No doubt about it, the flu is rough and can take you out for days, and make you feel miserable. Even if you've gotten the flu vaccine, some years it's less than 50% effective, so you can't always rely on it to protect you, either! And while there are medications you can use, like Tamiflu, to stop the flu in its tracks if you do get exposed, or to reduce the severity of infection if you get sick, this and similar medications can have some serious side effects that not everyone wants to take the risk with.
Interested in knowing what 7 leading herbalists and docs do to personally prevent and treat the flu? I was, too! And since they’re my pals and colleagues, I asked. Here’s what they told me:
Tieraona Low Dog, MD, Herbalist
After having H1N1 in August of 2009, I have an appreciation for just how sick influenza makes you. The fever and chills were so intense.
To prepare a Fever Tea, mix equal parts of dried yarrow, elder flowers, and peppermint. Pour 2 cups of near boiling water over 2 Tbsp herbs. Steep 10 minutes. Strain. Add some honey or maple syrup – this stuff doesn't taste good but it lowers the fever, makes you sweat, eases headache and joint pain and I truly believe helps you fight off infection faster. Drink 1/4 cup every hour, while awake.
Tinctures (assuming these are all 1:5 strengths) for 3-5 days:
- Pleurisy root – 10 drops every 2 hours while awake (up to 8 doses)
- Licorice root – 20 drops every 2 hours while awake (up to 8 doses)
- Boneset leaf/flowering tops – 10 drops every 2 hours while awake (up to 8 doses)Use these in combination for 3-5 days
- Elderberry (Gaia or Nature's Way) – take the maximum recommended dose
- Loviral (Herbs, Etc) – take as directed
- Gypsy Cold Care – make strong and drink 1/4 cup every hour
- Zinc lozenges (Zand Elderberry with Zinc) – one every 2 hours
- Vitamin C
Larry Rosen, MD, Co-author, Treatment Alternatives for Children, Director of The Whole Child Center
- Vitamin D3 to keep blood test levels above 40ng/dl.
- Probiotics by Klaire Labs Therbiotic Complete, 25B CFU per day mixed strains.
- Hand washing with soap and water and a natural, essential oil based hand sanitizer (the recipe from my book, based on Thieves' Blend contains cinnamon, clove, rosemary, eucalyptus, lemon oils with pure aloe vera gel and water). Nourish, exercise, breathe and rest.
Kerry Bone, Herbalist, Co-author of Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine
- Plenty of Echinacea root. The dose is crucial. I use my product Echinacea Supreme. My baseline dose is 2.5 g/day in tablet form, or 5 mL of liquid. But in a situation where there is a highly virulent strain around, I double that baseline dose throughout the duration of threat for prevention. Then the trick is to temporarily double or triple this if you feel an infection coming on to ward it off. This works for me the majority of times.
- Probiotics help improve immunity and prevent infection.
- Wash your hands before anything goes into your mouth.
David Winston, Herbalist, President of Herbalist & Alchemist, Inc., founder/director of David Winston's Center for Herbal Studies
- The Traditional Chinese Medicine formula Jade Wind Screen
- Andrographis (3-4 ml 4-6 x per day) as both a preventative and treatment
- N-Acetycysteine – 600 mg twice daily for influenza prevention
- The Chinese patent medicine Gan Mao Ling is useful for early stage influenza, I think it works better than Yin Qiao San which is often used.
- Hot Boneset/Yarrow/Ginger/Elder Flower/Chrysanthemum flower tea also is effective for early stage flu. For kids I use Peppermint, Ginger, Elder and Chrysanthemum flowers tea with Elderberry syrup.
- Finally when someone comes down with the first flu symptoms – headache, scratchy throat, malaise, have them put on flannel PJ's, drink the hot tea mentioned earlier (8-12 oz), get under the covers and sweat your brains out. In most cases the next morning you feel like a wrong out dishrag, your bed clothes, sheets, and blankets are soaked, but you do not have the flu and by the afternoon, you are back on your feet.
Roy Upton, Herbalist, Director of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia
As soon as you feels symptoms coming on:
- Take hot ginger baths daily – The water needs to be hotter than a regular hot bath to kick sweating in, but not burning. While in the bath, drink a hot cup of ginger tea, then go to bed. To prepare the bath, use a handful of grated fresh ginger steeped in 1 gallon of water for 15 minutes. Keep the pot or jar covered while steeping.
- Take Yin qiao, a Chinese herbal cold remedy, with Andrographis – equivalent of about 3 g Yin Qiao per dose 4 times daily; andrographis approximately 1 g equivalent daily.
- Elderberry Syrup – 1 Tbs every waking hour for first 2 days of symptoms
- Eat a diet of hot broths (miso and seaweed); no dairy; nothing cold or raw; light fare; plenty of hot
- Ginger or peppermint tea. If you have a fever; peppermint, elder flower, and yarrow tea is a favorite standby. If aching bone symptoms with fever are predominant, add boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) and take 1 cup every few hours. It’s very bitter but effective.
Donnie Yance, Founder of the Mederi Foundation and Natura Health Products
- Adaptogens are essential for prevention and for recovery and should be taken daily, except during the acute phase of an illness (indicated by fever). When traveling, during times of increased stress, or when you have been exposed to a virus, I recommend doubling the dosage of Vital Adapt or Power Adapt and taking ImmuCare I or II. I also recommend a double dose of adaptogens during the recovery phase, which is usually 3-4 days after exposure, for up to 2 weeks. Adaptogens improve ability of the immune system to 1) Recognize, 2) Respond, and 3) Recover.
- Take Flew Away at the first sign of symptoms and continue until symptoms have abated. The herbs in Flew Away combat the virus, ease symptoms such as fever and muscle pain, and help to hasten recovery. The formula includes elderberry, which inhibits viral replication; propolis, a powerful antiviral; and boneset, forsythia, and yarrow, which are traditionally used to stimulate diaphoresis and expel toxins.
- Additional nutrients and botanicals for prevention and recovery include Botanabol, Night Gain, Innate Response zinc, N-acetyl-Cysteine and a good probiotic (Jarro-dophilus or BioImmersion).
- I recommend a diaphoretic tea of the following herbs: peppermint, elder flowers, yarrow, honeysuckle, boneset, linden, and ginger. Drink several cups a day; in the evening soak in a hot Epsom salt bath, go to bed, get under the covers and sweat. This old-fashioned remedy helps to stimulate immune function and alleviates flu-related aches and pains.
- Eat light and nourishing foods such as this delicious Hot and Sour Soup.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 2-3 green onions, chopped
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 6 ounces frozen snow peas
- 1 (8 ounce) package firm tofu, cubed
- 1 (8 ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained
- Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add red bell pepper and green onions and sauté for 5 minutes.
- Add 2 cups water, broth and soy sauce, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 5 minutes.
- In a separate medium bowl, combine vinegar, red pepper flakes, ground black pepper, cornstarch, 3 tablespoons water and sesame oil. Add to soup and simmer for 5 additional minutes, or until soup becomes thick and bubbly.
- Add tofu, snow peas and water chestnuts and continue cooking 10 minutes, or until heated through.
Aviva Romm, MD, Herbalist (yours truly)
Of course, I have a few of my own favorite recipe to share, in addition to concurring with those above. I've had the flu before and know – it's awful. Here's my favorite remedy for the horrible aches and pains with the flu. It's my personal (and much safer!) alternative to ibuprofen and tylenol.
Equal parts black cohosh and Jamaican dogwood tinctures:
Combine the tinctures and take 3 mL (about 60 drops). Repeat in 15 minutes, then again in 15 minutes the first time you take it. Thereafter take about 60 drops every 2 hours. This can be given to kids 7 and over, only. Divide your child's weight over 150, ie for a 30 pound child: 30/150 = 1/5 and give that fraction of the above dose. So for a 30 pound child 1/5 of 60 drops. Make sense?
Do NOT exceed this dosing. If you experience headache or shortness of breath, discontinue, though these would be rare side effects. This remedy will help you to sleep (that is, don't drive while you're taking it!)
And for a quick cough remedy that's safe for kids and adults:
Combine equal parts of echinacea glycerite, elderberry syrup, anise seed tincture, and catnip tincture. Mix and give 1 dropper 4-6 times/day. Continue for up to a week and if there's a tendency for recurrent coughs stay on it for several weeks. The echinacea prevents recurrence, the elder is a respiratory immune tonic, the catnip relaxing and the anise mucolytic and a respiratory antispasmodic.
I personally use HerbPharm, Gaia Herbs, Natura Health Products, MediHerb, and Herbalist and Alchemist — all excellent companies with high quality products (I have no financial stake in any herb companies). Mountain Rose is a fantastic on-line source for ordering your herbs, especially ones you can't find locally, or in small amounts.
For additional blogs on the flu by Aviva Romm see: