5 Best Herbs For Colds And Flu And How To Use Them Effectively

These botanicals can fortify your immune system and help you fend off illness and flu naturally.

September 25, 2017
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Every year it seems the flu season is projected to be a real monster. Federal flu trackers note the virus start circulating earlier than it has in the past, paving the way for a season of full of fevers, sneezing, and sniffling.

Whether or not you get the vaccine, you can also reduce risk by building up your immune system with all-natural herbs. And if the virus does strike, these herbal heroes can still help take the edge off. The following five herbs can be particularly effective, and several are delicious brewed as herbal teas

Related: 6 Herbs That Grow Back Year After Year


Keep a supply of thyme essential oil or dried thyme on hand in the event that you fall ill with either the flu or with a common cold. Thyme has long been known as an expectorant, which makes coughs more productive (that is, it helps clear out your lungs faster so you feel better sooner). You can brew a thyme herbal tea by steeping 2 teaspoons fresh thyme in a cup of boiling-hot water for 10 minutes. Or make a thyme steam bath: Toss either a handful of dried thyme or a few drops of thyme essential oil into a bowl of hot water and lean over the bowl, covering both your head and the bowl with a towel. Inhaling the steam will help loosen mucus in your chest.

Related: Take The Time To Grow The Best Thyme

echinacea flower
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There isn’t much evidence that echinacea will do anything for you once you get a cold, other than possibly shorten the duration of your symptoms. But there is some evidence that it could prevent colds and flus if taken in conjunction with garlic supplements, according to an article in the Journal of the National Medical Association. The problem with most echinacea products on the market is that they don’t tell you how much of the herb is in the product. (Here's how to grow echinacea yourself.) To solve that, you can often forgo teas and instead take an echinacea supplement of 1000 milligrams three times a day. One note: People who are allergic to ragweed or to pollen may be allergic to echinacea, as well.

Watch this quick video to learn how to make an immune-boosting echinacea tincture.

licorice root
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Licorice root

Licorice root contains a compound called glycyrrhizin that has been found to have pretty potent antiviral effects against serious diseases, such as HIV and SARS, and a number of studies have found that licorice-root extracts can fight off the flu, including strains of the avian flu virus. In Ayurvedic medicine, licorice root is used as an expectorant. A number of companies make licorice-root supplements and teas, but be sure they contain actual licorice—many products (licorice candy, for instance) don't contain the herb but anise seed instead. Also talk to a doctor or pharmacist if you’re taking any prescriptions, as licorice has been found to interfere with some medications.

Related: 4 Healing Ayurvedic Recipes That Are Simple To Make And Crazy Delicious

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Garlic boosts the health of your immune system, and a number of studies have found that animals given regular doses of garlic are better able to ward off viruses like the flu and various strains of rhinovirus, the kind responsible for the common cold. In one study from 2001, volunteers who took a daily garlic supplement were less likely to get colds than volunteers taking a placebo, and even when the garlic takers did get sick, they recovered more quickly. The Journal Of The National Medical Association also recommends using garlic in cold and flu seasons. 

For the sake of people who have to talk to you, garlic supplements are probably the kindest way to go. But you can also get the same benefits by chewing on a clove of garlic once a day for prevention, or twice a day to get over a cold or flu. Mince a clove of garlic into some honey if the flavor is too overpowering. (Here's how you can get the best health benefits out of honey.) It’s not clear whether adding more garlic to your cooking affords the same protection, but why not? It'll only taste great.

Related: How To Grow Garlic In 3 Simple Steps

Elderberry extract

Another botanical that helps you cope with cold and flu symptoms is elder, also known as black elder. The extract of elderberries has been tested repeatedly and found to shorten the duration of symptoms by as much as 4 days, and the extract has been found effective at fighting up to 10 strains of flu virus. Nearly all of the scientific studies conducted on elderberry have used a commercial product called Sambucol, which is available as a liquid supplement from a number of different companies, including on Amazon.

Related: Beat A Cold With Homemade Elderberry Elixir