Many of us already revere vitamins C and D as wintertime infection fighters. But with the constant threat of airborne and surface-area germs promising to hammer your best defenses, it’s wise to add an herbal or homeopathic product to help you avoid—or minimize symptoms of—the common cold and influenza. “People who think there’s no cure for the cold or flu haven’t discovered the powers of herbal medicine or homeopathics,” says Andy Swanson, ND, of Portland, Oregon. “These natural remedies may completely resolve symptoms in the early stages of an infection and, later, speed recovery.”
Allium cepa. Homeopathic remedies use trace, barely detectable amounts of a therapeutic substance to ease illness symptoms under the theory that “like cures like.” Allium cepa contains a minute amount of red onion and is used to relieve stuffy nasal congestion and teary eyes.
Dose: Three to five pellets dissolved under the tongue three times daily until symptoms subside.
Gelsemium. Swanson advocates this remedy, derived from the vine Gelsemium sempervirens, for cold and flu symptoms that include fever, body aches, and exhaustion.
Dose: Five pellets dissolved under the tongue three times daily until symptoms subside.
Oscillococcinum. Often called Oscillo, this proprietary remedy from France contains extremely tiny amounts of duck liver and heart. Although somewhat conflicting, evidence justifies trying it on the first or second day flu-like symptoms, such as body aches and fatigue, appear. In a review of medical studies, researchers concluded that Oscillo was both safe and effective.
Dose: One tube of Oscillo dissolved in the mouth every six hours, up to three times daily.
Astragalus. Traditional Chinese Medicine recommends this herb to strengthen the body’s disease resistance; studies show that astragalus boosts the activity of various immune cells. Swanson recommends using it to overcome recurrent colds and lingering flus, not for the first cold of the season.
Dose: 1,000 mg every three to four hours for one or two months.
Echinacea. Few herbal remedies possess echinacea’s scientific résumé. In one of the latest studies, people taking the herb had 59 percent fewer recurrent colds and reduced their use of pain-relief drugs by half, a sign of significantly fewer symptoms.
Dose: Follow either label directions or your physician’s advice.
Elderberry. A traditional European folk remedy, elderberry gained scientific credibility almost 20 years ago through a classic study in which nearly all of the subjects taking the herbal extract had a “complete cure” of their flu symptoms within two to three days. In contrast, people taking placebos had symptoms linger for almost a week. A recent study confirmed the herb’s antiviral and broad-spectrum antibacterial effects. Most contain some type of sweetener, so opt for an extract sweetened with honey or sugar-free syrup.
Dose: 1 teaspoon extract or 2 teaspoons syrup four times a day until symptoms disappear.
Garlic. Records of garlic’s therapeutic use date back 3,500 years. Researchers have identified more than 200 compounds in garlic, including 70 that contain sulfur—a key building block of some of the body’s most potent infection fighters, including N-acetylcysteine and glutathione. Swanson suggests consuming one-half clove of diced fresh garlic in a teaspoon of honey every few hours when you feel the start of cold or flu symptoms; continue taking the garlic until symptoms resolve. If you don’t want raw garlic, try capsules.
Dose: Follow label directions.