Cold and Flu

Cold and Flu photo

Millions of people suffer from cold and flu every year. But what are the symptoms behind these viral infections and how can herbal treatment strategies help you to overcome them?


Cold and flu are viral infections that attack the respiratory system, most commonly resulting in a congested nose and chest, sore throat and headaches. Flu is caused by strains of the influenza virus and is characterised by more severe and enduring symptoms. Between three and five million people every year are affected by cold and flu.

The 20th century saw three flu pandemics around the world which killed tens of millions of people. Severe symptoms are uncommon and occur at a rate of less than 0.1%, but everyone will experience the symptoms of the common cold or flu at some point in their life. Cold and flu can strike out of nowhere but, in Europe, they are most common at the change of the seasons and temperature from Autumn through to Spring.

Causative factors

The primary way in which cold or flu is contracted is passing from person to person or traveling through the air after sneezing. Prevention should begin before the start of the typical cold and flu season, through building up the strength of the immune system but also cleansing the digestive tract. An inefficient digestion can lead to ‘undigested toxins’ accumulating in the stomach which overflow from the stomach into the circulatory system, weakening our innate immunity. Typical dietary culprits are sweet, sticky and oily foods and not allowing enough time between meals for efficient digestion. 


Colds and flu, however mild, can make you feel weak, tired and low and symptoms will vary depending upon the severity of the infection. They influence an increase in body temperature, you can feel chilly, have a sore throat, body stiffness, muscle aches and pains, headaches, disturbed digestion, unusual bowel habits, lack of appetite, fatigue, blocked nose, sneezing, nausea, watery eyes and mental restlessness to name but a few. 

These symptoms are a sign that the immune system is fighting off the virus. During an infection, the immune system produces cells known as cytokines that directly target the infection, but can also induce the onset of inflammation, headaches and muscular pain.

Treatment Strategies 

  1. Fasting: When afflicted by cold and flu, the majority of people feel too ill to eat anyway, but fasting can help to clear the digestive tract and any accumulated toxicity. Taking a liquid diet of vegetable broths or just hot ginger water can stimulate the digestive metabolism.  
  2. Sweating: Encouraging a sweat using a simple spicy herbal tea and traditional diaphoretic herbs such as fresh ginger, peppermint, yarrow and elderflowers will increase body temperature and dilate the blood vessels. The sweating process clears toxins and raises the body temperature to a point that kills the virus and then helps to normalise the body temperature. It also cleans the digestive tract.
  3. Bitter herbs: Andrographis is a strong and bitter herb that stimulates the digestion and also the immune system. Andrographis has been shown to increase the white blood cell count and help the body fight infections.
  4. Detoxification: By mildly stimulating the bowel and encouraging a digestive cleanse, any built up congestion or toxicity within the digestive tract will clear, helping to re-balance the digestive metabolism.
  5. Rebuild digestion: Follow with a preventative regime that will reduce the chances of a reoccurrence. Use strong digestive herbs to promote digestion and burn out toxins such as fennel or triphala.
  6. Nourishing & rejuvenating diet: Return to a nourishing and wholesome diet to keep the digestive tract healthy

Herbal Treatment Strategies

  • Andrographis is an immunostimulant and an immunomodulator. It stimulates the immune system through increasing the production of anti-bodies in addition to enhancing the specific and non-specific immune response. Andrographis, therefore has the ability to reduce the severity and duration of an infection. Its strong anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic activities have given this herb a proven track record in treating influenza, upper respiratory tract infections, sore throats and parasitic infections of the gastro-intestinal tract.
  • Trikatu is a rejuvenative to the lungs, it is used whenever there is coughing, wheezing and breathing difficulties with clear, sticky and white phlegm. It is used in asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, cough and colds. It is effective for sinus congestion and chronic nasal blockage. Trikatu has an affinity for all the orifices of the head, clearing that muzzy headed feeling and can help clear blocked ears and treat sore throats.
  • Elderberries have a strong affinity for the respiratory system and encourage the process of expectoration reducing acute and chronic mucous congestion. Elderberries are incredibly soothing and will coat the mucous membranes, alleviating sore throats and irritating coughs. Elderberries have also been shown to neutralise the neuraminidase enzyme and prevent viral proliferation in the respiratory mucous membranes, neutralising 10 strains of flu virus.
  • Echinacea is considered as one of the primary remedies for assisting the body in clearing infection and strengthening the overall efficiency of the immune system. Echinacea reduces the severity and duration of symptoms, whilst also helping the body to deal with infection and stimulate the immune response. It will effectively target microbial, bacterial and viral infections throughout the body, but has a specific focus within the upper respiratory system and in conditions such as cold and flu, tonsillitis and laryngitis.


  • Caceres J, et al. Prevention of common colds with Andrographis paniculata dried extract: A pilot double-blind trial. Phytomedicine 1997;4(2):101-104
  • Cannell, J; Vieth R, Umhau J, Holick M, Grant W, Madronich S, Garland C, Giovannucci E (2006). "Epidemic influenza and vitamin D". Epidemiol Infect 134 (6): 1129–40.
  • Eccles, R (2005). "Understanding the symptoms of the common cold and influenza". Lancet Infect Dis 5 (11): 718–25.
  • Kligler B, Ulbricht C, Basch E, Kirkwood CD, Abrams TR, Miranda M, Singh Khalsa KP, Giles M, Boon H, Woods J. Andrographis paniculata for the treatment of upper respiratory infection: a systematic review by the natural standard research collaboration. Explore (NY). 2006 Jan;2(1):25-9. Review.
  • Potter, CW (Oct 2006). "A History of Influenza". J Appl Microbiol. 91 (4): 572–579.
  • WHO, Influenza , Fact sheet N°211 revised March 2003.
Back to the top of the page