Basic Herbs for Health
by Katrina Herren

Part 2: Herbal Concoctions for Colds

This article hopefully will appear in a future issue of Lina, the magazine put out by Frigga's Web. I do not claim to be a doctor. These are herbs that have been known to work, but I won't say they are miracle cures...just consider this a general disclaimer. Anyone with a medical condition (heart problem, etc.) or pregnant or lactating, please consult a doctor before taking a new treatment.

Part Two: Herbal Concoctions for Colds

In part 1 I discussed preparation methods of herbs, (I hope you caught that one!*), and a few remedies for cold prevention. In this article, herbs and some other natural remedies for curing colds will be covered. So for those who do end up with the sniffles and sick, and you or a family member are now in the need of some relief, here are some things you can do that are all natural, and very affective to overcome that miserable cold or flu. Like the boxes and boxes of pharmaceuticals, let's use the symptoms as our guide, making the choice of remedy easier. The standard dose** is recommended for all of the following, unless otherwise stated.

First, let's talk about mucus. Yeah, it's not a fun subject, but for those suffering, the question on their minds is, "How do I get rid of it?" For those with stuffy noses, the quickest way to regain the ability to breathe again is with steam inhalations. Steam inhalations clear the respiratory system of excess mucus. You can create your own relief with this method by using essential oils, purchased at your local herb or health food store, or a well-diluted infusion of plants whose active ingredients are anti-allergenic and anti-inflammatory. (Essential oils may seem expensive, but most uses only require a few drops so one bottle can last quite a while.) Simply fill a basin about half full with recently boiled water and 2 cups of standard infusion or 5 - 10 drops of essential oil (please choose quality essential oils; ask your herb store employee for help, if needed). Then drape a towel over your head and the basin as you bend over to inhale the steam for about 10 minutes. Breathe regularly. After the treatment, it is advisable to stay indoors for about 30 minutes to let your body readjust. Perhaps the best essential oils I could recommend for this method are eucalyptus, peppermint, tea tree, fir or pine, rosemary, basil, lemon, lavender, or sandalwood (basically in that order). You may combine 2-3 scents if you wish, but choose a combination of scents that you enjoy. Another variation of this is to use scented salts in your bath, or 5 - 10 drops of recommended essential oils in your bath as the warm water is running. You could also try these oils inhaled directly, used with a diffuser, or as a massage oil. Mix and essential oil with a carrier oil (sweet almond, wheat germ, olive oil, or even sunflower oil) and massage onto the body (partner required). The typical concentration is about 10%, so 1 tsp. (5ml.) of essential oil for 3 Tbs. (45ml.) of carrier oil is the norm. I usually use a teaspoon or so of carrier oil with a few drops of essential oil added. Also, once the essential oil is diluted, it begins to loose its scent, so mix small amounts at a time. Note: when using massage oil, it is kind for the masseur or masseuse to pour the oil onto his or her own hands and rub them together, then apply the warmed and more evenly spread oil onto the recipient.

Excessive phlegm can be considered "cold" (in the case of watery secretions) or "hot" (in the case of thick, yellow secretions). "Cold" phlegm is often linked with eating lots of sweet food and a sluggish system, while "hot" phlegm is linked to a nervous personality and may be persistent, (5, pg. 136). Some key symptoms are runny nose, irritant cough, inflamed nasal membranes, and some sinus pain. Elderflower(Sambucus nigra) is excellent at reducing phlegm. It is an anti-inflammatory and expectorant, useful for upper respiratory tract mucus associated with colds and hay fever. Research in Israel indicate that this herb may inhibit the replication of the flu viruses, though this finding has yet to be confirmed, (4). Elderflower can be combined with other drying or astringent herbs, such as yarrow, ground ivy, goldenrod, agrimony, or bistort to enhance action. (Use 3 parts elderflower to 1 part other herbs.) Goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea) can be used alone, as well. It, too, reduces phlegm and inflammation. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is another herb good for alleviating congestion. It promotes sweating and cools fevers. It would also help if mucus-producing foods such as dairy products, eggs, animal fats, white flour, and sugar where avoided all together. Christiane Northrup, M.D. says that "dairy consumption puts an enormous burden on the respiratory, digestive and immune systems. Sugar, too, has been shown to inhibit our ability to fend off infection" (3). Instead, a diet loaded with known cold and flu fighters such as garlic, onions, carrots, bell peppers, chili peppers, and seaweed is recommended. Since the liver is the immune system's first line of defense, some eat grapefruit because is has substances that help detoxify the liver, (3).

Sore throat or Pharyngitis symptoms include a red, raw throat, pain on swallowing, and a hoarse or croaking voice. 70% of sore throat cases are caused by viral infections, the rest by streptococcus, chemical irritants, or over-use of the voice, (8, pg. 150). Viral infections are often accompanied by other symptoms such as a runny nose and cough, while strep infections tend to be more severe in form. Gargles are a great way to remedy a sore throat, and there are many gargles that can work. In my previous article I mentioned echinacea decoction as a useful gargle to sooth a throat, and that it may even be swallowed, as the herb would continue to work in the body. You could also use 2 tsp. of the tincture per glass of warm water. (High doses of echinacea has been said to cause nausea and dizziness.) You can try a few drops of lemon, or lavender, and sandalwood essential oils in a glass of warm water, or cider vinegar and honey added to warm water, warm salt water, powdered root of licorice dissolved in warm water (1 tsp./cup or glass is standard), or 1 oz. (30g.) of red sage (or ordinary sage) mixed in warm water. Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria) is an astringent that heals mucous membranes and is useful in healing sore throats. Again, you may gargle with an infusion or with 2 tsp. (10 ml) tincture diluted in glass of warm water. You can add purple sage or rosemary tincture to the gargle as well. Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) is helpful for soothing throats, even in the case of laryngitis. Use the infusion or tincture as a gargle, add 1 tsp. (5ml) rosemary or purple sage tincture or up to 5 drops of cayenne tincture to gargle for laryngitis. (Avoid Lady's Mantle during pregnancy.) Balm of Gilead (Populus gileadensis) is another remedy, taken by infusing 2 tsp. of bud per cup water, 2 ml of tincture 3x/day, or 2 capsules of the powdered herb. It works well combined with coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), too. Goldenseal (Hydrastis) is an herb worth trying to help sooth a sore throat. For many, many years, ingesting goldenseal has been recommended for colds, but, there is now evidence that shows not enough of the viral fighting substance is absorbed by the bloodstream. Which means, although it fights bacteria and such well, it must have direct contact. And since this herb is severely endangered, some are asking that goldenseal be limited to digestive upsets and skin and vaginal infections, (1, pg7-8). If you wish to try it though, you may use a gargle, or, if you choose to ingest it, it does have a bitter taste, so sweeten infusion with honey, or take in capsule form. Other than gargles, you may make an ointment using eucalyptus and peppermint oils in a lotion base and apply it to the neck and chest. Honey itself can be quite soothing, as can lemon juice in warm water, or, one of my mom-in-law's favorite's, a hot toddy (the basic way to make one is with 1 cup hot water, lemon juice, honey, and a shot of whiskey! But some add cloves and cinnamon, too).

Laryngitis is characterized by hoarseness, throat pain, cough, and excessive mucus, caused by inflammation of mucous membranes of the larynx. Infusion of sage and thyme gargled (and small amounts drunk) every 8 hours. Or an infusion of marshmallow leaf drunk several times a day will alleviate inflammation of membranes. Red sage infusion or gargle is very helpful, as is an echinacea &/or goldenseal decoction and a powdered myrrh (Cammiphora molmol) infusion or capsules. Lady's Mantle, as mentioned above, is good for this ailment, especially when mixed with rosemary, purple sage and cayenne and gargled. Do NOT take red sage, goldenseal, or lady's mantle during pregnancy!

Coughs are muscle spasms caused by an irritation or blockage in the bronchial tubes, sometimes caused by nervous tension. There are two kinds of coughs. The first is a productive cough, which means that the cough produces mucus. The second is a nonproductive cough that can be very dry and irritating. Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) is a demulcent and expectorant, and it soothes inflamed respiratory mucous membranes. Take an infusion or tincture, or take 1 tsp. (5 ml) syrup made from leaves or flowers. It may be combined with phlegm-reducing herbs like ground ivy, or additional expectorants such as mulberry bark or white horehound. Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) is a warming expectorant and anti-spasmodic, useful for thin, watery phlegm or bronchitis. Take an infusion or tincture, or mix 1 tsp. (5ml) essential oil with 4 tsp. (1 1/3 Tbs. or 20 ml) carrier oil for a chest rub. This herb combines well with restoratives like elecampane and white horehound in chronic conditions: use 2 parts hyssop to 1 part other herbs. Anise (Pimpinella anisum) is a relaxing expectorant, antiseptic and carminative (expels gas). Anise is good for irritating dry coughs and bronchial infections. Simply take - tsp. (1-2 ml) tincture 3x/day or dilute 10 drops essential oil in 5 tsp. (almost 2 Tbs. or 25 ml) carrier oil as a chest rub. Eucalyptus oil can be added to the chest rub, too. Anise has some estrogenic action, so women who are advised not to take the Pill or who have a history of breast cancer should consult their physician before using it. Anise can be combined with - tsp. (1-2 ml) tincture of wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa, sometimes called "poor man's opium" for its sedative properties) for irritant coughs, or - tsp. (2-3 ml) thyme or hyssop tincture in infections. Wild cherry (Prunus serotina) is excellent in cough syrups. It is a cough suppressant, useful for dry, irritant, or nervous coughs. Take an infusion or tincture in tsp. (2ml) doses. It can be combined with mullein, elecampane or other cough suppressants like wild lettuce in severe cases. Here is a recipe for wild cherry and hyssop syrup I have used from Home Herbal, pg. 86:

1 oz./30 g. dried wild cherry bark

1 cup/250 ml & almost cup/100 ml water

about oz./10 g. dried hyssop

1 cup/250 g. honey

Soak the cherry bark in 250 ml. water overnight. Strain the liquid and reduce slightly by simmering gently for 15 minutes to make a decoction. Meanwhile, make a standard infusion of the hyssop in 100 ml. of water, strain, and add the liquid to the reduced bark decoction. Add the honey and simmer for 5-10 minutes to produce a syrup. Allow the mixture to cool and store in sterilized, dark glass bottles with cork stoppers. Dosage: take 1 tsp./5 ml. up to 4 times a day while coughing persists.

Wild cherry can cause drowsiness and it is suggested to avoid it in cases of acute infections. Savory (Satureja hortensis or Satureja montana) is a mild herb with an expectorant. The regular infusion dosage is good for children, but for adults, 4 tsp. (20 ml) of herb per cup of water, or 1 tsp. (10 ml) of tincture is the recommended dose.

So, all those moms and dads out there wanna know, "What herb and dosage is safe for my child?" Well, let's take a look-see. Savory, as I just stated, is a subtle soother for children with cough or cold. In the standard dosage (1-2 tsp. or dried herb per cup water), it is mild enough to treat a child. It is also a good herb for stomach upset. You may give up to 3 cups per day. It tastes like thyme but more peppery. As a tincture, use tsp. up to 3x/day. Catnip infusion flavored with honey or peppermint essence can help fight chills and congestion. And of course, good ol' echinacea can be given to boost a child's immune system. Give 10-20 drops of tincture in fruit juice daily to help fight any infection…hopefully the juice will disguise the flavor enough for your child to take it. And here's a helpful tip! "For children under 2 years, use a fifth of the adult dose, increasing gradually to reach a quarter of the adult dose at 3 or 4 (depending on the size of the child), a third at 6 or 7, a half at 8 or 9, and then increasing to the full adult dose at puberty,"(6, pg. 128). So many of the herbal treatments listed here may be use. With all person's, especially children and the elderly though, it is best to start out with the weakest recommended dose, then, if need be, work up to a higher dose, till the right dose for each person under each circumstance is found.

Fevers usually take their own course, but if you wish to try some herbal remedies, here are some for you to try. Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) promotes sweating and is, therefore, said to reduce fever. It is also an expectorant, good for hot feverish colds and influenza with muscle pain. For feverish colds and flu combine it with yarrow, elderflower and peppermint. High doses can cause vomiting. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is typically thought of as a wound herb, but it can be used alone to reduce fevers, too. Bayberry (Myrica cerifera) was once said to be second only to hot pepper for producing "heat" within the body, (2, pg. 69). It contains an antibiotic called myricitrin that helps reduce fever. Do not give to children under two, and, if taken in large doses, comes with a list of side effects including: stomach distress, nausea, vomiting, and sodium/potassium imbalance. Catnip was mentioned above for fevers.

Some other things you might like to try include taking zinc and more vitamin C. Zinc fight viruses and is able to reduce the duration of a cold in half. Sucking on a zinc lozenge can help relieve sneezing, too. Zinc gluconate or acetate is the best forms to take. And please take it with food because it can cause nausea. Vitamin C stimulates white blood cells, and the suggested dose during colds is either 1 gram (1000 mg) or 2000 mg a day in four 500 mg doses, depending on who you ask (3). Or, if pills aren't for you, just drink plenty of pineapple or orange juice.

And speaking of drinks, hot drinks help thwart colds, so the fact the herbal infusions are warm or hot is a help in itself. Viruses do well just below body temperature, so the hot liquids create an uninviting atmosphere, and also act as a mild decongestant. Apple and dark grape juice are also decongestants. In fact, grape juice contains tannins that have killed viruses in laboratory conditions (3). Soup is another way to intake more liquid. The old stand-by of chicken soup (filled with plenty of the previously mentioned cold fighters) or a good garlic soup is helpful, too.

Garlic (Allium sativum)…well, enough can not be said about this herb! It is good for so many things, preventing and fighting colds being one of the best enjoyed by all that partake of this odiferous bulb. Adding 1-4 cloves of raw or baked garlic per day to your diet helps boost your immune system and fight viral infection. If you're worried about the smell, well, eating parsley will help reduce the smell, or get a good gelcap that contains odor-controlling substances. Your body will thank you! You may wish to try this garlic soup recipe to help with your garlic intake, (4).

1 head garlic

1 quarts chicken broth

4 ounces country bread, 2 or 3 days old

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

a few garlic leaves, cut very thin, or shredded basil leaves (optional)

extra-virgin olive oil (optional)

Peel the cloves of garlic and poach them in 2 cups of simmering broth for 10 minutes, or until soft. Puree the mixture in a blender. While the garlic is simmering, trim the crust from the bread and cut the remainder into cubes. Cover them with warm water and soak for 10 minutes, or until soft. Squeeze out the excess water and crumble the bread. Add the pureed garlic to the remaining broth and whisk in the softened, crumbled bread. Salt and pepper the soup and simmer it for 10 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with garlic or basil leaves; pass olive oil at the table to drizzle in, if desired.

Cleanliness is important so recontamination does not occur. Keeping your hands clean and away from your eyes and nose, using disposable tissues (throwing them away immediately after use), changing your toothbrush, sheets and towels, and disinfecting doorknobs and telephones will help keep viruses from re-entering your body and making the cold last longer.

The more I research this topic, the more and more herbs and recipes I find. There are herbs I didn't even mention here that are considered affective in fighting colds, such as the promising new herbal treatment called Andrographis paniculata, known as kalmegh. It is used in other countries but not here yet, (1, pg. 4). I could go on and on, but I feel I covered plenty in this article! If you've noticed, there are some recurring herbs that I did cover that are quite effective for general colds. These are echinacea, peppermint, elderflower, yarrow, eucalyptus, lemon, and honey (o.k., the last two may not be herbs, but they work). Ya can't go wrong with these as your cold and flu basics. And, as I recommended at the close of part one, get plenty of rest, stay warm, eat well, drink plenty of liquids, enjoy your family and friends…and take care of yourself! Hail the Gods and Goddesses and WASSAIL!


* If you did not catch the first article it is on my web page at

**Standard infusion is made with 1 oz. dried or 2 oz. fresh herb, steeped 10 min. in 2-3 cups of recently boiled water. Then strain. Take a teacup 3 times a day.

Standard decoction is made with 1 oz. dried or 2 oz. fresh herb with 3 cups water, bring to boil, simmer 20-40 min. till reduced to 1/3 volume, then strain. Take a teacup 3 times a day.

Directions for making a tincture is included in Part 1, and the standard dose is to 1 tsp. (1-4 droppersful).


(1) Castleman, Michael. The Healing Herbs: The Ultimate Guide to the Curative Power of Nature's Medicines. Rodale Press: Pennsylvania, 1991.

(2) Castleman, Michael. "Herbal Healthwatch." Herbal Quarterly Spring 1998, 77: 7-8.

(3) Dworkin, Norine. "Got Sick? 7 Ways to Beat Colds and Flu." Natural Remedies January 1998, pg. 41-43.

(4) Gagnon, Daniel. "Herbal Care for Colds and Flu." Herbs for Health Sept./Oct. 1996, pg. 38-39.

(5) Ody, Penelope. The Complete Medicinal Herbal. Dorling Kindersley, Inc.: New York, NY, 1993.

(6) Ody, Penelope. Home Herbal. Dorling Kindersley, Inc.: New York, NY, 1995.

(7) Olshevsky, Moshe, C.A., Ph.D., Shlomo Noy, M.D., Moses Zwang, Ph.D., and Robert Burger. Manual of Natural Therapy: A Practical Guide to Alternative Medicine. Citadel Press Book: New York, NY, 1990.

(8) Shealy, C. Norman, M.D., Ph.D., editor, The Complete Family Guide to Alternative Medicine. Barnes and Noble Books: New York, NY, 1996.

Basic Herbs, Part I

Asatru Links

Return to Main Page