We have all had colds before. But often when we get sick, it is a bit hard to know what’s going on – at least at first – since the symptoms are similar. A strong immune system will destroy the cold virus within a few days. Cold symptoms such as runny nose, coughs, sneezes and aches are signs that the body is fighting hard.

There are wonderful herbs to prevent colds and support the immune system if we catch one. As a preventive, I love Astragalus root, a general immune system tonic, blood builder, liver protective and restorative. I take it when I am not sick, daily in tincture form—a dropper full 3 times a day—especially during the flu season. Astragalus smells and tastes wonderful, a bit rosy, woodsy, I also enjoy it as tea and always add a few slices of Astragalus root to bone broths along with other favorites to make it as nourishing and rich in vitamins and minerals as a possible. This is my way to ensure extra support to my body especially in the cold months.

If I get a cold, the way I see best to handle it is by paying special attention to the different stages of the sickness. The first thing I start with are the antivirals such as Echinacea, an immune system tonic and modulator. I take Echinacea in tincture form, a dropper full every hour or two on the first and second day. I also eat raw Garlic, which is said to have an affinity with the lungs, besides being a great antiviral, anti microbial and antifungal. I like it in the form of a vinegar infusion, mixed with honey. In addition, I drink Elder Flower infusion (a strong tea), elder is a valuable herb in the treatment of a simple cold; if my nose is stuffy, I will drink Peppermint infusion a great ally when there is sinus congestion. Both Elder and Peppermint are very gentle and very effective. It can be used with small children and even babies.

Rest and listen to your body. Avoid sugar, the great immune system depressor, and drink warm liquids and eat warm easily digestible foods.

The flu, even though it has similar symptoms, can be quite serious and should be monitored closely. The flu is usually accompanied by fevers, extreme fatigue, body pain and aches, headaches, sore throat, congestion and harsh cough. Again, a strong and well supported immune system will handle the flu virus by fighting hard. We can support it in similar ways, with Echinacea – a dropper full every hour, Elder flower infusion, Elder berry honey syrup, and Boneset tincture or hot/warm tea form, to help with the body pains and aches among other symptoms. It is important to understand fevers and what great healing mechanisms they are for the body.

Here are the 4 general stages of a fever and the herbs to support the body during it:

1) When the body first detects a viral infection, the hypothalamus will send signals for the body to warm up, so we start feeling cold, we want to pile up the sweaters and get under the covers in bed. The body wants to warm up a few degrees to attempt to kill the virus, because the virus is fragile and cannot tolerate high temperatures. Shivering is the body mechanism to produce even more heat, it is said that it raises the metabolism by 30%. At this point of the fever, I take warming/stimulating herbs like Yarrow. I put 3o-40 drops in 1/4 cup of warm water. Ginger too is appropriate in this stage. I like a nice hot/warm fresh ginger tea. These herbs must be taken warm, for if taken cold, they will act as diuretic instead.

2) In the second stage, the body reaches the set temperature for the the particular virus, and there may be rapid and strong pulse; perhaps some drowsiness too, but no more shivering. At this point, if there is body achiness, Boneset a immunostimulant and diaphoretic (aids the skin in the elimination of toxins and promote perspiration), will speedily relieve the aches and pains, as well as aid the body in dealing with the fever. Boneset is not safe during pregnancy. May also help clear the upper respiratory tract of mucous congestion.

Elder flowers work really well here too, for it is mild yet very effective. Pregnant women, small children and the elderly can use this herb as needed.

3) At the third stage, the hypothalamus lowers the set point and the body will sweat as a response to the cooling. That’s when people throw the covers and take off their sweaters. It is important to keep hydrated, and if lots of water was lost through sweating, an natural electrolyte should be taken. Two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar or lemon, one teaspoon of honey and a pinch of salt in a cup of warm water, not hot. It is very important to stay hydrated during this stage.

4) This stage is healing and repairing. Eat easy to digest foods, broths, still avoid sugar. Time to shower, change sheets, feel rested and comfortable. I know it’s hard to have those extra day to stay in bed, but if you can, that is way to really ensure total recovery.

It is important to stay away from mucous forming foods such as dairy, cold foods, raw foods, sweets and soy. If I was to have orange juice, I would have it room temperature or…even a little warm. Rosehips are loaded with Vitamin C and are also helpful as defense against infections, especially colds.

Usually during and after a cold and the flu, we experience cough. It’s important not to suppress coughs. Cough is another important mechanism of the body, it is trying to clear the excess mucous in the lungs. There are different types of coughs and we can support their function with very effective herbs.

For a cough that is productive, meaning lots of mucous is coming out, it may be helpful to use a stimulant expectorant, as in Horehound, Elecampane or Hyssop.

For coughs that are persistent and you feel that your lungs are thick and heavy with mucous, and yet not productive, a demulcent herb is appropriate here, as in Marshmallow and Slippery Elm.

For a cough that is that dry hacking that never ends, an antitussive herb can help Coltsfoot, Red Clover and Thyme. It is important to stay hydrated when treating a cough.

I hope this helps. I do value our right to take our health in our own hands, but I am not a doctor and I am not diagnosing, prescribing or treating in this article. Please consult with your doctor in the event of serious illness or if you have special considerations when ill or when taking herbs.