Advice and recipes from our medical herbalist Deanne Greenwood.
There are lots of herbs and spices that you’ll find growing in the wild, or you have in your kitchen, that make fast and effective remedies for coughs, colds and flu.
They all, variously, have potent antibiotic, antiviral and antiseptic properties, and promote sweating (which is the body’s way of reducing temperature and fever). They’re soothing, comforting and taste good, too!
Ginger, lemon and honey
The classic herbal cold and flu remedy. It’s best to use fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale), chopped or grated (you don’t have to peel) and freshly squeezed lemon juice (Citrus limon). Make a tea with the ginger and leave to infuse for at least ten minutes before straining and adding honey and lemon juice. The stronger the better, but make to taste – the idea is to enjoy it!
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.), clove (Syzgium aromaticum) and cayenne (Capsicum frutescens)
Lovely warming spices that are so comforting when you are feeling cold and shivery. They stimulate circulation, warming you right down to the tips of your fingers and toes. Add to your infusion, as above.
Thyme and lemon balm
These are my favourite herbal teas to help relieve the muscular aches and pains you can get with colds and flu. I grow them in the garden, harvesting and drying in the summer. Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) helps too, and blends well with thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis).
Inhaling the vapours of aromatic herbal infusions is part of the healing and comforting process, by the way!
You can also add strong infusions (use about 25g dried herb) of thyme and rosemary to a bath to help relieve aching muscles and soothe the senses.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
The antiseptic and astringent properties of these garden herbs make them ideal for sore throats and infections. Use the cooled teas as a gargle. Thyme works well, too.
Spiced elderberry (Sambucus nigra) cough linctus
1. Make a little spice bag with a piece of muslin and some string, and fill with your choice of chopped ginger root (no need to peel), cinnamon/liquorice sticks, cloves, sprigs of thyme.
2. Place this, with 500g of elderberries, in a saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and, when cool, remove the spice bag. Squeeze the juice out of the berries through a jelly bag, or a sieve lined with muslin.
4. Add enough water to make the liquid up to 500ml, return to the pan, add 500g of granulated sugar and heat gently, stirring continuously, until all the sugar has dissolved.
5. Allow to cool, stir in 1tbs of lemon juice and then pour into sterilised bottles. (Sterilising tablets or fluid used for baby bottles are handy for this.)
This keeps well in the fridge, providing bottles are sterilised and no one glugs from the bottle!
For colds, flu, coughs and sore throats, take a teaspoonful every few hours, or use as a cordial and make a delicious hot drink. Kids love it.
Go for garlic!
If you can bear it, garlic (Allium sativum) is one of the best herbal remedies for colds and flu. Its antimicrobial properties are unsurpassed. The best way to take it is to squeeze through a garlic press, or pound in a pestle and mortar, mix with honey (ideally local and organic), and eat it. Smelling it on your breath indicates that it has passed through your lungs, confirming its deep, penetrative action.
And finally, when you have a cold or flu, look after yourself. Drink plenty of fluids such as herbal teas, and juices and smoothies made with antioxidant-packed berries. Cut out dairy products as they are so mucous-forming. Keep warm. Rest as much as possible. And trust in the healing powers of nature and the body’s innate ability to heal itself, given the right support!