Herbal Remedies and the Common Cold

Ophelia Gherman, M.D.
September 21, 2017
Learn which herbal remedies are the most beneficial and effective in fighting the common cold.

The common cold is caused by one of many thousands of viral strains circulating each year. We introduce these viral particles to our bodies when we touch our mouth, nose, or eyes after touching contaminated surfaces. Common symptoms of a cold (or upper respiratory infection) are a runny nose, stuffy nose, sore throat, achy muscles, coughing, and mild fever. Symptoms appear from the interplay of viral replication and the body’s inflammatory response. Some symptoms may appear after 10-12 hours of inoculation and may persist for 7-10 days.


Mainstream treatments usually entail over the counter fever or pain reducers, cough suppressant, decongestants, and other mucus thinners. Some common home remedies include salt-water gargles, steam baths, and the use of herbal teas with honey to ameliorate coughing and sore throat.


Due to unpleasant side effects and lack of efficacy of over the counter medications, herbal remedies, also known as CAM (Complementary Alternative Medicine), have gained popularity. Herbs are often used to ameliorate common cold symptoms due to their high levels of flavonoids, polyphenols, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Although many herbs show positive effects against viruses in the laboratory, only a few herbs have been shown to improve symptoms in humans such as to statistically reduce virus activation, duration, and severity of acute upper respiratory tract infections when compared to placebo (sugar pills) treatment. Some of the herbs are the following:



Chamomile has been used since ancient times to cure inflammation, sinus issues, and sleep disorders. A compound chemical within it called heteroglycan polysaccharide was found to increase immune responsiveness. Additionally, chamomile has also been shown to inhibit the growth of some viruses such as herpesvirus. Chamomile can be used as a tea made from dried flowers or as an extract. Use according to the packaging instructions. (Those allergic to daisy flowers may develop an allergic response to chamomile and should avoid its use.)


Echinacea purpura 

Echinacea has been widely used for the treatment and prevention of the common cold. But did you know that, to date, it is not clear whether echinacea extracts can prevent acute upper respiratory tract infections? Also, no study has confidently shown that taking echinacea products at the onset of cold symptoms reduces the symptoms or the total time you are ill. Echinacea studies have, however, shown it to be a good source of anti-oxidants which prevents free radical-induced oxidative stress. In combination with other herbs, Echinacea provides synergistic effects against common cold symptoms such as coughing and the general feeling of sickness. For example, fixed ratios of Malabar nut, Echinacea, and Siberian Ginseng help decrease the number of days of sickness and reduce coughing.


Echinacea combined with sage reduces sore throat symptoms. Likewise, gargling 30 drops of echinacea tincture in 1 cup of water helps reduce viral load locally in the throat. If used in an acute setting and in combination with other herbs, the Herb Research Foundation in Colorado, recommends "900 mg (four to five droppersful of most extracts) per day for the highest efficacy (or 1- 1.5 droppersful every 1- 2 hours). As you begin to feel better you may lengthen the interval between doses."


Umckaloabo (Pelargonium sidoides) is a herbal extract derived from the root of the South African geranium. The active ingredients are available in both tablet and liquid forms, however, liquid drops have only resulted in statistically significant improvement in sickness after seven days. The extract loosens mucus and relieves cough symptoms. The main ingredient also weakens the ability of viruses and bacteria to bind to the respiratory mucous membrane.


Andrographis paniculata is an herbaceous plant known in northern India as "king of bitters." Trials have found that adults with colds treated with Andrographis experienced reduced symptoms such as nasal drainage, earache, and sore throat.


There are hundreds of commonly used herbal remedies for the common cold symptoms. However, there is a growing body of research that shows some herbs are superior in the fight against viral illnesses. These herbal remedies have been shown to boost immunity, to prevent illness, and shorten the time spent suffering. Choose from the above herbs to create your own blend that will enhance immunity, combat viruses, and or reduce symptoms.



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