Everybody at some time or another succumbs to the common cold. If we are generally healthy we can resume our lives after a week of feeling low without too much upheaval but for some, it can be a miserable and frustratingly long recovery.
Fortunately, there are medicinal herbs which have been used successfully for centuries to help us deal with the uncomfortable symptoms of the common cold.
What Causes A Cold?
Over 200 different viruses cause colds, the most common being the rhinoviruses. The virus spreads through coughing, sneezing and touching things that have been handled by a cold sufferer.
A cold mainly affects the lining of the nose and throat, sometimes spreading to the chest with sore throat, congestion, cough, headache, sneezing and tiredness the predominant symptoms.
One of the defining symptoms of a cold is congestion which is defined by Mosby’s Medical Dictionary as the accumulation of fluid, usually mucus, in an organ or body area.
It’s the congestion when we have a cold that makes us feel ‘blocked up’ and restricts our breathing.
Mucus has a protective function in the respiratory system, acting as a barrier to foreign particles and bacteria and carrying them out of the body when we sneeze, cough or blow our nose.
In a cold though, the build up of mucus may become a breeding ground for bacteria with its moist, nutrient rich environment which is why it’s helpful to assist the body to clear this excess congestion during a cold.
Herbs For Congestion Relief
Sometimes mucus becomes very thick and difficult to remove from the airways so expectorants such as Elecampane (Inula helenium), Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Pelargonium (Pelargonium sidoides) or Sundew (Drosera longifolia) help to loosen phlegm and assist the body to expel excess mucus through coughing or clearing the throat.
Nicholas Culpeper, the English herbalist, wrote about using Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) for whooping cough and ‘shortness of breath’ in his 17th century herbal text.
In fact, Thyme contains a class of compounds called saponins which have been shown to induce a reflex expectorant effect through irritation of the upper gastrointestinal tract.
Glycyrrhiza glabra or Licorice has a long tradition of use in Chinese, Ayurvedic and Western herbal medicine. As a saponin-containing herb like Thyme, Licorice exerts its effect through stimulating tracheal mucous secretion and facilitating its removal.
Licorice also has antitussive properties (can relieve or suppress coughing) which make it suitable for the irritative dry cough often associated with the late stage of colds.
Note that Licorice may exacerbate symptoms of fluid retention or high blood pressure in some people so seek professional advice if these symptoms are present.
Herbs For Cold Prevention
Some herbs are particularly useful to take for the purpose of supporting our immune system and preventing colds.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), Echinacea root (Echinacea angustifolia/purpurea) and Withania (Withania somnifera) are three herbs that I use frequently and successfully for immune support.
Other Tips For Good Immune Health
Of course, our lifestyle plays a role in whether or not we enjoy robust immune health. Eating a healthy diet with lots of fresh, unprocessed food lays the foundation for good health.
•Get 6-8 hours sleep every night
•Eat a balanced diet consisting largely of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, nuts and seeds
•Drink at least two litres of water a day
•Manage your stress. Regular massages, long walks and taking time out to relax and do things you enjoy can all help reduce stress and its impact on the immune system
•Exercise – we all know it’s important but how much do we make it a part of our lives?
•Zinc and vitamin C are helpful nutrients to support the immune system. Zinc is found in shellfish and red meat with pumpkin seeds being a high vegetarian source