Herbal medicine: can natural remedies really see off winter colds and flu?

natural healing

Some argue that using herbal medicines is the key to a healthy lifestyle

Although controversial amongst advocates of mainstream medicine, herbs and spices can help keep us healthy, says Sophie Laggan

The common cold results in a stuffy nose, sore throat and husky voice along the lines of Barry White’s. The symptoms aren’t the least bit attractive and leave you feeling decidedly woeful. Although not directly caused by the drop in temperature, the increased use of public transport during the winter helps to spread the virus, which makes it pretty hard to avoid. So how can you boost your immune system and fend off colds this winter, without resorting to pharmaceuticals?

Along with reducing sugar and refined carbohydrate intake, swap defence-diminishing coffee for immune boosting green tea. Getting a good night’s sleep helps the body repair and drinking warm water and lemon on a daily basis creates an alkaline environment where bacteria and fungus can’t replicate themselves. But the key to preventing a cold is to maintain a healthy immune system through diet and lifestyle choices. Herbal supplements have also been shown to have significant immune boosting properties and unlike over the counter medication, they actively combat infection and don’t simply suppress symptoms. ‘The medicine we usually buy can in fact tax the body and its detoxification pathways thus prolonging your condition,’ says UnBEElievable Health nutritional therapist, Erin McCann.

Labelling is still very unclear on most medication and although many Western drugs have their origins in herbal extracts, most are now made with synthetic alternatives. But can herbal remedies really see off the flu? The technical term is ‘phytotherapy’ - Greek for ‘plant care’ – and can include anything from eating more garlic to using a mustard poultice. Here are some to try:

Elderflower: Can help relieve colds and influenza, along with catarrh of the upper respiratory tract. It is traditionally used for feverish conditions. Combined with peppermint and yarrow, it works best as an infusion.

Echinacea: Boasting anti-microbial properties that can help fight infection anywhere in the body, its one of the most widely used natural remedies.

Horseradish: Increases blood flow to the skin and all tissues; helping to relieve chilblains. It has anti-microbial properties and can help reduce the intensity of flu.

Mustard: Combats feverishness, cold and flu and can be made into a tea, if you can handle the taste, or the powder can sprinkled onto food.

Cinnamon: Has antimicrobial properties and has been in use since the Middle Ages. Often used in mainstream medicine in sore throat and cough remedies.

Sage: Herbalist Jackie Day recommends mixing an infusion of sage leaves (one teaspoon dried herb to a mug of boiling water), with some honey and a cider vinegar to create an effective gargle for sore throats.

Leafy vegetables: Brussel sprouts might be the marmite of the vegetable kingdom but they contain zinc and antioxidants that support immune cell function.

Garlic: Its volatile oil has expectorant properties that help promote a productive cough, and have a disinfectant effect on the lungs and bronchi. Considered to be one of the most effective anti-microbial plants.


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