My last post talked about the best nutrients to help prevent sickness during cold and flu season. This article takes it one step further by adding in herbals as well. It outlines some of the most effective herbs to use to not only prevent a cold, but to also decrease symptoms and duration of a cold or any viral infection. What’s a viral infection? Among the most common viral infections are the common cold and sinus infections.
All the herbs listed below are considered anti-viral herbs, although some do have great anti-bacterial properties, too. Just as in the nutrients discussed previously, these herbs are part of my personal supplements that I rely on to stay healthy through the fall and winter months.
- Echinacea: Echinacea is an excellent anti-viral and anti-bacterial herb and can not only help prevent you from getting the common cold, but can also help shorten the duration of it, too. Echinacea has been shown to increase white blood cell count (WBC). WBC’s are immune cells that help fight infection.
Do you take Echinacea regularly? Echinacea is not the most effective when taken daily for months at a time. Echinacea is most effective to treat ACTIVE infections, at the FIRST SIGN of an infection or when you know you have been EXPOSED to someone who is sick.
Active part of the herb that fights viruses: Aerial parts (flowerheads and buds) and Fresh or Dried Root
Tips: The species (spp.) of Echinacea that you are taking is important! Although almost all the Echinacea spp. are effective in supporting immune function, the species purpurea is best for immune system stimulation and angustifolia is best for immune system regulation.
What does this mean? If you are looking for a supplement to stimulate your immune system to help fight a cold or as a preventive after being exposed you want to take a supplement that contains the spp. purpurea. The spp. angustifolia will certainly help, but won’t be quite as effective when you already have a cold.
More Tips: As with most supplements, especially Echinacea, the quality of the supplement you are purchasing is very important. Echinacea won’t be effective if it’s not from the right part of the plant!
Although the parts of the herb used are usually listed on the supplement bottle it is still important to verify that the active part of the herb is the one present in the supplement and that most of the supplement is made of that active part. There are MANY supplements that have a small amount of the correct part of the herb in them and the rest of the supplement is made from fillers. There are also many supplements that aren’t made from the active part of the herb at all but since it’s made from other parts of the Echinacea plant it can still be advertised as Echinacea.
To determine whether the Echinacea you have is active and the most potent, place the supplement on your tongue (break open the capsule if using a capsule). The liquid or powder should make your tongue ‘tingle’, almost as if it is asleep. If you don’t get those effects, there isn’t enough active ingredient in the supplement to increase immune function.
- Black Elderberry: Not only does this herb taste delicious, but it is also one of the most powerful anti-viral herbs. It helps treat respiratory illnesses such as cold, bronchitis, and general cough. In addition to being an anti-viral, it also has anti-inflammatory and anti-influenza (flu) properties. A fun fact to know is that recent research has shown that the combination of Echinacea and Elderberry rivals Tamiflu in fighting the flu.
Active part of the herb that fights viruses: Flower/Fruit
Tips: The syrup is the easiest to take and is the most beneficial to consume compared to a capsule or tablet.
When acutely ill, it is ok to take this several times a day to shorten the duration of a cold or sinus infection.
- Astragalus: This herb modulates the immune system and can be taken daily to not only support immune function but help support your adrenals. Your adrenals manage stressful situations and cortisol levels in your body. Therefore, this herb strengthens the entire immune system, assisting you in prevention and treatment of viruses.
Active part of the herb that fights viruses: Root
Tips: Taking an herb to manage cortisol levels will always help to increase immune system function.
- Reishi Mushroom: Anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties are among the 16 researched and documented medicinal properties of Reishi. Unlike Echinacea, Reishi is most effective when taken daily, even when not in cold and flu season. Dosage can be increased while you are sick if needed.
Although all mushrooms including Reishi have a long-standing history of medicinal properties, Red Reishi has the longest history and has been shown to be effective in the treatment of the widest range of health conditions.
Tips: Reishi is best taken in the morning on an empty stomach.
Take Reishi with Vitamin C as this will assist the body in absorbing the active ingredients in Reishi. Research has shown that Vitamin C helps break down the complex polysaccharides (the active ingredients) into smaller pieces that the body can use more easily.
- Licorice: No, not the candy! Licorice is a powerful anti-viral and can be used to treat sore throats, cough, and upper respiratory infections. It also supports the adrenals and therefore helps to lower cortisol levels.
Active part of the herb that fights viruses: Dried Root
Tips: The extract or liquid is the most effective to take internally. The powder can be made into a tea or used to gargle with to treat a sore throat.
This herb, although incredible for fighting colds, SHOULD NOT be taken by anyone suffering from high blood pressure. There is a form of licorice that is safe for those with high blood pressure to consume called deglycyrrhizinated licorice. However, this form of licorice is not effective against viruses. If you have high blood pressure it is still safe for you to gargle with licorice to treat and soothe a sore throat.
Remember, the quality of the supplement and dosage matters! Most dosages of the herbs discussed need to be increased for a short period of time while acutely ill and then can be decreased or stopped after your symptoms have subsided.
Why is the effective anti-viral part of almost all the herbs listed? The part of each herb used in a supplement should be listed on the bottle. Often, when reading the label of an over the counter supplement, the active part of the herb hasn’t been used or not enough of the active part has been used in creating the supplement, making it less effective. It’s very important to pay attention to this!
Your Naturopathic doctor has access to the most effective and highest quality supplements available. If you are not seeing a Naturopathic doctor there are still some acceptable supplements available to you. One acceptable brand is Gaia Herbs. Gaia supplements can be obtained over the counter and contain safe therapeutic dosages of some of the herbs listed above.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me. Be Well.