How To Deal with the Common Cold and Flu, Herbally! Part I

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Sambucus nigra ssp. mexicana – Elderberry, Tápiro

The autumn season is upon us and cold & flu season is right around the corner.  Perhaps for some it has already arrived.  When cold fronts bring moisture in from the Northwest you are sure to see a rash of viral illnesses flash through the population here in Tucson and throughout Arizona.  Stress, lack of sleep, holiday parties are all aligning against us.  Our vitality may slowly wane over a period of time and just when the moment is right our defenses are breeched and we feel the onset of a sore throat, headache, nausea, fatigue whatever the case may be. So what can we do about it?

I always like to say, “host resistance is primary.”  No matter how virulent the organism, if our host resistance is strong we have the capacity to ward off the illness.

Our species has evolved over millennia by dealing with various pathogens on this planet.  When we have what we need to do the job (i.e. adequate nutrition) we do an excellent job warding off disease.  Your question may be: So if we are so well-fed as an overall population aren’t we well-nourished then?  Quite simply, no.  Keeping oneself well-nourished in today’s world is a truly active endeavor.  How do I get enough omega-3s?  Enough quality protein?  Not too many processed carbohydrates, or refined oils, or processed sugars?  How much nutrition is there in my organic produce?  How do I know?  These questions are often not easy to answer, yet how well our bodies are nourished has a lot to do with our vitality and host resistance.

I will offer some suggestions.

Buy local produce, local meats, eggs, and dairy.  Shop your farmer’s markets.  Support your local growers and ranchers who encourage appropriate stewardship practices and who are concerned with optimizing over maximizing their yields.  Follow your gut.  Eat according to what makes you feel good.  This can be tricky.  We need to cultivate a sensitivity to what enhances our well-being as opposed to what gives us a rush, or a high, e.g. processed sugar, food allergens, etc.

Getting adequate sleep, proper exercise, adequate nutrition, a fulfilling lifestyle, and healthy emotional expression are all aspects of keeping our vitality up and our resistance to disease intact.  When any of these falter we may be more susceptible to whatever pathogens or environmental irritants we come into contact with.

So what do we do when we’ve already gone over the edge and we’re dealing with a full-blown infection?  There are herbs which can assist the body beautifully when we are warding off illness or recovering from an infection.  Not only are there a variety of helpful herbs, but the herbs can do different things for us.  Quite simply, they are multi-dimensional.  Many herbs exert multiple actions on the body.  This accounts for their balanced actions, and allows us to use them for multiple issues at once.  Through the art of formulation, or herbal pairing, we can arrive at very complex and very safe herbal formulas.  Herbs don’t just fight disease, they enhance our response to disease.  That is the beauty of herbs and natural healing in general.  For all their power and effectiveness in action, pharmaceuticals often do as much harm as good (all too often even more) in simple self-limiting illnesses.  You may say, “Is influenza really a simple self-limiting disease?”  Well, that depends.  But in the vast majority of cases it should be.  Case studies of the 1918 Influenza epidemic reveal iatrogenic deaths based upon treatment protocols which would be considered illegal by today’s standards.  When host resistance is failing for any number of reasons (Vitamin D deficiency, micronutrient deficiencies, chronic inflammation, sleep deprivation, etc.) and suppressive therapy is administered, the virulence of the organism can be blown out of proportion relative to the health of the infected.

How do we know what is right for us?  I believe that our bodies can give us the most accurate and most honest answers to these questions.  Developing proper relationship with our own bodies can be one of the first steps to enhancing our host resistance!  No matter what the information from the outside is saying to us, we can’t refute the answers we are receiving from within.  The ability to listen to our own needs can lead us to making excellent choices which causes an improvement in vitality and overall enhancement of health.  There is no one answer, and that is the beauty of it.  We become our own leaders unto health and healing by following our inner guidance.  When we stray from our center, we can simply move back in that direction.

So what can we do once the defenses have been breeched and we’re in need of some aid in fighting infection?  Let’s discuss some herbal categories which will be most important when fighting acute viral infections likecolds and flu.  I will look to our regional herbs first so those who know them and have relationship with them can utilize them when the situation arises.


Ligusticum porteri – Chuchupate, Oshá


Elder Flower


Wild Oregano


Eriodictyon crassiflora – Yerba Santa

Yerba Santa






Prickly Pear flowers


Althea rosea – Hollyhock

Elm Bark


Desert Lavender

Cherry Bark

California Poppy


Eschscholtzia californica – California Poppy



Elephant Tree/Torote


Prickly Pear fruit

Opuntia engelmannii – Prickly Pear


Click here for Part II to discover the detailed uses of these wonderful herbs in treating our common infections such as cold and flu!!!





4 thoughts on “How To Deal with the Common Cold and Flu, Herbally! Part I

  1. Great post! I love hearing the emphasis on well-nourished vs well-fed. One question…I would love to read more about the iatrogenic attributed deaths from the 1918 flu pandemic – have you written about this specifically in another post or do you have a source? I really am so interested in the more in-depth stories:) Thanks for your great info!

      • How funny!! Paul Bergner was my teacher, and he was the one who initially got me interested in the 1918 flu pandemic, and also the bubonic plague and the Black Death. But since this paper was published well after I was out of herb school, I am so happy to read this additional information. Thanks so much John!

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