Moth and Toad Apothecary

Herbalism, self-sufficiency, and low-waste living

Prepping for Cold and Flu Season | An Herbalists’ To-Do List

It’s nearly September, which means pumpkins, cranberries, and crisp autumn wind is well on its way here in Missouri! While we savor the last bits of Summer sunshine, we should be collecting, preserving, and preparing medicine for the upcoming seasons. These are a few of my favourite herbs and remedies to keep in my medicine cabinet. From daily immunity tonics to congestion busters, this is what I have on my herbalist cheat sheet for 2022. Let me know what you would add, or have had good experiences using, and remember to share this so others can learn about the healing medicine all around them!

Disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes only. It is not medical advice, and should not be taken as such. Always consult a healthcare professional before beginning a new herbal routine or using a remedy on yourself or your family members. This is especially important if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, immuno-compromised, or sensitive to food and allergens. Remedies made with honey are not suitable for children under the age of one. I always recommend thoroughly researching any herb you are thinking of using to learn about potential interactions, side effects, and dosage information.

Herbs to Have on Hand

In general, I like to use a blend of herbs when treating the symptoms of colds and flus opposed to a single herb. These are a few I recommend having available to make into teas, glycerites, and tinctures as needed. For glycerites, I typically store them for up to 6 months in a cool, dark place, in an amber or opaque glass container. Tinctures can last several years when stored in the same way. Teas can be made and kept refrigerated for up to one week.

  • Elecampane – elecampane is an excellent remedy for wet, persistent coughs, and may help in mild or early cases of bronchitis or pneumonia. It makes a wonderful glycerite. That said, if you suspect you or your loved one has either condition, it’s best to head to a doctor to ensure it doesn’t pose a threat to your/their health!
  • Ginger (fresh) – fresh ginger can be used as an antiviral remedy, particularly effectively in respiratory viruses like HRSV. Some studies indicate ginger can reduce the replication of certain viruses, and may be a good preventative remedy during cold and flu season. It has also been shown to reduce the ulcer-forming impact of NSAIDs on the stomach lining. It is an excellent remedy for nausea as well, and can be made into candies, cough drops, teas, and more. Fresh ginger should be used whenever possible to create the best medicine.
  • Goldenseal – due to its berberine content, goldenseal has some powerful benefits. It has properties that make it antiparasitic, and has antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral effects. Many herbalists use it as a sort of natural antibiotic due to these properties. It may also help boost the immune system. Due to how strong of a medicine goldenseal is, extras caution should be taken when researching herbal interactions and safety. It can lower blood sugar, and is not considered safe for pregnant people.
  • Mullein – I love using mullein for dry coughs, asthma flare ups, and general lung health. It adds moisture to the lungs via saponins, and can help loosen mucus and irritants from the lungs themselves. If you find your lungs irritated by the cool, dry air, mullein may be a good addition to your daily routine. I prefer to use this as a glycerite or tea, which you can blend with other glycerites, tinctures, and teas as needed, or use alone.
  • Onion – onions are pungent herbs that help move energy and heat upwards and outwards. Eating onions can help move stagnant mucus out of the body, from places like the lungs, throat, and nasal cavity. You can create an effective remedy for the respiratory system by making onion syrup as needed (check out this recipe for an example). You can also create a chest pack for extreme chest congestion. Watch this video by Homesteading Family on Facebook to learn how to make one.
  • Oregon Grape Root – Oregon grape root is another berberine-touting, bacterial infection-fighting herb. It is most often used in cases of stomach upset consisting of symptoms such as diarrhea, parasite activity, and inflammation, as well as the effects of IBS. It has also been used to treat heartburn due to its berberine content. Like the aforementioned berberine-rich goldenseal, oregon grape root should be used sparingly and with particular caution until further research deems it safe for all groups, or offers restrictions.
  • Sage – as simple as common kitchen sage may seem, it deserves a spotlight of its own. It is an excellent sore throat remedy, and can soothe irritation from drainage, strep throat, and the pain that often follows vomiting. It may also help prevent infections from progressing, making it a great remedy for most early infections. While having a strong taste, sage tea can be an amazing bit of medicine!

Remedies to Prepare Ahead

  • Fermented Honey-Garlic – By combining honey and garlic, you get an amazing immune system booster. It can be used as a preventative or as a remedy during illness. You can consume the milder honey as is, use it in foods, or eat the infused garlic cloves. Grow Cook Forage Ferment wrote an excellent article on how to create safe, delicious fermented honey-garlic! Make this ahead of time to have a simple, effective remedy on hand for colds, flus, and immune system pick-me-ups.
  • Fire Cider – Fire cider is a traditional immune boosting remedy that makes use of apple cider vinegar, a plethora of immunity boosting herbs, and honey. Using herbs such as astragalus root, garlic, onion, rosemary, ginger, and more, you can create a daily supplement to help keep your body healthy during the fall and winter months. I recommend checking out this book by Rosemary Gladstar for recipes as well as how to use your fire cider!
  • Elderberry Gummies – elderberry gummies are used to prevent illness by boosting the immune system. By taking them daily, you may be able to fight off sicknesses that would otherwise take you down for the count for a few days. Try a recipe like this one, and make small batches to ensure freshness. Similarly, you can prepare elderberry syrup for pancakes, desserts, and more! This recipe incorporates other supportive herbs for a flavorful blend.
  • Earache Oil – this is another traditional blend consisting of mullein flowers, garlic, and st. john’s wort infused into olive oil. While not necessarily shelf stable through winter, knowing how to prepare it and source your ingredients can make it easier to do so when an earache appears. This post by Amy Jirsa does an excellent job explaining its preparation!
  • Salve for Dry Skin – If you suffer from chapped, cracked skin during cold and dry months, I recommend preparing a salve like this blend of oils I made into lip balms (it can be applied easily in stick form just about everywhere!). I love to experiment with butters, oils, and waxes, and have recently begun making shelf-stable emulsions (oil and water products) successfully! My must-have herb for skin healing is calendula. However, there are a plethora of wonderful herbs for you to explore! For example, oregon grape root has been used to treat psoriasis, oats are excellent skin soothers, and rosehips can be pressed to extract vitamin-rich oils.
  • Bath Soak for Irritated Skin this bath soak can soothe red, itchy, dry skin right before you apply your handmade salve (I recommend applying it while your skin is still damp to trap in moisture).
  • Moisturizing Soap for Sensitive Skin – the last thing your skin needs after being whipped by the wind is a stripping soap. I love this recipe I formulated, and use it on my whole body, including my face. It is gentle, moisturizing, and has lactic acid in it due to the whole milk powder added in, which gently exfoliates dead skin while simultaneously drawing in moisture. It also includes my favourite blend of additives for skin irritation, which you can add to any cold process soap recipe!

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