8 Essential Flu Fighters

Keep these remedies on hand to ward off winter bugs.
By Gina Roberts-Grey

If instead of ringing in the New Year you’re sneezing, wheezing, and coughing it in, ’tis the season to fortify your immune system. Along with getting sufficient sleep, washing your hands, and stocking up on fruits and vegetables, our experts recommend keeping the following herbs and oils on hand to prevent and treat colds this winter.

Essential oils
“Breathing in or rubbing on immune-boosting oils, either individually or as blends, strengthens your resistance to infective organisms and helps fight illness,” says certified aromatherapy practitioner Rhonda Bridges King of Venice, Florida. Blends incorporating jojoba, lemon, tea tree, ravensara, or juniper oils can give you the boost you need (for blend recipes, go to Web Exclusives at www.alternativemedicine.com).

Once a bug has bitten, the best oils to speed away the ensuing cold are peppermint, rosemary, tea tree, and thyme. To ease congestion, try ginger, myrrh, sandalwood, or frankincense, which stimulate the mucus membranes.
Make sure to buy therapeutic-grade oils, King says. You can inhale the oils directly, use a cold air diffuser to atomize five to 10 drops of essential oils in the air, or add up to 10 drops to your bath. “Essential oils can also be used on a hot or cold compress topically,” King says.

Yin Chiao
This Chinese medicinal herb, also known as Yin Chiao Chieh Du Wan, is highly regarded for its ability to strengthen the body at the onset of a cold or the flu. Take three to five tablets with lukewarm water two to three times daily to nip the illness in the bud. You have to take yin chiao immediately at the first sign of a cold, however, for it to work.

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
This popular herb can cut your chances of catching a cold by up to 60 percent. That’s the verdict from a 2007 study analyzing 14 previous echinacea studies. When taken with vitamin C, it can reduce the number of colds even further—by 85 percent. Not only that, but for those already sick, echinacea shortens the duration of the cold by 1 1/2 days on average, according to a report in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

“Echinacea is credited with stimulating the production of white blood cells and improving the lymph glands to boost your resistance to colds, flu, and infection,” says Brad Jacobs, MD, MPH, a Washington, DC, internist and integrative medicine expert. He recommends 250 to 500 mg of echinacea three times a day at the first signs of a cold, during a cold, or when you think you’ve been exposed to a bug.

Vitamin C
If you’re worn down or are exercising strenuously (think marathon runners), taking vitamin C as a preventive can cut your risk of getting a cold up to 50 percent, according to a recent study conducted at the Australian National University that examined 60 years’ worth of research on the vitamin. Shoot for 500 to 1,000 mg a day. “If your stomach is sensitive to acid, then ester-C works better than regular vitamin C,” says Mark Moyad, MD, MPH, director of the Phil F. Jenkins Center for Preventive and Alternative Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Native to China and a popular Eastern remedy, astragalus helps fight colds, particularly respiratory infections, and strengthens the immune system for defense. It’s often taken as a liquid extract and added to soups or teas. Fifteen to 30 drops up to three times daily during cold season (use the upper range if you already have a cold) should do the trick.

Garlic
This antibacterial herb works as a preventative and a treatment by killing many of the pathogens responsible for illness, says Jacobs. “Eating one clove of raw garlic or taking garlic supplements daily at the first signs of a cold or the flu can also shorten the time you’re sick,” he says. And if you do catch a cold, brew a bedtime elixir of four smashed garlic cloves steeped in 8 ounces of hot water and flavored with the juice of half a lemon to help your immune system recharge overnight.

White Tea
According to studies conducted at Pace University, white tea destroys pathogenic bacteria in your body more effectively than green tea. Drinking one cup in the morning and one before bed helps ward away sore throats and sniffles. When you’re already ill, teas made with lemongrass, ginger, lemon balm, sage, or lemon verbena serve as antiviral sore-throat soothers.

Aconite
Elizabeth Yarnell, a certified nutritional consultant in Denver, says this homeopathic herb halts colds that develop without warning. “Take four pellets under your tongue at least 10 minutes before and after meals, up to three times a day,” she says.