by Lisa Akers

During the colder months, you may start to hear more about natural treatments for boosting the immune system, which often include the more conventional Echinacea, elderberry, ginger, and rose hips. These are time-tested treatments for the average cold or flu.

However, sometimes, you need something a bit more nuanced, targeted to tackle a stubborn symptom, or a remedy that won’t exacerbate existing conditions. This article explores five uncommon herbs that may be the answer for these unique symptoms.

Elecampane (Inula Helenium)

Elecampane is a member of the Aster family. It grows between two and six feet tall and prefers wet, marshy conditions. The part of the plant most commonly used is the root. In the same way the roots of the plant grow deep in wet, mucky soil, Elecampane is best known for its ability to reach into wet, congested lungs and draw out the congestion. It has a side benefit of helping to reduce snoring, so your patient can get more rest. It is traditionally used as a respiratory tonic, as the herb is warming and clearing to the lower respiratory system. For a wet cough that  won’t go away, Elecampane is the herb to try. For a dry, painful cough, steer clear of Elecampane, and seek out a more moistening herb

Elecampane may be used as a tea or as a tincture. Dried root for tea can be purchased from herbal suppliers, like Mountain Rose Herbs. Tincture is commonly available in natural grocery stores, in the herbal supplements section. Follow the instructions on the bottle for tincture use. For tea, use a heaping teaspoon of the root per cup of water. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, strain, and sweeten with honey if desired.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous)

Astragalus is a member of the pea family. It’s native to Asia and is commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The root is dug in the third or fourth year for maximum potency. Astragalus is warming and moistening, which makes it very useful for people who feel cold and dry with their illness. Astragalus is an immunomodulator, and not an immune booster. This means that it will help to support an immune response to a virus, but not overstimulate the immune system causing autoimmune flares. Astragalus is used in TCM to boost vitality (qi) and strengthen resistance. It is great for giving a boost of energy when you’re feeling tired and drained.

Astragalus root may be taken as a tea or tincture, or as dried herbs in capsules. Pieces of the dried root can be simmered in broth and makes a delicious gentle meal when you’re feeling sick. The best source for dried root is an herbal supplier, like Starwest Herbs or Frontier Co-op. Just add a few pieces of the root to your broth for immune support.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow is another Aster family plant.  It is becoming a common landscape plant because it is easy to grow and requires less water than traditional landscaping. Yarrow is more commonly known for its wound-healing capabilities. It was carried by soldiers in World War I as a styptic and antiseptic for battlefield wounds. For cold and flu season, yarrow serves two important functions. First, it is diaphoretic, which opens the pores and stimulates circulation to help break fevers. Yarrow is also excellent for drying mucus and reducing swelling in congested sinuses. As an antiviral, it supports immune response for speedy healing. Try yarrow for the congested feeling that doesn’t go away or a fever that’s got you feeling miserable for days.

Yarrow is best used as a tea for best diaphoretic properties. Use a tincture form for clearing mucus. Tinctures should be readily available at your natural foods store. Buddha Teas makes an easy to use yarrow tea that’s available in natural grocery stores and online.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Thyme is a plant in the mint family and is commonly used in cooking. It is used in TCM for warming the lungs and drying mucus. Thyme is an antispasmodic with particular affinity for the lungs. By calming the cough reflex, it brings comfort to coughing fits. It acts as a bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory, easing difficult breathing. Thyme is a strong antiviral to support the immune response. It’s also known for calming, warming, and soothing digestion, which can be important for cases where mucus drains into the stomach. Thyme, like most mint family plants, is soothing to the nervous system, and supports restorative sleep and relaxation.

Thyme leaf can be used as a tea, tincture, or food seasoning. You can buy this at most grocery stores. Make a throat soothing tea with 1 tsp thyme, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tsp lemon peel. Steep in hot water for 10-15 minutes and sweeten with honey.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)

Cardamom is a plant in the ginger family and is used extensively in Ayurveda. It is warming and drying to collected dampness in the body – mucus in the sinuses and lungs, bloating in the digestive tract, and edema in the extremities. Cardamom  helps to stimulate digestion and ease symptoms of nausea. For colds and flu, cardamom is primarily used to clear congestion and runny noses by drying mucus and offering an expectorant action.

Cardamom is the signature spice in chai beverages. It is best used as a tea or powdered seasoning for food, and can be found in most grocery stores.

When you’re feeling down and out with your winter virus, try some of these herbs to lift your spirits, ease your symptoms, and encourage speedy healing. Sometimes taking a different approach can be exactly the healing you need to soothe uncomfortable symptoms and get back to living your life.