Cold & Flu Season is Here Again!

Herbs by MHollander

The downside of autumn thru Winter is  the cold & flu season. I write about this every year to remind you that there are natural ways to cope with the symptoms. Once again I am going to share 2 of my posts from September, 2015. I have updated them & added additional information, including some new websites & soup recipes.

I recommend these remedies & teas for everyone, not just cancer patients in or out of treatment, but for family, caregivers & friends as well. Oncologists differ in what they ask you to NOT take during your treatment. Please check with them before you start using any of these products. 

What can you safely use for cold & flu symptoms before, during & after chemotherapy, radiation or surgery? There are literally thousands of over the counter remedies to choose from. Most of these have ingredients that will interact with medications & may have side effects. I will talk about remedies that are natural & easy to find. I will also note if there are any drug interactions that you should be aware of. 


Lets begin with ways to help stimulate the immune system to fight off colds & flu. Here are the obvious ones.

  • Eat a balanced, plant based, healthy diet. Think Mediterranean 🙂
  • Eliminate added sugar & processed foods.
  • Alleviate stress with mindfulness programs, meditation, art, massage & other non-drug, complementary therapies.
  • Exercise: Walks, Yoga, Zumba etc.

These are the remedies we use to ward off those colds & flu starting in November.

  • Vitamin C:  1000 mgm each morning. This is an anti-oxidant & you should check with your health care team if you are taking chemotherapy or in radiation.
  • Elderberry Syrup: 1 Tablespoon each morning during flu season. Black elderberries are anti-viral & will relieve flu symptoms. They are also protective if taken every morning during the flu seasonSambucus Syrup by Nature’s Way is a good, safe brand to use. Gaia Black Elderberry Syrup is another good, safe brand.  This is also an anti-oxidant & you should check with your health care team if you are taking chemotherapy or in radiation. ***If you are interested in making your own Elderberry Syrup, as I do, email me & I will share the recipe I use.

MHollander

Herbal Teas are wonderful to help with cold & flu symptoms. Taken in tea form, two or three times a day, they will not interact with medications. Here are 2 safe brands of herbal medicinal teas I use & recommend. I have also included a few that you should know about for other problems 🙂 Explore the tea aisle of your store or go to the links I have provided to see what other seasonal, medicinal, teas there are.

Traditional Medicinals Seasonal Teas: These are the teas that I have personal experience with. Traditional Medicinals are organic, herbal teas. Herbal teas should be steeped for  7-10 minutes. Follow the directions on the package.

  • Gypsy Cold Care: I use this tea when exposed to a cold or when I start with the runny nose & itchy eyes. I drink an 8 ounce cup three times a day for 2 to 3 days. “Elder, yarrow and peppermint—the foundation of this tea—are a classic European blend of herbs used for centuries. We love the aroma of the pungent, minty steam that rises off this tea. Sip slowly and let your weary body be comforted by its warming properties. Fragrant and soothing, it’s one of those teas that just seems to say, “don’t worry, everything’s going to be all right.”
  • Throat Coat: The herbal ingredients in this tea soothe a raw throat. I have also used it for GERD or acid reflux. Works well for both. “Slippery elm or Ulmus rubra (Latin for “red elm,” so called for its lovely reddish bark) is a beautiful, native North American elm tree. It’s the inner bark of this tree that is actually called “slippery elm” due to its, yes, slippery, smooth, and slimy-in-a-good-way properties. Combined with licorice and marshmallow root, we think this tea blend is like taking your voice to the spa—because we all need a little comfort sometimes so we can get back to being our best.”
  • Breathe Easy: Love this tea! It opens up those bronchial. When my grandsons were babies & had a bad cold where they weren’t able to lie down because of respiratory congestion, I gave them a tablespoon or two of prepared tea. Within a few minutes they were asleep. I also use it for other types of respiratory congestion such as asthma. “One of our original formulas, Breathe Easy tea has been supporting people for nearly four decades. This enduring classic combines the best of Western herbalism with ancient Traditional Chinese wisdom resulting in a unique blend that warms and engages the senses. Eucalyptus, fennel and licorice are combined with Bi Yan Pian extract, a traditional Chinese formula of 12 different herbs. We love this aromatic and fragrant blend that soothes with its warm and spicy taste.”
  • Echinacea Plus: Echinacea is a good immune stimulant. This tea or Echinacea Plus Elderberry is very good.  “Echinacea—or purple coneflower—was used by a number of Native American tribes for hundreds of years before it was introduced into Western herbal traditions in the late 1800s. Today, it is one of the most studied herbs. We love how this pleasant-tasting herbal blend supports a healthy immune system response.”

You should also know about other teas that I recommend from this company: 

Yogi Cold Weather Season Teas: This brand is as good as Traditional Medicinals. It is a fantastic company & uses Organic herbs. Herbal teas should be steeped for 7-10 minutes. Follow the directions on the package.

  • Breathe Deep: Similar to Breathe Easy. I prefer the herbs used in Breathe Easy, but both work the same. See which one works best for you. “Relax and breathe in the enchanting aroma of a steaming cup of Yogi Breathe Deep tea. This all organic blend of herbs is purposefully formulated to support respiratory health. Traditionally used to support free breathing, we include Thyme and soothing, aromatic Eucalyptus. Warming spices Cinnamon, Cardamom and Ginger, combine with Licorice for a naturally spicy-sweet blend. Enjoy this tea plain or with a little honey, and experience delight with every steaming cup of Breathe Deep tea.”
  • Honey Lemon Throat Comfort Throat Comfort: “The perfect way to help soothe your throat is with a cup of our certified organic Honey Lemon Throat Comfort® tea. This traditional herbal formula, flavored with Honey and Lemon, includes Slippery Elm Bark, prized by Western herbalists for its usefulness in relieving minor throat irritation. Wild Cherry Bark, traditionally used by native North Americans for its soothing effects, lends a naturally sweet cherry flavor. We augment this recipe with Echinacea Root and a burst of Peppermint for cooling refreshment. Enjoy our Honey Lemon Throat Comfort tea as a naturally tasty treat or when you need a gentle and comforting blend to soothe your throat.” Both teas are excellent to soothe the throat. Throat Comfort would be the one to use for GERD or gastric reflux. The lemon in the other one may irritate the gastric lining in this case.
  • Cold Season Tea: A good “protective” tea for the cold season. Like Gypsy Cold Care, I use it when I know I have been exposed to a cold or I begin to have the runny nose & itchy eyes. “Cold Season is a soothing all organic herbal tea specifically formulated for use during the cold weather season. We start with the warming herbs traditionally used in Ayurveda–Ginger, Cardamom, Cinnamon and Clove–known as heating herbs that can help to support respiratory and bronchial function. The blend is complemented with Peppermint, Eucalyptus and Basil, herbs traditionally used for their warming and invigorating properties. So when the cold weather season arrives, relax and sip a steaming cup of Cold Season tea to help keep your internal fire blazing.”
  • Echinacea Immune Support: Good tea to support immune function. Health practitioners for centuries have respected the powers of Echinacea. Traditionally used for centuries, our exclusive combination combines three varieties of Echinacea root, an herb that is believed by herbalists to support the immune system. We complement this blend with Elder Berry Extract and soothing Organic Mullein Leaf, herbs traditionally used to help support respiratory function. Hints of spice combine with lively Peppermint, Lemongrass, Rose Hip and sweet Licorice for an intriguingly delicious blend. This blend is sure to become an all-season favorite as well as when your immune system needs support.”

Other Yogi teas that I recommend: 

  • Soothing Mint Get Regular  for constipation, even when chemotherapy induced. This is a new combination. Mint was added. Plain old Get Regular was discontinued. I like this better.
  • Ginger for all nausea
  • Bedtime for those sleepless nights!

I have shared this website with you before: Mountain Rose Herbs This link goes to their bulk tea blends. For their Organic Herbal Teas  I prefer bulk teas to tea bags. I also like to blend my own teas. 


MHollander

Lozenges for colds, coughs & sore throats: Cough suppressants prevent or stop a cough. An expectorant is a medication that helps bring up the mucus in the lungs.

I saw 2 interesting questions on line about cough drops; How many calories are there in one cough drop? & How many cough drops would be an overdose? I don’t think calories should be a concern when you are coughing your lungs up 🙂 & you should not be eating these like candy. Most packages say the “serving size” is one lozenge & should be taken as needed up to 5 lozenges PER DAY. 

  • Organic Sambucus Lozenges by Nature’s Way: These lozenges shorten my cold symptoms & reduce the severity. They contain Elderberry, Vitamin C & Zinc. I also use them as a cough suppressant. “Made with unique, full-spectrum black elderberry extract. Each lozenge provides 12.5 mg of Black Elderberry Extract, plus 5 mg of Zinc~should never exceed 10mg~ and 60 mg Vitamin C.”
  • Ricola Original Natural Herb Cough Drop: My husband prefers these. They are cough suppressants & work every time he uses them. Ricola original herb cough drops contain the goodness of mountain herbs. This classic Ricola product has a distinctive cube shape and fine herb flavor. Original Ricola natural herb cough drops are made today just as they were in the 1940’s using the highest quality natural herbs cultivated in Swiss alpine areas using natural farming methods without chemical pesticides to ensure optimum taste and effectiveness.”  ***Their sugar-free cough drops with green tea & echinacea contain Aspartame. Unless you have a medical reason to use a sugar-free cough drop, I would not use them.
  • Smith Brothers & Halls: Both have ingredients & dyes that I would not recommend. Check out their websites & see what you think.

Aromatherapy essential Oils for congestion & cough: Use these in a diffuser or humidifier~ using the manufacturers instructions~ in the “sick” room. Do not use directly on the skin or internally. You can also put a few drops of the essential oil onto a cotton ball & place it on your bedside table or even in your pillow case.

  • Eucalyptus essential oil: Congestion & cough. Anti-microbial.
  • Camphor essential oilCongestion. Can be combined with eucalyptus for use in diffuser/humidifier. Add equal drops.
  • Peppermint essential oil: Congestion & headache. Anti-bacterial.
  • Thyme essential oil: Congestion & cough.
  • Tea Tree essential oilClears sick room; anti-viral. Congestion & cough.
  • Oregano essential oil: Proven antibacterial. Fights sinus infections.
  • Orange essential oil: Stimulates appetite. Add a drop to your place-mat or napkin 🙂

Umcka Cold Care : Umcka Original Drops are made by Nature’s Way. One of my daughter’s favorite cold care remedies for my grandsons. They are 16 & 20 now, but still use it 🙂 This product is Homeopathic which means it will not interact with any medications. “Umcka goes beyond symptom relief and actually helps you recover faster – which means you can get back to life faster, too. In fact, studies show that adults with acute bronchial irritations were able to return to work nearly two days earlier with EPs 7630. You can feel confident knowing that the EPs 7630 found within Umcka has been widely studied by various clinical organizations in the treatment of the common cold, bronchial irritations and other upper respiratory concerns.” 

Olbas Oil:  Place a drop or two on a cotton ball or a handkerchief. Place it on or under your pillow when napping or before bed time. It will act as a decongestantOlbas Oil originated in Basel, Switzerland over 100 years ago, and continues to be a European and worldwide favorite. The natural essential oils in Olbas are extracted from six medicinal herbs, which have been the basis of healing in cultures around the world for centuries. These oils are carefully blended by Swiss herbalists, making the Olbas formula truly unique. The synergistic combination of these six essential oils provides amazing sensations to your body at multiple levels.”

*** If your sore throat or cough is severe, persists for more than 2 days, is accompanied or followed by fever, headache, rash, swelling, nausea, or vomiting, call your health care team. This may be more than a cold or a mild case of the flu.


There are many homemade remedies to treat the symptoms from a cold or flu. I will share the ones that I use & that I know work. Each year more over the counter cold & flu remedies are pulled off the shelf by the FDA due to ingredients that are harmful to both adults & children. Sometimes over the counter cold & flu remedies make you feel worse because of the side-effects & the cost 🙂

If you don’t grow your own herbs then you can purchase fresh herbs like sage, thyme & rosemary in the produce section of the market. You can also use dried. Simply buy them in the spice aisle. There are many sage’s. The one to use medicinally is the culinary sage. At the end of this post is a list of resources. They are my well used & loved herbal reference books & websites.


Sore throats can be bacterial or viral infections. The majority of them are due to viral infections heralding the start of a common cold. Throat inflammation is an immune response to the virus & usually accompanies a runny nose & cough. The following simple remedies will relieve the soreness & calm the inflammation in the throat.

  • Gargle with warm salt waterWater should be warm to the touch but not hot.  1 cup of water & 1/4 tsp salt. Swish & spit.
  • Sore Throat Gargle by the herbalist Rosemary Gladstar. This one has a bit of Zip to it. Rosemary says that she is the first to admit that it isn’t her tastiest recipe but it works for both sore throats & laryngitis.
    • 1 cup of apple cider vinegar ~I use Bragg’s~
    • 1 cup of strong (triple strength) sage tea ~I use 3 tablespoons of fresh sage or you can use 3 teaspoons dried sage, bring 1 cup of water to boil, add sage & steep for 15 minutes~
    • 2-3 teaspoons of salt
    • Pinch of Cayenne

Combine all of the ingredients. Gargle frequently as needed throughout the day. Don’t swallow, swish & spit.

  • Sage Gargle. This is an old family recipe that Dr. Low Dog recommends for a sore throat. It works quickly.
    • 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves or 2 teaspoons of dried sage 
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt  
    • 1 cup of water

Bring the water to a boil, add sage, cover & let steep for 10 minutes. Strain, pour into a tea mug, add the salt & stir.

Gargle every 1-2 hours, or as needed. Don’t swallow, swish & spit.

***Dr. Low Dog notes that this gargle can be used along with antibiotics for strep throat.

Strep throat symptoms By Mayo Clinic Staff  In general, signs and symptoms of strep throat include: ***Click on the link & read the entire article for when to see the doctor etc.

  • Throat pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Red and swollen tonsils, sometimes with white patches or streaks of pus
  • Tiny red spots on the soft or hard palate — the area at the back of the roof of the mouth
  • Swollen, tender lymph glands (nodes) in your neck
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Stomachache and sometimes vomiting, especially in younger children
  • Fatigue

***Strep throat is bacterial & different than a cold because it never has the stuffy nose & cough. Strep throat is highly contagious so it is important to be treated immediately with a course of antibiotics. 


Cough. This is your bodies way of telling you that you have too much mucous, gastric acid, or you have been breathing in smoke. It varies from a small irritating tickle in the back of your throat to a full blown wet cough. Coughs that accompany colds last about 3 weeks. If they last longer than that or continue to get worse you should consult your health care team.

  • Honey has been used for coughs forever! Researchers have studied different types of honey & found that all of them work as well as any over the counter cough syrup. It is especially effective for children over the age of 12 months to relieve a nighttime cough. Dosage is 1-2 teaspoons before bed. Works for adults too 🙂 It is a great soother for throat cancer patients with sores or thrush in the mouth & throat. 

***Honey should never be given, even a tiny taste, to children under the age of 12 months. Wild honey can be contaminated with bacteria, Clostridium Botulinum, & may cause poisoning in infants and young children. However, this is not a danger for older children and adults.

  • Thyme Cough Syrup by Dr. Low DogThis is her go-to cough syrup because it works quickly, is safe, tastes great & costs very little to make. Thyme relieves coughs & congestion.
    • 4 tablespoons fresh Thyme or 4 teaspoons dried Thyme ~culinary, common garden thyme~
    • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
    • 1 cup of water
    • 1/4 cup honey, preferably raw & local or 1/4 cup maple syrup if using it for a child under 12 months of age.

Pour near-boiling water over thyme & steep, covered, for 15 minutes. strain. Add honey & lemon juice. Refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Children 12 months or older: 1-2 teaspoons every 2-3 hours as needed.

Teens & Adults: 1-2 tablespoons every 2-3 hours as needed.


Congestion. This is usually an excessive amount of mucus or secretions in your respiratory track. It causes difficulty breathing thru the nose or sometimes even the mouth. If the congestion becomes worse & you have difficulty breathing then it indicates that it has moved lower into the lungs. You should seek medical advice.

  • Warm water with lemon & honey helps loosen congestion, and prevents dehydration. 
  • My recipe; for colds & upper respiratory congestion. I don’t know where the original recipe came from, but I have tweaked it enough over the years to call it mine 🙂 It works well. It is too spicy for children under 10. I used to say over the age of 4 but I have reconsidered that advice based on experience.
    • 1 cup of water  
    • 1/4 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar~I use Bragg’s~
    • Juice of 1 fresh lime
    • Honey to taste
    • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root 
    • 1/4 teaspoon Cayenne powder ~ don’t use less, even if you don’t like cayenne~

Bring the water to a boil & then add the rest of the ingredients. Let sit overnight before using. Can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. I prefer to use it warm. Take 1-2 tablespoons as needed. For children over the age of 10, 1 teaspoon as needed. It is quite spicy! 

  • Fire CiderThere are many versions of fire cider. I use Rosemary Gladstar’s. This is an immune enhancer, can be used for digestive problems, sinus infection & congestion!
    • 3-4 Tablespoons fresh horseradish root grated I tried using horseradish powder when I couldn’t find the root; did not work!
    • 1 medium onion chopped
    • 4-5 cloves of garlic coursley chopped
    • 3-4 tablespoons freshly grated gingerroot
    • Honey to taste 
    • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
    • unfiltered apple cider vinegar~I use Bragg’s~

Combine the onion, garlic, ginger & horseradish in a wide mouthed glass quart jar. Add enough warmed vinegar to cover them. Place it in a warm spot & let it sit for 3-4 weeks. Strain, & add the honey & cayenne. It should taste lively, hot, pungent & sweet.

Take 1-2 teaspoons at the first sign of a cold & repeat every 3-4 hours until symptoms subside. 


Cold Remedies. Fire Cider ~above~ & Honey-Onion Syrup are to fight off a cold. You can use either of them at the first sign of a cold or if you are already suffering from one.

  • Honey-Onion Syrup for Colds. Rosemary Gladstar shared this old fashioned recipe for sore throats & colds. 
    • 2-4 large onions sliced into thin half-moons & place in a deep pan. Just barely cover the onion slices with honey.
    • Warm on the stove over a very low heat until the onions are soft & somewhat mushy & the honey tastes strongly of onion.
    • You can add chopped garlic if you want for an even stronger syrup: stronger medicinally & tasting!
    • At the first sign of a cold take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon every hour or two until you feel better. If you already have a cold then take 1 teaspoon 3-4 times a day to speed your recovery.
  • Chicken Soup: Studies of homemade chicken soup to cure or limit a cold have shown that it acts as an anti-inflammatory. It also speeds up the movement of mucus through the nose. This can relieve congestion & prevent dehydration. Homemade is the best, but if you buy an organic canned soup then check the list of ingredients. 
    • Super Soups: Vegetarian Times “Nearly every culture turns to soup to heal, nourish, and soothe. Whether you’re battling a bad cold or the stomach flu, the food that can always comfort and nourish is soup. “Soups are warm and easy to take,” says Andrew Weil, MD, director of the University of Arizona’s Integrative Medicine Program. “They’re an excellent way to get nutrients, and they provide good associations for people.” Research confirms the health-giving properties of these home remedies and their active ingredients. Try these healing soup recipes from all over the world to ward off illness or just warm up a chilly weeknight supper.”
    • Allrecipes: 14 Soothing Soups For Cold And Flu Season  By Vanessa Greaves
    • Everyday Good Thinking: 5 Soothing, Staple Soups for Cold & Flu Season  

Fever. If you have a fever of 103 or higher & it lasts more than 3 days you should consult your health team. A fever means a healthy immune system. It is telling your body to raise the heat to defend itself. You don’t need to treat the fever. You need to treat whatever is causing the fever. Support the body during the time you have the fever by doing the following.

  • Hydrate. It is easy to become dehydrated when you have a fever. Drink water, juice, & healthy broths. Avoid alcohol, coffee and caffeinated drinks. Chamomile & or Lemon Balm tea are calming & hydrating.
  • Rest. Sleep does wonders when you are ill.
  • Nourishment. Healthy broths & soups ~see chicken soup above~
  • Cool down. Wear light clothes. Taking a tepid, not cold, bath can help as long as you wrap up in a towel after the bath to avoid being too chilled.

If you have any questions or you have a family remedy you would like to share, email me! I would love to collect some old family herbal remedies…..Until next week…Mary 🙂


Resources:  Take time to look at the Plants Archives by Traditional Medicinals & the Yogi Tea: Well Being links below.

*** If your sore throat or cough is severe, persists for more than 2 days, is accompanied or followed by fever (103 or higher & lasts more than 3 days), headache, rash, swelling, nausea, or vomiting, call your health care team. This may be more than a cold or a mild case of the flu.