Health Column: Building an Herbal Army to Help Fight the Flu and Colds

By Julia Chiappetta

just returned from a trip south and was surrounded by sick people in airports, on planes and in hotels. Fortunately, I had started to take my army of herbs beforehand and had my trusted personal air ionizer and surgical mask to ward off as much as possible. As we know, nothing is foolproof, but why not be proactive and help our immune systems fight off the many strains of flu and colds that have stuck around far too long this season. This is the time of year when we are often stuck indoors at home, school or work, with windows and doors closed and next to other people who may be sick. These enclosed areas make it easy for viruses to thrive and cause infections. These mutating viruses and constantly changing germs can live on surfaces for hours. Door handles and TV remotes are some of the worst culprits. Touching a door handle, that was recently used by someone coughing or sneezing and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes creates a pathway for that virus to infect you. And, influenza is airborne, so when someone coughs in your proximity, you only need to inhale a tiny bit to become ill. I was on a plane and actually felt my hair blown forward by the sneezing and coughing of the passenger behind me. Crazy, right? Obviously, he had not covered his mouth or nose.

So, this week, I thought I would share some of my go-to favorite illness preventions, a variety of natural herbs that I hope you will consider stocking up on.

Echinacea – this is probably the best-researched herb for enhancing immune defenses to help prevent respiratory tract infections. Several well-designed studies support the use of this herb for the treatment of acute viral upper respiratory infections. Dosages are important as noted in studies by The World Health Organization and Canadian Natural Health Products Directorate. Echinacea can shorten the duration and severity of a cold.  Renowned herbalist Steven Foster, author of numerous books on medicinal plants, including Echinacea, acknowledges that perfect compliance is tough. His method when he feels a cold coming on? “I slug down 1 teaspoon of tincture at least three times a day.”

Elderberry – this European cold and flu remedy is a tea of elder flowers and peppermint leaves. An extract of the black elderberries produces beneficial immune actions and helps fight influenza and other respiratory viruses. Two small studies have demonstrated rapid recovery from influenza with a proprietary elderberry extract called Sambucol, which is available in many natural food stores or online.

Slippery Elm Bark – this herb with the funny name is also a favorite of mine. You will find lozenges or teas that also contain licorice, marshmallow root, wild cherry bark, bitter fennel fruit, cinnamon bark and sweet orange peel.

Oregano Oil – this is a power house herb with properties that act as antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-parasitic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.  Oregano essential oil packs a punch that helps your immune system defend itself again viral infections and even autoimmune disorders. Oregano essential oil also stimulates the production and function of white blood cells, which are the body’s main line of defense.

And I cannot forget these favorites: 

• A hot tea made with: lemon juice, ginger, cayenne paper, apple cider vinegar, mint and honey.

• Wheat grass – a one ounce shot equals the nutrients, superfoods, antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins and minerals you would get if you ate 2.5 lbs. of green leafy vegetables.

Steam inhalation can reduce nasal stuffiness and chest congestion. Enhance it by adding herbs to your boiling pot of water and inhale for optimum healing effects.

Disclaimer-dosages vary by person and age, therefore it is important to consult with an expert to find what is best for you.

As always, and now more than ever, please try to add a yummy, organic, green juice each morning. Join me as we try to make it through these final weeks of cold and snow by bringing warmth to the weary, finding gumption for giving and energy for encouragement.

Julia Chiappetta is the author of “Breast Cancer: The Notebook” (Gemini Media, 2006) and is also the owner of Julia Chiappetta Consulting. She lives in Cos Cob. More information and past columns can be found at

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