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Herbal Remedies for Coughs and Colds

© Kat Morgenstern, February 2002

Herbal Remedies for Coughs and Colds'Tis the season for coughs and colds, the bane of the winter months. Thankfully, Mother Earth provides numerous herbs to soothe a sore throat, help deal with fevers and cure drippy noses. Of course the best remedy is prevention and if we regularly boost our immune system with plenty of vitamin C and an occasional dose of a hot spicy soup with plenty of garlic, onion and chillie we might never get the bothersome symptoms of a full-blown cold or flu. However, living in crowded environments one can't help but share in other people's germs. Drastic temperature changes, or getting run down and suffering from winter blues all make it difficult to avoid getting sick.

Often the first symptoms are a scratchy throat and a feeling of being beaten up. Most of us have a tendency to ignore these early symptoms and just battle on, hoping they will go away. Unfortunately though, often they don't, but instead just get worse. So the best thing is to take heed, right at the start and do something about it. 

For a scratchy throat one of the best home remedies is to gargle with a strong Sage tea. Ordinary garden Sage (Salvia officinalis) will do the job. If the symptoms are very sever a decoction of Oak bark (Quercus robur) will act even stronger, as it is very astringent and anti-inflammatory.

If you can stomach it, make a soup with plenty of onions, garlic and chillie pepper. The soup should not just be spicy but almost too hot to eat. The idea is to jump start the system with some naturally anti-bacterial and antibiotic fuel to help battle the bacteria and boost the circulatory system. The effect is threefold:

Take a hot bath with essential oils of Pine and/or Lavender and treat yourself to an early night. Pine oil is especially effective as its' action is not only supportive of the respiratory system but also acts soothing and relaxing on stiff joints and muscle aches that so often accompany a flu. 

A strong dose of vitamin C, preferably in a natural form, such as a hot lemon drink with honey and ginger will also be very soothing and supportive. When the throat gets scratchy during the night a spoonful of honey melted in the mouth can be a very effective way to soothe the bothersome tickle.

If a cough develops, but is stuck in the throat and turns into an annoying dry, irritating tickle, a strong tea of Thyme, which can be sweetened with honey is very effective. Hot milk with honey also helps to make the cough more productive, but should be avoided if there is too much mucous already. To help the cough along Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) and Mullein leaves (Verbascum thapsus) are among the best herbs for a demulcent cough mixture. Strain the tea through a fine meshed clothe or tea strainer to strain out the fine hairs which otherwise can become an added source of irritation. Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum) or Liquorice root powder (Glycyrrhiza glabra) can be added to improve the flavour and support their action. Mullein leaves macerated in olive oil incidentally is an old remedy for earache. Apply warm with some cotton wool.

If the cold gets worse and blocked sinuses and nostrils are becoming a problem, try a Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) steam bath. To prepare it, all you have to do is put a handful of chamomile flowers into a bowl and add hot water. Cover yourself and the bowl with a big towel and inhale deeply through the nose if possible. This is an old and tried home remedy but it still works magic. If you like you can add a drop of essential oil, such as Lavender or Eucalyptus, but don't overdo it, as 'too much of a good thing' can just be too much…. Endure this facial sauna as long as possible, at least ten minutes, and repeat twice a day for best results. Afterwards take care to dry off and keep yourself wrapped up so you don't get chilled.

If you get a fever with your cold the best thing is to sweat it out. Take a hot bath and drink a diaphoretic tea such as Yarrow (Alchemilla millefolium) or Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) to break the fever, wrap yourself up warm and go to bed.

Another old and tried home remedy for colds and flus is grog, which is usually prepared with black tea, honey and a good measure of rum. You can increase its potency by using hot lemon with honey, lemon, cinnamon and ginger, instead of the black tea, but keep the rum. If you prepared yourself during the late summer and late autumn you might have cooked up a good stock of Elderberry preserve (late summer) and Rosehip syrup (late autumn, after the first frost), both of which are real vitamin bombs and provide a great fortifying tonic to keep you fit through the winter. (More about this in a later edition of this newsletter). If you haven't you'll have to make do with vitamin pills.

A la santé

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This Article was originally published in the Sacred Earth Newletter. The Newsletter is a FREE service containing articles, news and reviews on all things herbal and/or ethnobotanical, with an approximate publication cylce of 6 - 8 weeks. If you wish to subscribe, please use the subscription box to submit your e-mail address.


Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.