National Institute of Medical Herbalists


The common cold is a viral

infection of the upper

respiratory tract and can

affect the nose, throat,

larynx and sinuses.

There are over 200 different viruses; the

most common culprits are the rhinovirus,

coronavirus and RSV (respiratory syncytial

virus). Colds are generally self-limiting

and will clear up within 2 weeks but

people often want support in managing

symptoms such as coughing, sore throat,

runny nose, sneezing, headache, or a

fever. A number of herbs can be used to

help manage these symptoms.

Echinacea (Echinacea

angustifolia) is one of the most

commonly used herbs and with good

reason: a meta-analysis of 14 studies,

evaluating the effect of Echinacea on the

incidence and duration of the common

cold, found that Echinacea decreased

the chances of developing a cold by 58%

and reduced the duration of the cold by

1.4 days Echinacea is well known now in

Europe and is grown as an ornamental

garden plant but its medicinal use started

with Native Americans hundreds of years

ago where it was used for pain relief,

wound healing, and as an antidote against

various poisons as well as managing cold


Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)

has wide culinary use in cordials, wines

and desserts but its medicinal use is

for relieving cold symptoms including

catarrh and fevers. It is also used for hay

fever due to its anti-catarrhal action. The

flowers, berries and leaves are all used

and research on the berries found that its

constituents can impede the replication

of certain viruses in the body. The same

study also showed that it can reduce

the duration of influenza viruses by up

to 4 days NOTE 2. Elderberry also has

immune-modulating activity; it supports

the body's innate defence mechanism

by increasing the production of cytokines

which encourage the movement of

immune cells towards sites of infection

and inflammation.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) has

been traditionally used for respiratory

system conditions including coughs. It has

been approved by German Commission

E (scientific advisory board) for use in

bronchitis. Like other members of the mint

family, it is rich in essential oils, particularly

thymol, which has an expectorant action,

expelling mucus from the lungs and relieving

congestion. It often appears in in cough

syrups, sometimes accompanied by licorice

which soothes mucous membranes and

eases coughs.

Andrographis (Andrographis

paniculata) is widely used in China, India,

Thailand, and Malaysia, for treating sore

throat, flu, and upper respiratory tract

infections. It is also used in Scandinavian

countries prophylactically and for

symptomatic relief of upper respiratory

infections. Studies show a significant

reduction in symptoms such as sore

throat, tiredness, muscular aches and

malaise compared to a placebo. The

duration and severity of the infection was

also reduced.

Garlic (Allium sativum) contains a

number of anti-viral compounds which

are readily released from the lungs and

respiratory tract, hence its particular

affinity for coughs and colds. Its sulphur

compounds, most notably allicin, have

been well studied and fresh garlic has

been shown to kill rhinovirus type 2, one

of the viruses responsible for the common

cold. Allicin begins to break down as soon

as it is chopped or crushed and is partially

destroyed by heat, so fresh garlic is better

than some commercial products.

Note: Seek the expert advice of a medical

herbalist before use. Medical herbalists

tailor herbal prescriptions and diet and

lifestyle advice, to meet the needs of

individuals. The National Institute of

Medical Herbalists is the UK's leading

professional body representing herbal

medicine practitioners. Not all herbs are

suitable in pregnancy, while lactating or if

you are taking other drugs. When using

herbs, the NIMH recommends seeking

the advice of a qualified medical herbalist.

To find your nearest NIMH herbalist

clcik here:


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