Herbal Remedies for Colds

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Echinacea is used widely to prevent colds.

Unfortunately, a cold must run its course through sneezing fits, sore throat, and congestion. But there are herbal remedies that can reduce the congestion and length and severity of your next cold or prevent one from taking hold.

Herbal Remedies for Colds

When you first begin to feel a cold coming on, support and stimulate your body's immune system. Use tinctures or capsules of echinacea and goldenseal to help produce extra white blood cells that can destroy the intruding virus. You may be able to avoid the cold entirely if your defenses are mounted early enough. But if not, your cold will probably be milder and shorter. Take up to 600-900 mg echinacea in capsule form or 4 mL (3/4 teaspoon) extract three to six times per day. Garden products such as garlic, onions, and cayenne are also known as anti-virals; eat plenty of these fresh to keep your defenses up. Other herbs from your garden that will energize immunity include aloe, chamomile, licorice, Oregon grape, marshmallow, and skullcap.


Echinacea can be taken at a dose of 1/2 teaspoon three times daily to prevent colds.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables that are loaded with vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, melons, berries, watercress, parsley, and bell peppers. Vitamin C acts as a mild natural antihistamine while also supporting the function of white blood cells. Antihistamines reduce mucus secretion and inflammation in airways and sinuses, making it easier for you to breathe.

To help break up the congestion in lungs and sinuses, use plants with expectorant properties. Try hot peppers, horseradish, lavender, mullein, mint, red clover, rosemary, and elder flowers. Many of these herbs do double duty. For instance, the demulcent properties in mullein, as well as marshmallow, help soothe an aching throat and calm a cough. The capsaicin in cayenne pepper diminishes pain messages from nerve endings, offering relief from sore throat pain; use it in a gargle. Gargle teas or tinctures of these plants for maximum relief.

Some of your garden's aromatherapy plants can be infused into massage oil, then rubbed into your chest. Lavender, peppermint, and yarrow can all alleviate congestion. Lavender may also stimulate immune function and induce much-needed sleep. Yarrow and elder flowers can promote sweating and help break a fever.

Gargling with mucilaginous herbs relieves an irritated throat and constant cough. Use a strong, warm infusion as a gargle. Try marshmallow, licorice, red raspberry, or calendula to soothe the irritation and make swallowing a little easier.

Common Cold Recipe

To reduce congestion and help clear sinuses, try a steam treatment.

  1. Put lavender, eucalyptus, or mint in a medium-sized bowl; use 8 drops if you have essential oil.
  2. Pour 2 cups of steaming hot water over the herbs or oil.
  3. Cover your head with a towel, lean over the bowl, and slowly breath in the steam.
  4. Blow your nose gently as mucus is loosened.
  5. Continue to breathe steam for about five minutes.

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Eric Yarnell, N.D., R.H. (A.H.G.) is a naturopathic physician and registered herbalist in private practice specializing in men's health and urology.  He is an assistant professor in the botanical medicine department at Bastyr University in Seattle and is president or the Botanical Medicine Academy.  He is the author of several textbooks including Naturopathic Gastroenterology, Naturopathic Urology and Men's Health, and Clinical Botanical Medicine; He writes a regular column on herbal medicine for Alternative and Complementary Therapies. This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies.   Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.