At this time of year you’re lucky to avoid getting a cold or cough; they’re not serious unless they lead to more severe conditions which require further treatment but can nevertheless be quite debilitating. Below is an approach to preventing and treating coughs and colds and boosting the immune system using general principles and examples of common local herbs.


The best way to address these kind of conditions is to promote good health so as to make the body inhospitable to pathogenic bacterial and viral invaders.

Immune function: A strong immune system will deal with any pathogens as they arrive. Ways to promote good immune function include a healthy diet, low in sugar and processed food and reducing stress but additional support at these times is useful and Echinacea and marigold offer good immune support, as does antiviral elderberry, helping to strengthen the initial response of the immune system to a challenge. In addition, herbs called ‘adaptogens’ are used which support the body’s response to any kind of stress and reduce the harmful effects of stress on the immune system. An adaptogen that most people have heard of is ginseng  but fantastic adaptogens that grow locally are nettle seed and borage.

Healthy tissue: Good tissue health and strength is crucial for avoiding infection gaining access to the body via skin and mucous membranes that cover the entire surface of the body, including the tubes of the respiratory system. A diet high in berries and colourful flavonoids will support good tissue health, making a response to pathogens more effective. Local herbs that support good tissue health include bilberry, hawthorn, horsechestnut and yarrow.

Healthy eliminative functions: Elimination of waste and toxins occurs through the liver, gut, kidneys, lymphatic system, skin, mucous membranes and lungs. If the eliminative functions of the liver, gut, kidneys and lymph are not working well, more will have to occur through the tissue of the respiratory tract, leading to inflammation and increased likelihood of an infection setting in. Therefore in general, keep digestion healthy and have sufficient fluid; herbal teas can be useful here. Common herbs that promote good elimination include Echinacea, marigold, burdock, dandelion and nettle.

Reduce toxic load: Increased elimination of toxins and metabolic waste will occur through the lungs if toxic load is increased; this can happen due to chemicals from food and environment or illness.

Good blood microcirculation: A good blood supply via the capillaries is crucial to deliver nutrients and immune cells to the upper respiratory system to keep the tissue healthy and fight infection. Chilli and ginger (widely available though obviously not locally grown) are commonly used to promote good capillary circulation as are marigold and yarrow.


First signs of an infection

For general prevention and at first signs of an infection, use an antipathogenic approach which includes lots of onion, garlic, essential oil inhalation and immune support

Herbs that are useful are antiseptic thyme, immune supporting Echinacea, antiviral elderberry and hot teas made from herbs that promote elimination (diaphoretics) and aid the immune response such as yarrow, peppermint, elderflower.

To help a cough or cold once set in

When symptoms are set in, general principles are:

Use the above approaches: Immune support, antiviral and antibacterial herbs, hot teas and herbs for elimination.

Aid expulsion of mucous: Mucous is produced due to the infective inflammatory process a; expectorants help to loosen, thin and expel mucous; useful expectorants are liquorice, thyme and ginger, particularly good as a syrup.

Soothing soreness: Inflamed tissue due to an infection can be protected and healing aided with ‘demulcent’ herbs such as marshmallow and plantain is both healing and demulcent.

Sooth a dry tickly cough: Wild cherry bark and demulcent herbs will help to stop an irritating dry cough, although suppressing a productive cough is not advised.


Examples of remedies

Elderberry and Echinacea for the first signs of a cold

Elderberries are great antivirals and Echinacea a wonderful immune stimulant; together they are really helpful in preventing and stopping colds in their tracks. There have been lots of studies done recently on both herbs.

Marigold, echinacea and sage gargle for a sore throat

A gargle like this is great for a sore throat as the sage is antiseptic, the marigold is healing and the Echinacea helps numb the soreness. It can also be made up as a syrup with honey.

Onion and garlic honey

This is a great antiviral and antibacterial remedy, which has the benefit of being easy and quick to make and the ingredients are always in the fridge.

Inhalation of essential oils

Essential oils such as eucalyptus, thyme, tea tree, lavender and peppermint can be used for symptoms to help clear mucous and act against pathogens directly.