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More Powerful Herbs to Cure Colds and Flu--and How To Grow Them in Your Garden

Updated on June 20, 2017
Baikal skullcap flowers
Baikal skullcap flowers | Source

THE STANDARD HERBAL REMEDIES FOR COLDS AND FLU AND WHAT THEY DO

Most of the more or less standard herbal remedies for colds and flu do provide symptomatic relief—and perhaps and immune boost.

In using these herbs for colds and flu, you would get the best results by combining them.

Echinacea

Echinacea is best known as an immune-system enhancer. It is miraculously effective for several types of infections, such as toothache, UTIs, and chicken pox and other herpes infections. Old herbals often refer to Echinacea as a “specific” for the teeth, kidneys, and urinary tract. (When something is called a “specific,” this means it is the go-to for a particular problem.)

Unfortunately, in my experience Echinacea doesn’t seem to do much for colds and flu. A dose of Echinacea can provide a brief sense of relief from some of the symptoms, but the relief is usually short-lived, and your patient doesn’t miraculously get well.

Take about one tablespoonful of the tincture, or four to six capsules of the dried powdered root two or three times a day. Or take about one tablespoonful of the dried powdered root mixed with a cup of hot water two or three times a day. To make a decoction, simmer about two tablespoons of the dried root per cup of water for about 20 minutes and take two or three times a day.

Wild Cherry Cough Syrup

While this is wonderful stuff—quickly relieving a cough, working as a mild sedative, and soothing the digestive system—this too provides mainly symptomatic relief. This is a really helpful remedy to help you get some rest when a persistent cough is keeping you awake. A dose of one teaspoonful for children and about one tablespoon for adults will give almost instant relief.

Sage Tea

Common garden sage—the same sage sold for culinary use—is wonderfully effective in drying up mucus secretions. If your nose is running, a cup of sage tea will stop the waterworks. If your lungs are congested, it will ease the cough by stopping the production of phlegm.

A cup of sage tea is an especially great remedy for those times when the persistent cough and constantly running nose are keeping you awake. The effects last for about two hours, in my experience, but that should be long enough to allow you to get to sleep.

To make the tea, use one or two tablespoons of the bulk herb per cup of boiling water and steep for about ten minutes.

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile is relaxing, mildly sedative, and soothing for digestive upsets, but that’s about all it’s likely to do for colds and flu. It’s always best to use bulk herbs to prepare this and other herbal teas, as the amount in most proprietary teabags is rather minute. To make chamomile tea, about one or two tablespoons of the bulk herb per cup of boiling water, steeped for about ten minutes, is about the right amount to induce restful sleep.

Elecampane Root

Elecampane is a powerful anti-bacterial and is used for pulmonary ailments of all kinds. According to Maude Grieve, in A Modern Herbal, it has been found to be particularly destructive to the tubercle bacillus. It has been used as an antiseptic in surgery and used as a surgical dressing. Some research indicates that elecampane kills MRSA.

Elecampane is not anti-viral—a requirement for any really good remedy for colds and flu—it does give relief for all respiratory difficulties and assist expectoration. It also helps dyspepsia.

Elecampane is usually given as a decoction—meaning that about a half-ounce of the dried root is simmered for 20-30 minutes in a pint of water—and given in doses of 1-3 teaspoonfuls, three times a day.

A cough syrup of elecampane root can be prepared by simmering the fresh roots in honey for an hour or two and straining.

Elderberry Juice

Elderberry juice is a favorite anti-viral and immune-stimulating beverage for colds and flu. It is best taken warm with lemon juice added, and sweetened with honey. Sometimes it works wonders!

THE HIGH POWERED AND NEWLY RESEARCHED ANTI-VIRALS AND IMMUNE SYSTEM ENHANCERS

If you enjoy treating common ailments with herbs and other natural remedies, you may have discovered that there is not much in your pharmacopoeia that really works well to cure colds and flu. Most of the standard remedies help, working as immune-system boosters and providing symptomatic relief. And often they cure—especially in a mild flu season.

But during this past winter a more-than-usually virulent version of the flu was going around. Despite treating myself and some friends and neighbors with Echinacea tincture, wild cherry cough syrup, sage tea, elecampane root, and elderberry juice, this year’s flu hung on for weeks. Repeated trips to the doctor didn’t seem to help, either.

While I’d like to introduce some historically important and powerful cold and flu remedies here, I have listed some of the best of the more standard cold and flu remedies in the sidebar, because they have a long and well established value—often curing—and always giving symptomatic relief.

But there are several very powerful herbal medicines available that have been proven to be highly effective against the flu, and that should be better known.

Some of the herbs that have historically been the heavy hitters against colds and flu were used successfully during the Spanish flu pandemic of the early 20th century. More recent research has not only confirmed the value of these herbs in treating colds and flu, but has begun to uncover their often remarkable and unexpected value in treating a vast array of other ailments.

Not only do all four of these anti-viral and immune-enhancing herbs have proven value for curing colds and flu—they are easily grown in most home gardens almost anywhere in North America.

While preparations of these herbs can be purchased from herbalists, at health food stores, and online, they are well worth growing in the herb garden—and in the case of Baikal skullcap, in the flower garden.

These herbal cold-and-flu remedies first came to my attention as offerings in the Bountiful Gardens seed catalog.

The Bountiful Gardens catalog is a project of Ecology Action. Begun and led by John Jeavons, this group has been researching, developing, and teaching organic gardening methods since the project got its start in 1972. Jeavons is the author of How To Grow More Vegetables: Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine—one of the early Bibles of the organic gardening movement.

Seeds for the following cold-and-flu herbs are available from http://www.bountifulgardens.org/.

THE BEST OF HERBAL MEDICINE’S POWERFUL REMEDIES FOR CURING COLDS AND FLU

Lomatium dissectum (Biscuit Root, Indian Consumption Plant)

Bountiful Gardens calls this plant “The most potent and well researched herbal anti-viral native to North America. Used for hundreds of years by native peoples, Lomatium root saved the lives of many Nevada residents during the influenza pandemic, which brought it to the attention of researchers.”

Another source details how Lomatium’s usefulness against the flu was first noticed. During the Spanish flu pandemic, which hit Northern Nevada in 1918, not a single Washoe tribe member died from influenza or its complications.Ernst Krebs, a physician in Carson City, was surprised to see the local Washoe people recovering, and he inquired as to their medicine. The Washoe people were treating the flu with Lomatium root, which they called ‘Toh-sa’ or ‘Do-sa’.” Other tribes living in Nevada in areas where the plant did not grow experienced a number of deaths. Dr. Krebs reported on this phenomenon in the Bulletin of the Nevada State Board of Health.

Many sources attest to its action as an anti-bacterial, anti-viral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic and immunostimulant.

Lomatium has both anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties and is now used by herbalists and naturopathic physicians to treat some of the most difficult of diseases, including influenza, common cold, hepatitis-C, HIV, AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, pneumonia, bronchitis, respiratory tract infection, herpes simplex, and sinusitis.

This is a remarkable natural medicine. In fact the list of ailments for which it is medicinally active goes on and on: It has also been suggested for treatment of Candida albicans, Clostridium, diptheria, E. coli, tuberculosis, gonorrhea, salmonella, Proteus vulgaris, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, shigella, distemper, Epstein-Barr virus, gardnerella infections, gastroenteritis, cytomegalovirus, leukocytosis, lymphangitis, mononucelosis, skin infections (topical), sore throat (gargle), sores (topical), stomatitis (topical), tonsillitis (early stages), urinary tract infection, vaginal infections (douche),and staph and strep infections.

Lomatium may be the finest of all the following herbal remedies for colds and flu. Preparations of Lomatium are available from herbalists, health food stores, and online.

Lomatium plant in flower
Lomatium plant in flower | Source
Lomatium flower
Lomatium flower | Source

Dosage

To treat flu-like symptoms the suggested dose is ¼ teaspoon of the powdered root in one cup of hot water, taken every 3-4 hours for a period of five days. The dried or fresh chopped root can also be prepared as a decoction by simmering ½ teaspoon per cup of water for about 20 minutes.

Some sources suggest giving Lomatium in combination with elderberry juice, for its antiviral and tonic effects. Elderberry juice can be given in one-cup doses two or three times daily.

Bountiful Gardens suggests Lomatium root be taken in combination with dandelion root to detoxify the body to fight “all kinds of infection.”

Lomatium can also be prepared as a tincture by filling a jar with the washed chopped root. Add vodka to cover, close jar with a tight-fitting lid and let steep for about a month (one moon cycle), strain and bottle. The tincture is usually taken in very small doses of as little as 1-3 drops twice daily, added to a cup of water.

Warnings

Some people may have an allergic reaction to Lomatium, causing a whole-body rash. Most people report that the rash disappears in 6-24 hours after dosing has ended. It has been reported that the rash can be avoided by taking Lomatium with 1,000 mg Vitamin C.

It is not advisable to take Lomatium while pregnant, because there is little information about its effects on a fetus.

Growing Lomatium

To grow this plant in the home garden, you have to plan ahead a bit, because the seed requires stratification (cold treatment). In the case of Lomatium, the cold treatment required is for 14 weeks—call it three and one-half months. The best procedure is to sow the seed in pots outdoors in fall for sprouting the following spring. The seed should be stored in the refrigerator if you are not going to plant right away.

Lomatium is not a particularly ornamental plant and should perhaps be relegated to the herb garden rather than the flower garden. The plant is a perennial, hardy in Zones 4-8, growing to about three feet tall. It prefers full sun and good drainage.

Harvest the root for medicinal use in the fall of the second year.

Andrographis flower
Andrographis flower | Source
Andrographis plant
Andrographis plant | Source

Andrographis paniculata (Kalmegh, Kariyat)

According to Bountiful Gardens, from whom the seed is available, Andrographis is very popular in Scandinavia to treat the common cold, flu and upper respiratory conditions. It is used as an immune-system booster and bitter tonic and has been shown to have anticancer and antioxidant properties.

Andrographis has been called “Indian Echinacea.” It is a shrub found throughout India and other Asian countries and has been used historically in epidemics, including the Indian flu epidemic in 1919 during which it was credited with stopping the spread of the disease.

Several studies have shown “a high degree of efficacy” in helping the symptoms of the common cold, and highly significant improvement in throat-related illness. http://www.sund-forskning.dk/artikler/andrographis-paniculata-0

Dosage

Dosage of the dried herb is about 1/5 of an ounce per day, which, if packed into 00 size capsules, comes to about 6 capsules a day. There is a reason for taking this herb in capsule form: It is extremely bitter, and this is probably the best way to get it down.

Plan on drying the herb and crushing it to powder for fill 00 capsules.

Warnings

Pregnant women shouldn't use andrographis because it could terminate pregnancy.

Growing Andrographis

Andrographis is an easy-to-grow annual, requiring moisture and sun or part shade. Since it is not an outstanding ornamental, it is probably best relegated to the herb garden. For colds and flu, the above-ground parts of the plant are used.

Boneset flowers, close-up
Boneset flowers, close-up | Source
Boneset--showing perforated leaves
Boneset--showing perforated leaves | Source

Eupatorium Perfoliatum (Boneset, Joe Pye Weed)

Boneset or Joe Pye Weed is a native American plant with a long history of use for treating colds and flu. Bountiful Gardens tells us that, “It saved the lives of many during the great flu epidemic of 1920,” adding that it is a potent anti-viral.

According to Georgina Robinson, George Agurkis, and Anthony Scerbo, of Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania:

“Boneset was used by Native Americans to treat a variety of ailments including sore throat, fever, chills, irregular menstrual cycle, epilepsy, gonorrhea, kidney trouble, and to induce vomiting, to cure snakebites, to expel worms and to treat colds and flu, especially in the eastern United States, a tea with a very bitter taste would be made from the Eupatorium perfoliatum. When consumed the results were an overnight cure of the disease.

“Farmers commonly had a supply of dried boneset on hand in order to treat their cold or flu. Boneset is said to be antiviral, antibacterial, anti-parasitic, a sweat promoter, a febrifuge, a decongestant, a mild laxative, a mucous membrane tonic, an immunostimulant, a smooth muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory, cytotoxic, a mild emetic, a peripheral circulatory stimulant, and a gastric bitter.

“Scientific research has shown that in fact boneset does have an effect on treating the flu and common cold. Abascal & Yarnall 2006 in a review noted that a group of individuals exposed to the 1918 influenza pandemic were treated with herbal medicines including boneset. This alternative medication was extremely successful in treating influenza and alleviated the painful symptoms of the influenza and prevented pulmonary complications and death. The research even showed the properties of counteracting cytokine dysregulation caused by severe cases of the disease.” http://klemow.wilkes.edu/Eupatorium.html

Maude Grieve, in A Modern Herbal, calls the Eupatoriums “some of the most important plants used in herbal medicine.” (There are quite a few other species of Eupatoriums that have medicinal value.)

With reference to Boneset, Grieve states, “Boneset was a favorite medicine of the North American Indians, who called it by a name that is equivalent to ‘Ague-weed,’ and it has always been a popular remedy in the United States, probably no plant in American domestic practice having more extensive and frequent use…. As a remedy in catarrh, more especially in influenza, it has been extensively used and with the best effects, given in doses of a wine-glassful, warm every half hour, the patient remaining in bed the whole time; after four or five doses, profuse perspiration is caused and relief is obtained. It is stated that the popular name Boneset is derived from the great value of this remedy in the treatment of a species of influenza which had much prevailed in the United States, and which from the pain attending it was commonly call Break-Bone Fever.”

Grieve tells us that, while all parts of the plant are active, only the herb is official—that is, an official remedy in the United States Pharmacopeia—so it is the above-ground parts of the plant that are used medicinally.

Dosage

Boneset infusion (tea) is prepared by steeping one ounce of the dried herb in 2 ½ cups boiling water for 30 minutes. The suggested dose is ½ cup to one cup, taken hot every hour—or, as Grieve suggests, every half-hour. This is taken while covered up in bed, because the idea is to induce perspiration to break the fever. Some sources say that, once the fever has begun to subside, smaller doses should be given every 2-3 hours until all signs of fever are gone.

Since Boneset tea is very bitter, you may prefer to give the dried powdered herb in 00 capsules, or as a tincture.

You can prepare the tincture at home by putting the chopped above-ground portions of the fresh plant in a jar and adding vodka to cover. Cover the jar with a tight-fitting lid and let steep for about a month (one moon cycle), strain and bottle. The suggested dose of the tincture for adults is 10 drops, taken four times daily.

Another way to avoid the bitter taste is to stuff the dried powdered herb into 00 capsules. Grieve’s suggested dose of the dried powdered herb is 12-20 grains, which is equal to 1-2 size 00 capsules.

Warnings

Excessive doses can cause vomiting.

Growing Boneset

Boneset is an easy-to-grow and attractive perennial, growing 2-4 feet tall, and hardy in Zones 3-8. The seed requires at least 30 days of cold, moist stratification (cold treatment).

The easiest way to do this is to put the seeds in a small container, such as a pill bottle, with a small amount of moist planting medium and keep in the refrigerator for the specified amount of time. After stratification, sow indoors or outdoors about 3 weeks before the last expected frost.

While Boneset is a moderately attractive plant, it may be a little too coarse for the flower garden, except for the back of the border. Or it could be grown in the herb garden.

Baikal skullcap flowers
Baikal skullcap flowers
Baikal skullcap
Baikal skullcap | Source

Baikal Skullcap (Scutellaria baikalensis)

Baikal skullcap is a prize for both medicine and in the garden: It provides an abundance of beautiful blue or purple flowers, as well as having powerful medicinal principles. This one really rocks, all the way around!

Most people who are somewhat familiar with herbal medicines are familiar with the far less showy common skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), which isused as a nervine, often in combination with other calming herbs such as valerian and passionflower, for anxiety, panic attacks, irritibility, and bi-polar disorders.

The Baikal skullcap, also called Chinese skullcap or Golden Root, is a traditional Chinese medicinal herb—also useful as a relaxing nervine—but which has a wide range of other valuable medicinal qualities. It is also a lovely perennial garden flower—well worth growing both as an ornamental and a medicinal plant—and is much showier than the common skullcap.

This is one of the most promising herbs for treating winter colds and flu. According to Bountiful Gardens, “New research shows strong anti-viral activity, very active against flu viruses, hepatitis, and dysentery, as well as staph infections. Baikal Skullcap is emerging as one of the essential disease-fighting herbs. Important anti-allergy and immune-strengthening activity also.” This is a potent medicine with many uses.

The root is used. The medicinal activity of the root includes: anti-allergic, anti-bacterial, anti-coagulant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, antioxidant, and mildly sedative. It is also a vasodilator and an appetite stimulant that also promotes digestion. These actions are believed to result from the constituents: Flavone glycosides, Baicalein, Baicalin, Wogonin, and flavones.

If you are growing the root in the garden, you can prepare it for medicinal use by either drying the root or preparing a tincture of the root. To prepare a tincture, fill a pint jar with the washed, chopped roots (fresh or dried), add vodka to cover, put a lid on it and set aside for about a month (one moon cycle). At the end of that time, strain and bottle the tincture.

Dosages

Baikal skullcap can be taken as an infusion, by steeping 1-3 teaspoons of the powdered root in 1 cup boiling water. The suggested dose of the infusion is 3-4 cups per day.

The decoction is made by simmering one ounce of the chopped fresh or dried root in four cups of water for 20-30 minutes, uncovered, so that the liquid is reduced by about one-third. Strain and take one-third cup of the decoction three times a day. The unused portion can be refrigerated, and the decoction can be taken warm or cold.

To use the tincture, take ½ to 1 teaspoon three times a day.

Warnings

There are some contraindications for using Baikal skullcap, including some drug interactions.

It should not be used by women are pregnant or breast-feeding; it can induce a miscarriage. Taking Baikal skullcap along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low, since the herb lowers blood sugar. Monitor your blood sugar when taking Baikal skullcap, if you are diabetic.

Baikal skullcap can have interactions when taken with Lithium, statins, and sedative medications.

Growing Baikal Skullcap

Baikal skullcap is a beauty that will provide an abundance of flowers for either flowerbeds or to brighten up the herb garden.

The part of the plant that is medicinally active is the root, which is not dug until the fall of the second year—so if you wanted to try it out medicinally before it was ready to harvest, you would have to use the purchased form. It’s hardiness range is Zones 3-9—so it is a very cold-hardy plant—and is easily grown from seed, germinating in about 24 days. It prefers full sun and requires very good drainage.


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    • blueheron profile image
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      Sharon Vile 3 years ago from Odessa, MO

      Thanks for the comment! Like you, WiccanSage, I have quite an arsenal of home remedies--and there is not use taking antibiotics for viral diseases, anyway. So many herbal and natural remedies work far better than pharmaceuticals--if only you know what to give for what. I am no good at all at diagnosing an ailment, so that is often an issue with natural medicine.

      I found it fascinating to research these anti-virals.

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      These are great; I'm going to copy them down. I have a few favorite home remedies for when we get colds, flu, constipation/diarreah, etc.; I so prefer using the herbal remedies fresh from the garden rather than cold syrups and pills over the counter. Unless antibiotics or some other prescription med is necessary (and I've found it's not as necessary as often as people think) I'd rather stick to the garden.

    • Blessed Success profile image

      Sandy J Duncan 3 years ago from Kansas City, Kansas

      Thanks for this very informative hub.

    • blueheron profile image
      Author

      Sharon Vile 3 years ago from Odessa, MO

      I've seen these herb seeds in the Bountiful Gardens catalog for two or three years aand been intrigued--and wanted to grow them. This year the flu was especially bad. Nothing knocked it out. In past years elderberry was probably the best for actually curing. I'll be growing these herbs this year, so am excited!

      The research on the herbs got time-consuming becausse there is just so MUCH information on them. The list of ailments they are believed to help is just staggering--you can't put it all in, so you have to figure out how to edit so you don't run on and on. Dosages are a little tricky, too--both to find and to convert to something either I or a reader could understand. I spent quite a abit of time trying to figure out how many 00 gelatin capules it would take to equal 20 grains. Actually it took me awhile to figure out HOW to figure it out.

      I've grown most of the old stand-by herbs in the past but these others will be new to me.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

      This is very informative. I learned a lot reading about these herbs, most of which I've never heard of.