In my clinical practice, herbs were the pinnacle of my practice. I love healing with herbs (especially liquid herbal extracts) because I believe they are the most restoring, natural medicine we have. Many medicines, both pharmaceutical and natural, have a bit of a band-aid effect. That is they fix the problem but only whilst you are taking them.
This is where herbal medicine differs. Herbs work by truly healing and restoring the body to health and once you are well, you can withdraw treatment. I love nothing better than treating a patient until they are well, weaning them off their herbal tonic and saying goodbye to a healthy, happy patient. Another benefit of herbal medicine is being able to customise a treatment to suit an individual. This eliminates the need to take a fist full of supplements.
The other awesome thing about herbs is that the areas that medicine struggles to offer a solution, herbal medicine excels. How many of you have been told to ‘ride-out’ a virus or that kids just ‘get respiratory infections’ because they are in day care or school. Herbal medicine has so much to offer in supporting immune function to both prevent and treat acute infection.
My kids, having been in daycare from a young age (my daughter was in care from 5 weeks of age), have been treated with herbal medicine from a very early age. Thankfully, whilst they certainly have had their fair share of head colds, they’ve never lasted more than a day or so or progressed to a secondary infection or serious illness.
So I thought that seeing as it’s that time of year where respiratory bugs are a bit more prevalent, I’d share my personal favourite herbs to prevent and treat the common cold. As always, there is no substitute for a sensible, whole foods based diet and plenty of rest, however when susceptible, these herbs are invaluable. Herbs should always be taken under the prescription of a qualified practitioner.
My two favourite herbs to offer immune support which is an essential component in preventing and treating the common cold are andrographis and echinacea root (either in combination or alone).
Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata)
- Clinical evidence supports the role of Andrographis in the prevention and management of upper respiratory infections and fever.
- Andrographis is an immune-enhancing herb which has demonstrated effectiveness in studies of both bacterial and viral respiratory infections.
- It’s best combined with ginger or warming herbs.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea and angustifolia root)
- Echinacea root contains the highest levels of alkylamides so Echinacea root preparations (rather than leaf) should be used when strong immune modulating activity is required (the quality of the herb is paramount for effectiveness).
- It is an extremely useful herb for the prevention of common cold (sufficient doses required).
- It is indicated for acute and chronic respiratory infections (and immune deficiency), particularly as a preventive measure, including during times of stress and prior to air travel.
- It is also thought to help reduce the duration and severity of infections.
- It’s also best combined with ginger or warming herbs.
St Johns Wort (Hypericum) is also a great anti-viral herb.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
- Ginger is a warming herb which helps reduce inflammation, clear congestion and support the immune system.
- The anti-inflammatory gingerols and shaogals in ginger root will help to relieve a sore throat quickly, and they also kill rhinoviruses (which causes the common cold), reduces pain, fever, mucus congestion and can suppress cough.
Other warming and diaphoretic herbs (to manage febrile responses) I would consider are cinnamon, peppermint, garlic and elderflower.
Golden seal (Hydrastis Canadensis)
- Hydrastis canadensis root and rhizome has a wide range of uses in western traditional medicine including upper respiratory catarrh.
- Golden Seal is a brilliant remedy where there is loads of mucous (both acute and chronic).
Other great herbs for congestion are Eyebright (Euprasia officinalis), Golden Rod (Solidago virgauria) and Elderflower (Sambucus nigra).
Turmeric is often touted as a good remedy for colds. It’s anti-inflammatory action can be useful where tissue is inflamed (like a sore throat), but it’s not specifically a cold fighter.
The right formula
Combining herbs well into a healing tonic is a learned skill. When formulating a basic cold remedy, I’d always include an immune supporting herb (like echinacea or andrographis), a warming herb (like ginger) as well as a remedy to help the symptoms / mucus congestion (like golden seal or eyebright). Of course if other symptoms are present (like enlarged glands, cough, sore throat), other herbs would be included in the tonic to address these symptoms also.
Quality and correct dose
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard ‘I’ve tried echinacea (or another natural supplement) and it doesn’t work’. Firstly, poor quality supplements, made from inferior herbs (and sometimes even parts of the plant with no medicinal value) are sadly common place in our world that places a greater value on making money, over health and healing. Also, often people are taking a good quality supplement, but at insufficient dosages. A close family member of mine dose this all the time. I say take 4/day, she takes 1 or 2 and then complains it isn’t working. As pharmaceuticals have a therapeutic dose, so to do herbal medicines. Timing is also critical – taking herbs at the first signs of a cold is when they are most effective.
Enlisting the help of a qualified and trusted practitioner is essential. Firstly it is the best way to ensure your safety (herbs are powerful medicines). It also ensures your hard earned money is being directed into the best quality products, at a therapeutic dosage. When I was practicing I’d give patients a plan of attack (and script) so that they were armed to tackle a cold in the earliest stages (and prevent secondary infection).
I hope this post has helped to demonstrate that herbs offer an effective means to prevent and support the body through acute illness. I know they have played a huge role in keeping my family well, even my less than compliant hubby is a massive advocate of herbs. He rummages through my herb cabinet at the first signs of man flu and has even started travelling with them in case he is feels unwell when interstate (I may finally be rubbing off on him).
My 10 practical tips to support the functioning of your child’s immune army to keep your kids well this winter – read more here.