How to Make Cold & Flu Symptoms Feel Better Naturally (Best Natural Remedies to Use for Sore Throat, Fever, Coughs & Congestion?)
OK. You tried to kick that cold to the curb before it could really get started....but unfortunately, it has entrenched itself in your body. Got a raging sore throat? Or how about a fever--those are HORRIBLE for anyone, but especially for adults. Or perhaps a cough that won't let you rest? What about the kind of congestion that just won't allow you to breathe?
Well, once a cold or flu actually does get a hold of you, you're generally going to be dealing with ugly symptoms. These are some of them, and we all know they are NOT fun.
Now, herbal medicine is very different from modern medicine. We've been trained in this modern day and age to treat symptoms instead of the actual cause of illness, or better yet, to prevent illness in the first place. It's become too easy to run to the drugstore and grab ibuprofen, sugary cough syrup, chemical nose spray for congestion and lots more.
These drugs have tons of side effects, are filled with chemicals (some of which are toxic), and are not good for you. There are better ways to handle symptoms!
Herbs and other natural methods generally don't have the side effects that OTC medications have. They just don't. They work more gently on your system, albeit sometimes a little more slowly. But herbs support health while they take care of those symptoms. OTC meds just don't do that.
Here are some natural herbal ways you can deal with symptoms of colds and flu if cold & flu prevention tactics slipped by you or you just didn't get to nip that illness in the bud as quickly as possible. Read on for some powerful ways to deal with symptoms while supporting your body and helping recover more quickly from colds and flu.
You may also be interested in these related articles in my cold and flu care series:
and this complete Cold & Flu Care eBook with 65 pages of natural remedies and recipes.
A note about where I get my herbs: Some of the links in this article for the herbs will take you to Starwest Botanicals, which is my favorite place to buy quality herbs. You can also buy culinary spices there!
Also, you might feel overwhelmed with all these herbs in this article! If so, I completely understand because that was me a long time ago. Starwest Botanicals also has some great ready-made tea blends to help with cold & flu. Take a look!
Herbal Ways to Deal With Cold & Flu Symptoms and Heal Yourself More Quickly
I'll be addressing some specific issues and some natural remedies that will help you feel better when you’re sick! These include sore throat, fever, congestion, and the coughs that often come with illnesses.
What to Do About Sore Throat:
Sore throats just plain hurt. You can't swallow, or at least it's difficult, and regardless, it just hurts. When your throat is swollen and inflamed, that right there is enough to make you want to cry. So here are some ways to deal with that:
Use Sage, Honey, Salt
Sage is incredible for sore throats and has been used for years! It's an old herbal remedy that is steeped in tradition. Sage is astringent, so it tightens and tones inflammation in the throat. It's also anti-microbial, so it absolutely helps your body heal more quickly. It's cooling too--which helps a hot and bothered sore throat.
NOTE: Sage will decrease a nursing mother's milk, so take care and perhaps use Thyme (although not as powerful for a sore throat) instead. If you are pregnant or nursing, you should avoid sage.
Here are some ways to use Sage:
1) Sage & Salt Gargle:
Here is how to make a Sage & Salt Water Gargle that will help bring down the swelling in your throat.
First, boil about 1/2 cup of water.
Add a tablespoon or two of dried sage leaves to a clean jar (a pint Mason jar is perfect)
Add a tablespoon or two of salt
Pour the boiling water over the top
Add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Allow this mixture to steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain out the herbs into a clean jar. Gargle with a mouthful every hour or so until you feel relief. Don't swallow this! Swish it around for as long as you can handle it, then spit it out.
You can store this in the fridge, and it will keep up to two days.
Here is a recipe from Rosemary Gladstar's book, Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide, which I have used for years...because yes! It works!
2) Sage Mouth & Throat Spray
This spray tastes SO much better than gargling with salt, I can tell you. There are different variations you can use for sore throat spray, but here are the basics:
3 tablespoons dried Sage leaves
1/4 cup 80 proof liquor, such as brandy or vodka.
1 tablespoon honey
Pour a cup of boiling water over the Sage leaves (and Peppermint, if you are using leaves--not the essential oil). Let steep for around 30 minutes. Strain out the herbs, leaving just the liquid.
Combine 3/4 cup of this Sage/Peppermint Tea with the brandy or vodka.
Add the Peppermint essential oil (if not using Peppermint leaves) and the honey.
Stir until the honey is completely dissolved.
Bottle it up in a little spray bottle. Any extra can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days.
Just spray into into your mouth and throat as often as you like. (See safety note above regarding nursing women.)
Here is a quote about Sage from Medicinal Herbs, by Rosemary Gladstar, pg. 87:
"Sage is a well-known cold and flu fighter. Because of its astringent, antiseptic, and relaxing action on the mucous membranes, sage is the classic remedy for inflammation of the mouth, throat, and tonsils."
3) An additional quick note about Honey: Honey is extremely soothing to sore throats (and coughs too) because of its demulcent property. Feel free to make a Sage, Thyme, and Honey Tea for your sore throat in addition to the above recipes.
What to Do If You Have a Fever:
Use Elder Flowers or Ginger:
Fevers are NO fun. At all. And the first thing in these modern days we've all been trained to do is go grab a fever-reducing medication. However, if you understand how fevers work and how they are actually good for our bodies in helping heal from illness, then you'll realize that managing fevers in an herbal way can be more effective in the long run than grabbing the OTC med.
There are different categories of herbs that effect fevers, including anti-pyretics, febrifuges, and diaphoretics, The first two kinds of herbs will reduce a fever, but that is not always what your body needs. Here, I'll give you ways to actually work with the fever to get over the illness more quickly. Your body has a higher than normal temperature (over 98.6) during a fever, and this causes pathogens living in your body to die--and that's a good thing!
**NOTE: If you or your child has a VERY high fever (over 103 or 104), please seek medical attention immediately, especially if it has been going on for more than a day.
The action of a diaphoretic herb is what you want with a low grade temperature (above 98.6 but below 102 or 103 for an adult). Diaphoretics cause the internal heat of your body to rise, causing perspiration. This increases the rate and effectiveness of what a fever is doing: getting your body back in balance and killing off pathogens that are making you ill.
There are two types of Diaphoretics: Warming and Cooling. A warming diaphoretic increases circulation and increases warmth in the body. A cooling diaphoretic increases perspiration but reduces heat at the surface of the skin, cooling the body. There are reasons and times to use both of these types of Diaphoretics.
Agatha Noveille, from the Indie Herbalist, gives these guidelines for when to use a warming Diaphoretic (such as Ginger) or a cooling diaphoretic (such as Elder Flowers):
Use Ginger (or a warming diaphoretic) when: 1) The fever is mild and includes chills; 2) There is no sweating; 3) Aches & pains are present; 4) There's no thirst.
Use Elder Flower (or a cooling diaphoretic) when: 1) The fever is high; 2) The person feels very hot; 3) Has headache; and 4) is thirsty.
These are some of the simplest and best guidelines I've found for helping decide which kind of herb to use and when for dealing with fever.
There are many ways to use both Elder Flower and Ginger. They can both be tinctured and used when needed, which is my personal favorite way to use them. I have both of these tinctures on hand all the time in my home as part of my herbal kit. To find out more about how to make an herbal tincture, click the link for a great article.
You can also make a tea with both of these herbs. Just use 1 to 2 tablespoons herb per large cup of tea. And a quick note about Ginger: The dried form is more heating than the fresh form, so use about 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Ginger for a cup of tea. You can find out more about preparing and infusing teas in this article.
Here is a recipe for Ginger Tea:
Just simmer Ginger (1 1/2 teaspoon per cup) in water for around 15 minutes. This is called a decoction. Strain out the Ginger. Add Lemon and Honey. Drink up! Not only will this tea help with a fever when a warming herb is needed, it will also help with aches and it moves mucous as well.
NOTE: I like to make a lot of tea at once---like a quart or so. It will keep in the fridge for a couple days, and it is ready when you need it, if a fever happens. Just increase the amount of herb in relation to the container size.
Here is a recipe for Elder Flower Tea:
**This is also from Rosemary Gladstar's book, Medicinal Herbs, pg. 137
For amounts, 1/2 teaspoon each herb per cup. Increase per the size of the container you use. Boil your water and pour over the herbs. Allow to steep for 45 minutes or longer for a very strong tea. Drink this throughout the day.
A note about Elder Flower: If you take a lot of elder flower, it can have a laxative effect (ask me how I know). You do need to take quite a bit of it, though, and drinking this tea shouldn't cause problems unless you're drinking copious amounts of it.
To Use Either Ginger or Elder Flower Tincture:
Take 1/2 teaspoon 4 to 6 times a day (adults). For children 5-12, cut the adult amount in half. For children 2-5, give 1/4 the amount. Many herbalists give dosages for infants and toddlers, but I don't feel comfortable doing that. You can do more research in that area if you like. Rosemary Gladstar, in her book Medicinal Herbs, has a great chart for children's dosages on page 48.
If Your Child Has a Mild Fever:
Here is a great tea for helping reduce mild fevers in children (from Rosemary Gladstar, Medicinal Herbs, pg. 206:
Use Spearmint, Catnip, Elder Flower:
To make the Cooling Tea:
Use 1 part Catnip, 1 part Elder Flower, and 1 part Spearmint. You can sweeten with maple syrup if the child is very young, or with honey for an older child. Children 3 to 6 years old can have 1/4 cup every couple hours; while children younger than 3 (and I would say older than 1) can have a teaspoon "per year of age."
These are all cooling herbs with diaphoretic actions that are very helpful.
NOTE: If a child (or an adult, for that matter) has a very high temperature, please seek medical treatment, especially if it will not go away.
What to Do if You Have Congestion:
I've written quite a lot about congestion, probably because it's one of my biggest issues due to allergies. Besides, it's one of the first effects I feel when I'm getting a cold. Congestion is horrible.
I'm just going to direct you over to my articles for remedies that deal with congestion. Please see these---they REALLY work!
What to Do if You Have a Cough:
Use Mullein, Honey, Marshmallow, Valerian & Onion
There all different kinds of coughs. There are consistent, dry coughs, wet coughs that expel mucous, and horrible hacking coughs that cause pain. Here are my favorite remedies for cough:
Onion & Honey Syrup:
I have an entire article on this syrup, and that's because it works really well. It is soothing and calming, and really helps with dry cough and a mild, persistent cough.
The way I make mine goes like this: Cut up an onion and place the pieces in a jar. Cover them just barely with honey. Leave the jar overnight or for several hours. The juices will release from the onion, combine with the honey, and rise to the top, creating a lovely cough syrup. You can see the article on this syrup for more information.
1 part Mullein
1 Part Marshmallow leaf
Mullein is wonderful for the bronchial tubes, and marshmallow is very mucilaginous and strongly demulcent (soothing). This is a very calming combination for a cough. Just combine the dried herbs and make your tea! Here's more on making an herbal infusion, if you'd like to know more about it.
This is a great tea for the general crummy cough that is not painful, but it's what some folks love to use, even with a painful cough because it's so soothing.
I first learned about Mullein from my StepMom who swears by it. It was the only thing that cured a very painful hacking cough several years ago. She and my dad drove around in the middle of the night until they found a good patch so she could make her tea....And that's because it WORKS!
For a Painful Cough:
This tea contains Valerian, which is very strongly anti-spasmodic. This tea may help with those coughs that are deep, painful, and spastic (uncontrollable). This recipe is found on page 210 in Medicinal Herbs, by Rosemary Gladstar.
**A personal note about Valerian: It is a strong relaxant nervine with sedative effects. For some people (me) it is so strong, it can cause extreme sleepiness. For others, it is just relaxing. And for some, it can actually cause hyperactivity. Herbs act differently on every body, so test it out and make adjustments as necessary. If Valerian doesn't work for you, I suggest substituting with Skullcap.
1 part Licorice Root
1 part Valerian Root
1/4 part Cinnamon Chips
1/4 part Ginger
Place the herbs in a jar or container. Pour boiling water over the top. Cover and steep for 45 minutes or longer. Drink 2 - 3 cups per day.
**You can also tincture these herbs (my favorite plan). If you do, take 1/2 teaspoon (3 full droppers full) to 1 teaspoon three to four times a day.
Final Thoughts About Symptoms of Cold & Flu
Getting sick is no fun. At all. It's just miserable, and doesn't it seem the older you get the worse it is? As I said earlier, the best thing to do is prevent it from happening in the first place! But if one does happen to get hold of you or a family member, sometimes you do have to deal with symptoms.
I encourage you to try some natural remedies before running to the store for the OTC meds. Using herbs not only helps soothe symptoms, but they also help your body heal faster. When you take an over the counter medication, you might feel relief quickly, but you will not be giving your body the extra healing powers that could actually help you get better faster.
NOTE: There are times when seeking medical attention is the wise thing to do, and I would NEVER say not to go see a doctor if you feel it's warranted. Follow your gut, and as a grandma and previous parent to four young children (now grown up), I say to err on the side of safety.
And if you'd like to learn more about using herbs safely and with confidence for your own and your family's health, I hope you'll take a look at The Herbal Academy of New England. The Herbal Academy is where I've gotten a great deal of my herbal education.
Have you used herbs and natural remedies to get better quickly? Or to help with symptoms? Do you have any favorites you'd like to share? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter!
Hugs, Self-Reliance, and Health---
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P.P.S. Are you interested in learning about herbalism? I've taken (and am taking, still) several courses at the Herbal Academy of New England, and I highly recommend them! They have courses for all interest and ability levels, plus some on special topics, like fermentation and stress.