightly superior than a decoction, but the decoction will certainly work in a pinch. 

Marshmallow is also anti-microbial and can stimulate phagocytosis, an important immune system function. You can read more about marshmallow here. 

Astringent Herbs

Sage (Salvia officinalis)
A cup of sage tea can soothe a sore throat immensely. This common kitchen spice has been used for centuries in a variety of ways, including for sore throats. To make a cup of sage leaf tea place 1 tablespoon of crumbled leaf in a cup and pour 8 oz of boiling water over the top. Cover and infuse for about 30 minutes. When ready, strain and drink. Honey and lemon can be added to taste. 

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)  
Horehound remedies used to stock the shelves of medicine cabinets years ago. Used for sore throats and coughs, this intense tasting herb is very effective. 

You can make a tea from horehound by placing a tablespoon in a cup, covering it with 8 oz of boiling water, and letting it steep for 20 minutes; then strain. You will most likely want to add honey to this mixture as this is a very bitter brew. 

Horehound syrup is a much sweeter blend and may prove to have more patient compliance than the tea.  

Horehound Syrup
½ cup horehound (flowering tops) 
2 cups water
2 cups local raw honey (this amount can be adjusted to your liking) 

Boil the water and pour over the herbs. Let sit for two to four hours, strain, gently re-warm, and dissolve the honey into the tea. Store in the fridge and use within a month. For a faster syrup you can also gently simmer (not boil!) the herb in water and cover it with a lid for ten minutes, strain, and then add the honey. 

Horehound is a stimulating expectorant that is also used for coughs, specifically for moist and unproductive coughs. It can further irritate dry coughs. Coughs will be discussed in more detail in the next section. 

Horehound growing in the Luberon in southern France

Antimicrobial herbs

Garlic Honey
Garlic honey is anti-microbial and soothing to your throat. To make this sweet and spicy treat, fill a jar with freshly minced garlic, add honey to fill the jar and stir well. To ensure the honey and garlic are mixed well you can turn the jar upside down a couple times a day. You can consume garlic and honey immediately and after a couple of days the mixture will transform into a more syrupy consistency. Honey also helps to relieve some of the hot and drying tendencies of garlic. A similar honey can be made with white onions and is especially nice for wet coughs. 

Too much garlic can make you nauseous, so be sure to listen to your stomach and don’t over do it.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger is a fabulous warming herb that is regularly used for people with colds and the flu. It is a stimulating diaphoretic that warms the core and drives heat out of the body. 

It is also highly effective against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus spp., and Salmonella spp. If that’s not impressive enough it also aids upper respiratory infections and abates nausea. The list of medicinal benefits goes on and on, including it being a circulatory stimulant and an anti-inflammatory – whole books can be written about ginger. 

I love ginger tea and drink it often whether sick or not. To make ginger tea I grate fresh ginger root with a cheese grater and then simmer gently (covered) for at least twenty minutes. How much ginger to water? Depends on how strong you want it. When it is through simmering I leave the ginger in the tea and drink it as well. Some people add lemon and honey to this mixture. 

You can also add fresh or dried ginger to meats and vegetables. I’ve used the tincture with success when traveling, but since this root is easily found year round in grocery stores I like to make it fresh as described above. You can store your ginger in the freezer for longer keeping and there’s no need to peel the root when making the tea. 

You can also make a delicious ginger honey simply by filling a jar with grated ginger and then covering the ginger with honey. Stir well. I set my honey on the counter for a few days and turn it upside down every couple of days. You can immediately eat ginger honey, but after a few days it will transform into a syrupy consistency that is oh so good. Store in the fridge for long-term use. 

Sore Throat Pastilles
This recipe combines the demulcent quality of slippery elm with the astringent and antimicrobial properties of sage and rose. Special thanks to Kiva Rose for inspiring this recipe: 

½ cup powdered slippery elm
¼ cup powdered sage leaves (Salvia spp.) 
¼ cup powdered rose petals
warmed honey

Combine powders and then slowly add warmed honey. I like to add a little honey, stir well, then add a little more honey. We are looking for a dough-like consistency. Once that has been reached you can roll the dough and cut out circles as described for the slippery elm lozenges or you can roll the dough into small balls. Leave these to dry on the counter or dehydrate them. Once they are dried and stored in an airtight container they will last for a long time. I keep mine in a cool place. 

Sore throat pastilles

Lymphatic Herbs

Mullein leaves (Verbascum thapsus) 
Mullein works wonders on the entire respiratory symptom. I especially consider its use when there is painful coughing and swollen lymph glands. To make a tea of mullein leaves fill a mason jar half full of the leaves and then cover with just boiled water. Let this sit for four hours, then strain it really well. Mullein leaves are covered in little tiny hairs that can be irritating to the respiratory system, because of this I strain it through a cheesecloth and I imagine a paper towel would also be useful. 

Mullein leaves

Echinacea spp. 
Echinacea is great for swollen lymph glands. It supports the movement of lymph so the immune system can better do its job. I use echinacea as a tincture, 30 - 60 drops every one to two hours. 

Red Root (Ceonothus spp.) 
One of our most incredible lymphatic herbs, I often combine the tincture of red root with Echinacea for swollen lymph glands. 

A Cold Compress Increases Vitality to the Throat
Using a cold compress is another gem of information learned from Paul Bergner’s Acute Symptoms CD Set. This procedure increases stimulation and “vital force” to the throat to increase healing. 

To make this compress apply a cold wet cloth to the front of the throat. This can be done simply by wetting a washcloth with cold tap water and wringing it out. Do not cover the back of the neck, only the front. Then, cover this cold wet cloth with a dry cloth – a scarf may be used. Lie down and after about 20 – 40 minutes the body will heat up the cold cloth, thus bringing increased circulation to the area. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bee balm - our native spice

Bee Balm
Monarda fistulosa, M. punctata, M. menthifolia, M. didyma
Also called Wild Bergamot, Sweet Leaf, Horsemint, Wild Oregano, Oswego tea

Plant family: Mint family (Lamiaceae)

Plant energetics: spicy, diffusive, stimulating

Parts used: Aerial portions, harvested preferably just before a full bloom emerges

Plant properties: anti-microbial, carminative, stimulating/relaxing diaphoretic, anti-spasmodic, emmenagogue, relaxing nervine

Plant preparations: Infused honey, infused vinegar, tincture, steam inhalation, infused oils and salve, culinary spice, cough syrup, douche

Used for: Colds and the flu symptoms (fevers, sore throats, coughs), UTIs, yeast infections, topical fungal infections, digestive woes, wounds, burns, as a culinary spice, toothaches, steam for congested sinuses, mouth wash, inflammation

And the smell. If you haven’t smelled bee balm, go smell some as soon as you can. Taste it while you’re at it. Make some tea. It’s calming and comforting and enlivening. We drank it all winter when I was small—sometimes mixed with lemon balm, sometimes on its own. - Rebecca Crabapple

Bee balm is such a delightful plant with its splash of flowers, strong scent, spicy taste and of course its affinity for bees. 

It grows up to five feet tall in my garden and the bees can’t get enough of the flowers, buzzing from one to another in such quantity that the whole bush seems to hum at a low frequency. 

Although bee balm is easily grown in the garden, this mint is endemic to North America and can be found growing wild throughout the US and Canada (see the USDA range map below). It was used extensively by many different native american tribes, including the  Blackfoot, Menominee, Ojibwa and Winnebago. 

This plant has many common names but they are all referring to some type of Monarda species. There are about 16 different species of Monarda and as far as I know all can be used interchangeably with the taste of the plant giving us insight into its potency. Generally, the spicier the plant, the more potent. Monarda fistulosa, M. punctata, M. menthifolia, and M. didyma are the ones most commonly used as medicine. 

Bee balm is a plant of many hats. It can find its way into your culinary spice cabinet, yet be some of our most potent medicine against infections. 

For infections of the mouth... 
Chemically, bee balm is closely related to thyme. Both of these plants contain high concentrations of thymol, which is a strong antiseptic. Thymol is a main ingredient in many commercial mouthwashes. A tea made from bee balm or a tincture of bee balm diluted in water not only freshens the breath but can also address infections in the mouth and gums. 

For infections and discomfort of the digestive tract... 
As a spicy carminative herb, bee balm can promote stagnant digestion and relieve discomforts such as bloating, cramping and excessive gas. Herbalist Matthew Wood says it is beneficial for gallstone colic. Besides helping with a little indigestion, bee balm is a heavy hitter for serious intestinal woes from diarrhea to vomiting to cholera. 

It soothes gastric and intestinal pain in the absence of inflammation, especially in Cholera Morbus and overcomes nausea and vomiting. It controls diarrhea from debility with relaxation of the mucous structures of the intestinal canal.
Finley Ellingwood, 1919

For fungal infections...
Bee balm is strongly anti-fungal, lending itself to combatting topical infections as well as imbalanced healthy flora such as candida overgrowth and chronic vaginal yeast infections. For topical infections try a wash made from the tea as well as taking it internally as a tincture or tea. 

For candida overgrowth try drinking regular cups of tea or drops of the tincture. For chronic vaginal yeast infections drink the tea internally as well as use the cooled tea as a douche. 

Oil of Oregano is currently a popular item in alternative medicine for combating candida and various infections, but what most people do not know is that the active constituent of Oil of Oregano is present in large amounts in our own Monarda. For anything you might use Oil of Oregano for, you can substitute the prolific (and cheap) Monarda. -Kiva Rose
Monarda didyma taken at a friends garden in southern France

For colds and the flu...
Bee balm alone can be a wonderful pharmacy for the cold and flu season. The infused honey can soothe a sore throat. The hot tea can ease the discomfort of a fever and the inhaled steam can loosen congested mucous in the nose and lungs. 

Bee balm is a diffusive herb. It brings heat from the core of the body to the periphery. If that sounds abstract to you, try drinking a cup of hot bee balm tea. You can literally feel the heat rise from the core of your body up to the skin and then dissipate. 

In its general influence monarda punctata is a pure active stimulant of a diffusible character; a few drops of the oil on the tongue will produce a stimulation which will be felt at the tips of the fingers in a few minutes. It stimulates the nervous system and increases the heart's action, taking the place of alcoholic stimulants to a great extent. The essence, tincture or infusion are all prompt in their action. It soothes nervous excitement when due to exhaustion, promoting sleep and rest. Finley Ellingwood, 1919

One of the ways bee balm helps to break up stagnancy through its diffusive actions is by promoting delayed menses. We call this an emmenagogue or blood mover and it should not be taken in large amounts by women in pregnancy. 

As a relaxing nervine...
Besides fighting infection and restoring healthy flora, bee balm is wonderful as a relaxing nervine as well. Herbalist Matt Wood says bee balm is specific for people with excessive nervousness and anxiety and for those who have difficulties with their passions. He has an extensive write up of bee balm in his book, The Book Of Herbal Wisdom. 

Because bee balm is diffusive and stimulating in nature it works especially well for those people with symptoms of stagnancy and excessive dampness such as clammy skin. 

In my mind, Beebalm’s special talents lie in its infection resolving abilities as well as its mood lifting and somewhat euphoric effect upon the senses. It also has the benefit of having both stimulating and relaxing, warming and cooling attributes. It can create a distinct feeling of heat in the body, but also significantly cools inflammation of any kind.Kiva Rose
For preventing infection and healing burns... 
Bee balm is a wonderful remedy for burns. It can be infused in honey, in vinegar as a tea wash or even as a spit poultice. Once the heat has left the burn it can be applied as a salve. 

Botanically speaking... 
Bee balm grows readily in the garden as well as in the wilderness. All species of Monarda are endemic to North America. 

You can differentiate the species through flower color and growth patterns. In this section we’ll discuss the Monarda genus. 

Bee balm is a perennial plant that can grow up to six feet tall, but is more commonly around 4 feet. 

Being a member of the mint family, bee balm has many mint family characteristics. 
It has square stems and opposite lanceolate leaves. 

Its flowers have the typical “lipped” appearance of the mint family. I’ve heard them aptly described as fireworks. 

It flowers in the late summer and is typically harvested while in bloom. 

Plant Preparations
Bee balm is considered safe for most people but because of its ability to promote suppressed menstruation it should not be taken in medicinal doses by pregnant women. 
Although all species can be used in the same manner I suggest tasting your different bee balms to get a feel for the variations within them. This will help you to determine dosage. 

When making a tea, steep the plant for anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. Longer steeping might produce a tea that is difficult to drink due to the high volatile oil content. 
Bee balm makes a great tincture and can also be extracted into honey, vinegar and oil. 
It also makes a great culinary spice. Consider adding it to dishes where you would normally add oregano or thyme. Eggs, pizza and even vegetables and steak all combine well with this spicy plant. 

If you don't have bee balm growing near you, consider adding it to your garden. This is a fun and easy plant to grow and very difficult to find it in commerce. 

This article was originally posted on

Want to learn more? 
Here's an article about making bee balm oxymel. 
Hunger and Thirst's recipe for pizza
Hunger and Thirst's recipe for crackers

And don't forget Matthew Wood's Book of Herbal Wisdom

Friday, October 21, 2011

Photo Friday - Orchids

Photo Friday - Where I share my love of photography and plants

Serapias vomeracea
Geneva Botanical Gardens
This week I've been writing the next episode of Learning Your Plants - a botany course for herbalists for 

This episode is focused on the orchid family and so I was inspired to share some orchid photos this Friday. 

Most of us are most familiar with the orchids that are so lovingly cultivated in people's homes. There are over 100,000 cultivars of orchids! 

I adore orchids and the ones closest to my heart are the ones found in the wild. This is the largest plant family on the planet, yet there is something so magical about finding these spectacular plants. Perhaps due to the wet spring and early summer I found orchids this year that I had never seen before - some of them growing right outside my cabin! 

This first set of photos are of Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium montanum). These grow along our creek, about a five minute walk from our cabin. Each spring when these start to emerge from the ground I visit them daily to watch them unfold. 

Lady's Slippers were a favorite medicinal plant not too many decades ago. Over harvesting and habitat loss have put most species on the endangered list. I am working with these plants to encourage them to spread abundantly. 

This White Bog Orchid (Platanthera spp.) was growing on Mt. Hood. I had the honor of hiking through the area with Paul Bergner and his students a couple of years ago and we came alongside this beauty in a marshy open clearing. 

Coral root (Corallorhiza maculata) is not only an orchid but also a non-photosynthesizing plant that lives in relationship with mycelium. Michael Moore discusses using this plant medicinally, but I've only admired this creature for its beauty. This photo was taken in central Utah at high elevation. 

This is the orchid I found growing just a few steps outside my cabin. I am still wondering, was I just oblivious to this delicate plant growing so near by? Or did the abundant rains inspire its growth? This is the Alaska-Rein Orchid (Piperia unalaschensis). 

I believe this is Slender Bog Orchid (Platanthera stricta). It was growing in a sub-alpine bog not too far off Hwy 20 here in Washington state. We found it while taking a short hike on our way to the Northwest Herbal Fair in Mt. Vernon this year. The clearing also boasted elephant's head, gorgeous violets, veronica species and many more floral wonders. 

This Lady's Tresses (Spiranthes romazolfiana) was a delightful surprise growing around a lake just north of Mazama, Washington. Its common name refers to the flowers looking like a woman's braid. 

These next couple of photos are photos I took this spring at the Geneva Botanical Gardens. My husband's mother lives about 45 minutes from Geneva, so we took a day trip to see the gardens. We spent five hours wandering around this spectacular park and saw a small fraction of the plants there. 

The (free) gardens were very well maintained and organized in interesting sections. They had a medicinal herb area, plants that made oils, plants that were used for fibers, etc. Of course I loved the medicinal plants area where I saw lots of plants I'd never had the chance to see in life before. 

I also loved the area where plants were arranged in areas by continent. Rather than straight garden rows these areas had been manipulated to look like more natural environments. I was able to see lots of Chinese medicinals, plants from Africa and even plants I had never seen from north america. 

Across the street from the gardens was the United Nations building. While walking around the gardens we also had the pleasure of hearing a plethora of different languages. 

Here's another variety of Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium reginae) which grows on the east coast. 

This next orchid is one of the most abundant orchids on the west coast - apparently I had to go to Geneva to find it! 

Stream Orchid (Epipactis gigantea)

How about you? Do you adore orchids? Are there any orchids growing in your area? 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mushrooms, oxymels and herbal cough drops

I have a couple of articles floating out in the ethers that might interest you. The first two articles are free to view, the last one is part of a larger publication that is well worth the price! 

Bee Balm Oxymel 
a spicy native plant for your winter medicine chest. 
This was an article I wrote for HerbMentor News. I generally write about one newsletter a month for HerbMentor News and several more for the holidays. Sign up on their newsletter to get them all. 

Home grown shitake mushrooms - delicious!

Medicinal Mushrooms 
support your immune system with fungi
Written for, this introductory article lists some of my favorite fungi and how I like to use them. 

Medicine Chest for the Cold and Flu Season 
Including my herbal cough drop recipe! 
My latest article in the Plant Healer Magazine is one tiny reason to consider subscribing to this incredible publication. With the mission of enlivening the practice, culture and art of folk herbalism each quarterly issue continues to astound me. Having over 200 pages of some of our best contemporary herbalists sharing their plant experiences is truly a treasure. 

Plant Healer Banner

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Herbal remedies for the first sign of a cold or flu... (part II)

Of course the best course of action when dealing with a cold or flu is to prevent it from happening in the first place. (See part one). When this fails our second course of action is to use herbs aggressively as the very first symptoms develop.

But in all honesty, our best defense against a cold or flu running its full course is not an herbal magic bullet pill, but instead rest. Go to bed. Sleep. Read. Stay in bed as much as possible. I know some of you out there are saying, "But I have to go to work/school/party." Truly, this is the best medicine I know of. Going to bed and resting can keep your symptoms at bay. Toughing it out can lead to more severe and prolonged symptoms. 

Another highly effective approach is sweating therapy. If you don't have easy access to a sauna, this can be done by putting your feet in a tub of water while sitting in a chair. The water should be as hot as possible without causing discomfort. Then, wrap a sheet and then a thick blanket around yourself, covering your body, the steaming water and chair. Leave your head poking out. The steam will heat up your tent giving you a DIY sauna. Keep up the sauna, changing out the water as necessary, for as long as it feels good to you. 

And of course herbs can also be a powerful tool in preventing the onset of illness. I generally dose to maximum tolerance, so frequent small doses, backing off if nausea or other mild unwanted effects occur. 

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger is a fabulous warming herb that is a medicine chest in itself. It is a stimulating diaphoretic that warms the core and drives heat out of the body and a stimulating expectorant helping to promote and move mucous from the sinuses and lungs. 

As an anti-microbial herbs it has been shown to be effective against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus spp., and Salmonella spp. If that’s not impressive enough it also aids upper respiratory infections and abates nausea. The list of medicinal benefits goes on and on, including it being a circulatory stimulant and an anti-inflammatory – whole books can be written about ginger. 

I love ginger tea and drink it often whether sick or not. To make ginger tea I grate fresh ginger root with a cheese grater and then simmer gently (covered) for at least twenty minutes. How much ginger to water? Depends on how strong you want it, when using it to abate a cold or flu use as much as you can stomach. When it is through simmering I leave the ginger in the tea and drink it as well. Some people add lemon and honey to this mixture. You can also use dried ginger in the same way. Dried ginger is much hotter than fresh, great for when the person feels cold.

Lately, for that extra kick, I've been adding cayenne powder to the tea as well. Spicy and very effective for helping the body overcome a viral infection. 

Ginger is a great spice to be regularly added to meats and vegetables. I’ve used the tincture with success when traveling, but since this root is easily found year round in grocery stores I like to make it as a decoction as described above. You can store your ginger in the freezer for longer keeping and there’s no need to peel the root when making the tea. 

You can also make a delicious ginger honey simply by filling a jar with grated ginger and then covering the ginger with honey. Stir well. I set my honey on the counter for a few days and turn it upside down every couple of days. You can immediately eat ginger honey, but after a few days it will transform into a syrupy consistency that is oh so good and wonderfully soothing to sore throats. Store in the fridge for long-term use. 

Garlic (Allium sativum)
For thousands of years, garlic has been used to maintain and restore health. This is due to a plethora of constituents that are antiviral, antibiotic, and antiseptic. According to herbalist Stephen Buhner it is effective against: 

  • Escherichia coli
  • Salmonella 
  • Shigella dysenteriae, which causes bacillus dysentery
  • Staphylococcus and streptococcus
  • Diverse types of fungi, yeasts, and many viruses, such as herpes and influenza
In order to enjoy the anti-viral activities of garlic many recommend that you eat it raw and a lot of it. Please be warned that large amounts of raw garlic can be a great way to induce vomiting. Some people effectively work up a tolerance to garlic over time in order to take larger quantities. When using raw garlic as an anti-viral just take it slowly and listen to your stomach. 

Garlic is not only anti-viral but is also immune stimulating. In my mind garlic is a fabulous medicine to take as a preventive as well as during a cold or flu. 

One important consideration when ingesting garlic (besides its ability to make you nauseous) is the heating and drying properties inherent to garlic. Take one bit of raw garlic and you know that this is hot stuff. This spicy hot quality of garlic can exacerbate already hot conditions. If you find that you are always warmer than those around you, have a red face and perhaps a faster pulse, you may not be able to tolerate large amounts of garlic.

One way to enjoy fresh garlic is by infusing it in vinegar.

Garlic Vinegar 
Fill a jar ¾ full of minced garlic, and continue to fill the jar to the top with organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar, cover with a plastic lid and let sit for a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks. 

You can eat the garlic right along with the vinegar. I like to take this when I feel a cold coming on by taking 1 tablespoon every half hour or as tolerated.

Garlic with Olive Oil
To utilize garlic at its strongest simply mince some cloves and then let stand for three minutes. Allowing oxygen to come in contact with the garlic activates this powerful medicine. You can then combine it with olive oil. The olive oil can help to counteract the spiciness of the garlic, which can be irritating. When I make this I consume it within the same day to avoid possible bacterial growth within the olive oil. Longterm storage of fresh garlic with olive oil has been implicated in botchulism poisonings. 

Garlic Honey
To make this sweet and spicy treat, fill a jar with freshly minced garlic, add honey to fill the jar and stir well. To ensure the honey and garlic are mixed well you can turn the jar upside down a couple times a day. You can consume garlic and honey immediately and after a couple of days the mixture will transform into a more syrupy consistency. Honey also helps to relieve some of the hot and drying tendencies of garlic. A similar honey can be made with white onions and is especially nice for wet coughs. 

Again, too much garlic can make you nauseous (or even puke!), so be sure to listen to your stomach and don’t over do it. 

Besides being a powerful herb of choice for the cold and flu season garlic is also an effective blood thinner. If you are already on blood thinning medications or are scheduled for surgery garlic is probably not a good choice for you. 

Fire Cider Vinegar
This is a great herbal kick for keeping bugs at bay or for lessening symptoms once ill. I especially like fire cider for nasal congestion. You’ve probably heard the saying that wood can warm you twice, once when you gather and chop it and then again when you burn it. Well, the same stands true for fire cider. It’ll clear congestion once when you chop it and again when you drink it. You may find that you want to make this potent sinus clearing vinegar outdoors or where there is good ventilation  – the horseradish can be especially powerful. 

Fill a mason jar with 
1 part minced garlic
1 part grated horseradish (let it sit for three minutes in a bowl before     adding it to the mix.) 
1 part grated ginger (no need to peel)
1 part minced onion 
1 dried cayenne pepper
Cover with organic apple cider vinegar and let sit for 4-6 weeks. Strain off and take by the tablespoon full as a daily tonic or when you feel a cold coming on. Some people take more of this at one time but take it slowly, as it can be quite potent

Potent Bone Broth Soup
Lastly, one of my favorite things to do at the beginning of a cold or flu is to drink bone broth soup laden with garlic, onions, ginger and cayenne. This can certainly taste yummy, but there should be enough spices in there to bring circulation to the periphery (ie make you sweat!) Drink it up, then crawl into bed for a good long rest. 

Elder Berries and Flowers 

(Sambucas nigra, S. canadensis) 

This can be one of the tastiest remedies for colds and the flu as well as one of the most effective. 

Paul Bergner reports: 
“Recent research from Israel and Panama has demonstrated that elderberry juice (Sambucus nigra) not only stimulates the immune system, but also directly inhibits the influenza virus (Zakay-Rones et al 1995; Mumcuoglu 1995). 
In clinical trials, patients who took the elderberry juice syrup reported fast termination of symptoms. Twenty percent reported significant improvement within 24 hours, 70% by 48 hours, and 90% claimed a complete cure after three days. Patients receiving the placebo required six days for recovery. As proof that elder has more to it than the enzyme neutralizing constituents, researchers found that the patients who took it also had higher levels of antibodies against the flu virus. 
Elderberry has been proven effective against eight different influenza viruses."

Herbalist Kiva Rose first taught me the following delicious elderberry elixir. 

Elderberry Elixir
Fill a mason jar half way with dried elderberries, cover the elderberries with honey, and stir well. After it is well mixed fill the remainder of the jar with brandy. Stir well and let sit for six weeks. After six weeks, strain off the berries. 
I take this frequently by the tablespoon full at the onset of illness and continue this regiment until I feel better. Don't wait to try this while you are sick however, use it all year round to prevent illness as well. 

Elderberry Syrup
Elderberry syrup may not have as long a shelf life as the elderberry elixir given above but it is delicious and can be enjoyed copiously by the whole family. 

To make elderberry syrup I gently heat fresh elderberries on the stove and mash them to help extract the juice. Once it seems that the berries are sufficiently mashed I strain off the seeds and add an equal amount of honey. I often like to add ginger, cinnamon, clove and cardamom to this mix as well. The syrup will keep well in the fridge. 

The seeds of elderberries are slightly toxic when eaten raw in large amounts. Drying elderberries or preparing mixtures with heat helps if you are planning on eating large amounts of your concoctions at a time. 

Elderberry and elder flower can be taken as a preventive as well. The following is a great way to use elder flowers. 

Cold and Flu Tea
This recipe goes back centuries.  Drink as necessary at the first sign of a cold/flu and continuing throughout the sickness. I like to let my brew infuse for at least a half hour before drinking. 
1 part elder flower
1 part yarrow leaf and flower
½ part peppermint
½ part rose hips

Rose Hips (Rosa spp.)
Another very tasty way to maintain health by supplying your body with vitamin C and bio-flavonoids is to eat rose hips. Rose hips are the red fruit found in rose bushes in the fall after rose petals have fallen off. The vitamin C content varies with each bush, but rose hips have been repeatedly proven to contain more vitamin C than oranges. Any rose hips can be used, just be sure to harvest them in an area that has not been sprayed. Also be wary of commercially grown roses because these are often sprayed with pesticides. 

We gather rose hips after a couple of frosts but when they are still red and plump. I recommend initially storing these harvested hips in the freezer. Once they are completely frozen we remove the inner hairs and seeds from the hips and either eat them fresh or dry or freeze them for later use. 

Rose hips on their own probably won't stop a cold or flu from developing, but it can be an important part of the regimen. 

Rose Hip Syrup
To make rose hip syrup you can simmer two cups of whole hips (no need to de-seed) in 6 cups of water for twenty minutes, strain and then add raw honey to taste. This syrup can be preserved in the fridge for about a month – if by some miracle it lasts that long. This is a traditional preparation of rose hips, but keep in mind that the simmering of the rose hips can decrease the vitamin C content and the bio-flavonoids. For the highest amounts of these nutrients try making the honey or alcohol extract. You can even combine the two preparations to make a yummy elixir. 

Rose Hip Honey
Rose hip honey takes some time to prepare, but it is well worth the effort. To make this delicious treat fill a jar with fresh deseeded rose hips. Be sure to remove as many of the hairs that cover the seeds as possible. Once your jar is packed lightly with rose hips continue to fill the jar with local raw honey. You will need to stir the rose hip honey to get all the air pockets out and then add more honey to ensure the rose hips are covered. I leave mine on the counter, turning it upside down a couple times a day. After three days you’ll be enjoying a delicious treat high in vitamin C along with the many health benefits of honey. This is a fabulous remedy for sore throats.

Rose Hip Conserve
Another tasty way to prepare rose hips is by making a dried rose hip conserve. To do this fill a jar most of the way with a desired amount of dried rose hips. Then cover the hips with apple cider – about an inch above the hips. I also like to throw in a cinnamon stick or a couple of cloves with this mixture. Let this sit overnight and the next morning enjoy wonderfully re-hydrated rose hips. These can be eaten by the spoonful, spread on toast and added to oatmeal. 

Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) 
Echinacea is a powerful ally at the first sign of a cold. Echinacea works by boosting the white blood cell count and thereby supporting the immune system to better fight off an infection. It’s been scientifically proven to be effective against Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus spp.. 

Many people know echinacea’s affinity for combating sickness, but seldom is it taken appropriately. You can take Echinacea as a tincture or a tea frequently at the onset of a cold or flu. I'll take a dropperful of tincture every half hour. 

Echinacea can combat strep throat by applying the tincture directly to the throat. You can do this by letting it drizzle down the back of the throat or applying it a spray bottle. Strep throat is a potentially serious infection and should be monitored by a doctor so that it doesn't progress into rheumatic fever.

When I take Echinacea tincture for a cold or flu I like to mix it with a warming herb like ginger. 

 This plant has received such high publicity lately that it is disappearing from the wild, so when buying the dried plant for tea or tincture be sure that it was organically and sustainably grown on a farm rather than taken from the wild. There are two species of Echinacea that are commonly used, Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia. It seems that each herbalist has their favorite. I suggest trying the Echinacea purpurea first as it is easier to find and significantly cheaper. The root and aerial portions can all be used. 

Although Echinacea is one of the most popular cold and flu remedies on the market, there are some cautions often not considered when using this herb. Since it is an immune stimulant it should not be used with those who have a compromised immune system (rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme’s, Lupus, etc.). It’s also inappropriate to use Echinacea as a desperate means of not getting sick while foregoing other common sense such as rest and nourishment through food. It is possible to stimulate your immune system too much, creating even more problems in the long run. Imagine your immune system is like a bank account: if you are continually withdrawing funds, but are never depositing any, you will eventually run into problems. 

So many options... 
This is just a small smattering of herbal options for the onset of a cold or flu. 

This summer I was traveling in France when I came down with cold symptoms. Being in France I didn't have access to my own extensive apothecary and I wasn't able to find what I wanted at local stores. We were staying with my husband's uncle who took us on a tour of his garden. There I found sage, rosemary, peppermint and thyme growing in profusion. I gathered up a little of all of these and made a tea with them throughout the day. All of my cold symptoms were gone within 24 hours and my relatives were amazed at the power of the herbs growing in their garden. 

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Many of the herbs listed in this article can be found at your local herb store or grocery store. If you don't have access to local sources you can also find them at Mountain Rose Herbs.