Henrietta Cummings / For the Times News
| Times News

Although there is no cure for the common cold or the flu, there are many herbs that have been used over millennia to relieve symptoms. I’ve selected herbs to share here that grow well in our region and are easy to start with.

You will get the most benefit from herbs when consumed as herbal tea, when making an infusion or brew. An infusion is made by bringing water to the boiling point, pouring it over the air parts of the herb and covering it for 30 minutes to overnight, depending on the herb. Peppermints are best if the hot infusion isn’t soaked for more than 30 minutes to avoid bitterness.

For decoction, roots, seeds, bark and / or berries are brought to a boil, then covered and cooked for an hour. To infuse herbal parts, put a handful of herbs in a glass, fill with water, cover, shake well and let steep for four hours or more, then strain and cool what you do not drink. One tablespoon of herbs per cup of water is a good ratio.

Lemon balm, ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, elderberry, spearmint, basil aka tulsi, honeysuckle flowers, and echinacea are some herbs that are helpful in warding off symptoms during colds and flu. Houttuyynia cordata, also known as the chameleon plant, is a perennial herb native to Southeast Asia and grown as a leaf vegetable. It has antiviral properties and has long been used to relieve viral infections and inflammation.

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The chameleon plant is easy to grow in our region and is best to plant in its own space to prevent its underground root system from entering the space of others. Another plant in the same category as Houttuyynia is Andrographis paniculata, which is traditionally used for flus, fever, and inflammation. Andrographis can be grown from seeds annually in our region. The parts of air planted in spring can be harvested in autumn before the first frost.

Garlic, horseradish roots, elecampane roots, horehound air parts, holy basil, mullein leaves of the first year or flowers of the second year. Thoroughly dried and purple leaves and flowers relieve congestion and coughing up. Hot holy basil tea with ginger and honey helps move stubborn mucus and soothe a sore throat.

Garlic Elixir or Oxymel combines the nutritious and healing properties of apple cider vinegar, honey and garlic. So that the garlic elixir stick the sharp point of a knife into each clove of garlic (the outer shell is removed, but the thin inner shell can be left) and let sit for a few minutes to activate the garlic’s allicin. Fill a jar with the cloves of garlic, leaving room on top for the liquid to cover all of the cloves.

Mix equal parts apple cider vinegar and raw honey, stir well, pour over garlic. Use a plastic lid as vinegar can cause metal lids to rust. Store in a dark place for six weeks and shake gently once a day to keep the garlic suspended.

Strain after 6 weeks, compost the garlic cloves and pour the liquid into jars, cap, label with ingredients and date. Keep in a cool place where the jar is in the dark. Consume 1 teaspoon as needed at the beginning of or during a virus. Thyme Elixir can be made by replacing garlic with thyme and filling the jar only halfway with thyme leaves and flowers.

Gargling with sage, thyme, and then chamomile infusions in any order at least three times a day can provide quicker relief and disinfect the mouth and throat. Sitting over a pot of steaming infusions of spearmint, peppermint, eucalyptus, or thyme with a towel over your head to trap the fumes and inhaling is a great way to relieve congestion.

Herbs that help relieve a sore throat and / or dry cough include marshmallow, licorice (not a common garden plant, however important it is) and honey, all good demulcents. English plantain leaves, which are common in our area, are helpful in relieving dry cough and other respiratory symptoms, as well as convulsive coughs. Plantain is a good herb to juice and consume fresh.

A good blend of tea for dry cough relief is a chilled plantain and lemon balm that’s chilled and paired with a cold infusion of marshmallow leaves, flowers, and / or roots. At the first sign of a cold, you can finely chop horehound leaves, mix with honey and eat to relieve a sore throat and cough.

Spasmodic coughs (coughing fits) can be relieved with hot thyme tea (Thymus vulgaris) from the air parts. Others that help relieve convulsive coughs include hot infusions of sage or rose as an astringent, California poppy seeds and / or wild cherry bark as an antispasmodic.

Elecampane root (harvested in the second or third year before it turns woody and loses its beneficial properties) is especially helpful in relieving upper respiratory problems. This herb has demulsifying, antitussive, and expectorant effects that help with irritated yet productive coughs.

If the fever gets too high or causes too much discomfort, elderflower, bone-in leaves and flowers, or yarrow leaves and flowers are good ways to bring relief.

Yarrow, bone set, and lemon balm relieve colds or flu.

Cleavers (Galium aparine), a prime herb for the lymphatic system, help relieve swollen lymph nodes. Cleavers works best as a cold infusion. Hot water destroys beneficial properties.

One of my personal favorites is marshmallow (Althaea officinalis). Marshmallow has a calming effect on the mucous membranes throughout the body, from the throat to the airways, the gastrointestinal tract and the urinary tract. Marshmallow leaves, roots, and early flowers contain polysaccharides with antitussive, slimy, and antibacterial properties. The antitussive properties help relieve and suppress a dry cough, and the mucus soothes and protects an inflamed throat.

It is best to make a cold infusion of fresh or dried marshmallow leaves and / or flowers, or a cold decoction of the dried roots to preserve the slimy properties.

Another personal favorite is Roselle sabdariffa’s dried goblets, also known as red hibiscus, which are high in vitamin C. I find the cold tea to be the most refreshing and rehydrating and often make a cold infusion of the dried goblets overnight in combination with lemon verbena and smaller amounts of peppermint and even less cardamom for a delicious punch. Lemon balm or lemongrass are also good combinations. The cold infusion preserves the high vitamin C content.

Reishi mushrooms, elderberry, astragalus root, zinc, vitamins D3 and C are good for boosting our immune systems, warding off colds and flus when we are exposed, and gaining strength when we recover if a virus sets in . Astragalus is best avoided during a viral episode.

These are some of the more effective herbal remedies that have been used over time to address the perennial health problems that winter brings with it. But whichever way you go about this cold and flu season, stay healthy and positive while you and your family enjoy what the season brings.

Henrietta Cummings is a herbalist and teacher in east Randolph County, where she grows many of the herbs that go into her tinctures, elixirs, ointments, and creams. She grows these herbs for her Edge of the World Farm business near Siler City. She has been studying herbs for more than 30 years.

Help recipes

Pine needle ointment – breast massage (see two methods of infusing oil)

Have clean jars or jars and lids ready to hold the ointment in

For each cup of pine needle infused oil, add ¼ cup of grated beeswax

Heat at low temperature until wax is completely melted (watch carefully and stir with a non-metallic utensil).

Once melted, place something on a metal spoon and place in the freezer for a minute or two. If it’s too soft, add more beeswax and melt it. If it’s too hard, add more infused oil and mix well

Remove from heat and add one or more of the following essential oils: eucalyptus, rosemary, peppermint

Pour into glasses or cans and let cool

Put the lids on tightly, label them, and store in a cool, dark place.

Method 1 – solar oil:

Fill the jar with chopped dried herb, cover with organic olive oil and a tight-fitting lid

Put the jar in a warm, sunny place and let it macerate for two to three weeks. Stir it with non-metallic bamboo sticks once a day

Strain oil through layers of cheesecloth after two to three weeks

Pour into a clean glass, label and cover with a tightly fitting lid

Method 2 – double boiler oil:

Put herbs and organic olive oil in a water bath and simmer if the properties are bad – if the oil gets too hot, they can be lost

Simmer for at least an hour, stirring, making sure the oil does not overheat

Strain through layers of cheesecloth and pour into a clean glass, label and cover

Horehound throat lozenges

4 ounces fresh horehound leaves (optionally add ½ teaspoon anise and / or ½ teaspoon cardamom)

Bring slowly to a boil and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes

Strain through a fine filter

Dissolve a cup of honey or two cups of cane sugar in the hot liquid

Bring back to low boiling point over medium heat and cook until syrup hardens, if you put drops in cold water and stir frequently

Pour into a lightly oiled tray or a tray lined with parchment paper and score when partially cooled

Let cool and harden completely, then store in waxed paper

Mushroom broth – antiviral and supports the immune system

Combine a handful of dried reishi, shiitake (stems and / or caps) and maiitake mushrooms in one liter of water.

Bring slowly to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 1 hour or more.

Strain and drink as a warm broth or cool and cool and use to finish sauces for frying, cooking rice, etc., or for warming and drinking.

Henrietta Cummings is a herbalist and teacher in east Randolph County, where she grows many of the herbs that go into her tinctures, elixirs, ointments, and creams. She grows these herbs for her Edge of the World Farm business near Siler City. She has been studying herbs for over 30 years.