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FightingColds the Herbal Way

by Kathrine Chisholm, BSN

This article originally ran in the November 2003 Reader

As the crisp, cool mornings of fall turn into the long dark days of winter we often encounter an unexpected and not exactly welcome house guest—the winter cold, or even more demanding and obnoxious, the flu. How can we keep these unwelcome guests from crossing our threshold? Are we powerless to their impervious devices? They hitch a ride home with our children from school, they come home from the office, or even join us when we get together with friends or family. We are only going about our daily lives and “ka-choo,” the invasion begins. Well here are a few useful herbal, nutritional, and homeopathic armaments with which to evade the war.

Prevention is Key

Prevention is the key and there is a lot to be said about our daily nutrition which can keep us healthy and our immune systems strong. Darkly-colored vegetables—beautiful oranges, golds and greens—contain vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants our bodies crave. Fresh juicing does so much to feed and cleanse the system. Whole grains in warm breads and stews give us B vitamins. Meat satisfies the higher need for protein in the winter and provides fat to burn as fuel to keep us warm. A good vegan chili stew can do the same.

But, assuming you are eating well, your first line of defense, there are also some other steps you can take to strengthen your resistance and keep the peace, the balance, even while others may fall around you.


Ginseng can moderate and decrease the harmful effects of stress on our bodies, whether the stress be physical, mental, emotional, or due to heat, cold or pollution. If you feel chronically tired or run down, or even just lack your usual physical or mental energy, ginseng can help. It improves physical and mental energy, stamina and endurance and also increases resistance to disease and speeds recuperation from illness. Ginseng is used as a daily tonic for better health.

There are three types, but don’t get confused, all three share the effects listed above although they may affect you slightly differently. Chinese or Korean ginseng are two names for the same species (Panax ginseng). Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is also called Eleuthero. Both Panax and Eleuthero are stimulating and may cause sleeplessness if taken in the evening so take them in the morning and afternoon. Panax ginseng has been shown to improve sexual function, potency and fertility. Both have been used to moderate ill effects of radiation and chemotherapy.

American ginseng (panax quinquefolium) may be the most balancing for our constitutional make-up. It calms nervousness and can provide an energy lift. There is a theory that plants which grow naturally in or closest to the region in which we live may be best suited to our bodies. Wisconsin is one of the natural habitats for American ginseng and we do have Wisconsin ginseng at the Co-op!

Ginseng is used as a tonic in recovery from illness or given to help the body with chronic ailments or to strengthen adrenal and immune function. It should not be used during acute infections and fevers.


Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis or Sambucus nigra) is anti-viral and can inhibit viruses from attaching to your cells and replicating. If those around you have the flu, or if you daily interact with large groups of people (i.e. you are a teacher or a student) elderberry may help keep you healthy.

Olive Leaf

Olive leaf (Olea europaea) is a broad spectrum anti-viral. If taken regularly during the cold and flu season, you may be able to avoid the bug. Other beneficial effects of olive leaf include its action in lowering high blood pressure and lowering high cholesterol. Olive leaf is well-known and used in the Mediterranean.


Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea or Echinacea angustifolia) is well known for its immune system stimulating effects. It assists the body in all conditions where the immune system is challenged or compromised: inflammations, infections, colds, flu, or allergies. It can help to prevent or shorten the duration of colds or flu. Echinacea is native to North America, including the state of Wisconsin. It was used extensively by Native Americans and enjoys continued use today.

The herbal actions mentioned above are detailed in the Therapeutic Herb Manual by Ed Smith and researched by Michael Murray, ND in the Healing Power of Herbs.


Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic remedy which has shown effectiveness in heading off the flu if you take it at the earliest symptoms, usually within 48 hours. Symptoms at this early stage may be vague and include feeling vulnerable, irritable, or just not quite right. Other homeopathic remedies such as Gelsemium, Bryonia, Rhus toxicodendron and Eupatorium perfoliatum may be helpful if you are unable to head it off with Oscillococcinum and develop flu symptoms. Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines by Stephen Cummings,MD and Dana Ullman,MPH is available in the Health and Wellness area for reference or purchase and can help you decide what may work for you.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C with bioflavonoids can be an effective preventative combination if taken regularly throughout the cold and flu season. 500mg of Vitamin C with 500mg of bioflavonoids taken twice daily is the recommendation from one of my favorite herbal and nutritional reference books, Smart Medicine for Healthier Living, by Zand, Spreen, and LaValle. It too, is available for reference or purchase. See pp.207-211 for specific information regarding prevention and treatment of colds and flu and dosages of the herbs, nutritional, and homeopathic remedies, some of which I have just discussed.


One more thing worthy of bold mention: sleep. Sleep is our body’s natural requirement for effective prevention and speedy recuperation. Regular, restful sleep should be a priority at this season and our bodies tell us so if we listen. Have you noticed that with the shorter days and earlier onset of nightfall that you feel tired earlier? Well...listen to your body and give in, make sleep a higher priority and you will be rewarded with a greater resistance to the enemy! Also, if you do get a cold or the flu, it is necessary for you to rest and sleep to recuperate. The flu usually gives us no choice, at least for the first day or two, but even with a cold the more time you can devote to increasing rest and sleep the faster you can recover. Going in to work, or keeping up your usual busy schedule, not only makes your recuperation longer, but it spreads the germ around so more of us can get it. So be kind to yourself and you will be kind to others as well.
You can find all of this ammunition for prevention at Willy Street Co-op. (Except for sleep of course!)

Health and Wellness Aisle Changes

Speaking of the Health and Wellness aisle, if you have been feeling turned around there lately it’s not you. The aisles have moved. The vitamins, herbs and supplements have traded aisles with the bodycare products. We did this switcheroo at the time of the floor project in order to get the bulk teas and medicinal herbs out of the sun, allow room for our new desk, and keep the sight line from the desk to the supplement aisle so we could more easily help customers.

Everything we carried before, we still have. And we have new signs over each rack to help you figure out where everything is. Please don’t hesitate to ask our staff if you need help finding anything.

New Products

Check out V’Tae, our new line of body care products with luscious foaming bath salts, beautiful body spritzers, and lotions with natural ingredients and essential oils to inspire, relax, and soothe. Nature’s Acres Four Elements make those beautiful massage oils you see and are local organic producers. Many of you have noticed their high quality dried herbs we have recently picked up for our bulk medicinal herb shelves. Check out the deep colors and fragrances of Four Elements bulk nettles, raspberry leaf, chamomile, scullcap and hops. We will also be carrying burdock root, echinacea root, and valerian root by the time you read this. Jane harvests for potency by the lunar cycles, at peak season for each herb and root. Everything is hand-picked, and hand-cut. They make the healthiest medicinal teas and infusions.

Simplers Tinctures

If you haven’t seen it yet, right past the bulk soaps and lotions, is Simplers bulk herbal tinctures. Simplers herbal tinctures are herbalist formulated, from an organic herb farm in California. Not only are their tinctures potent, and organic, but they are only $5.99 an ounce no matter what you choose and the tincture bottles that you fill are no additional charge. You save almost half the cost! We have Echinacea purpura in both the alcohol and non-alcohol tinctures. We have Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng), a Cold/Flu remedy of Echinacea and Goldenseal, and an Immune System Tonic of Astragalus as well. There are 12 different herbal singles and formulas including Valerian, St. John’s Wort, Kava kava, Saw palmetto compound, Milk thistle/Dandelion compound, Stress relief Compound, and a Female Tonic herbal compound helpful for menopause and PMS.

See You Soon

Come to the Health and Wellness aisle to stay healthy and while you are here pick out something for yourself or a friend to make you feel even better

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