Gold for Colds

by Libby Jennison


     This week Bodhi brought home a cold from school.  I should have started pushing echanacea immediately for both of us, but sometimes he will get a runny nose and no other symtoms.  I thought it might blow over.  It didn’t.  Instead we are both home from school and work, respectively, taking it easy. 

     So I wanted to write a post specific to the topic of caring for colds in the home, without OTC medications or trips to the doctor.  I find that these methods lighten our symptoms and aid our immune systems to heal.  For instance, throughout this particular cold, Bodhi and I have dodged the bullet of becoming completely ‘stuffed up’ in our sinuses, and are just experiencing rather runny noses.

     One thing I am mindful of with herbs is that they often operate on our body’s level.  Meaning that they are often working at the body’s pace to heal itself; these herbs encourage the bodies natural tendencies toward reconciliation.

       I remember reading a book about the Vietnam War that shared an anecdote about the US soldiers who would find children with red rings on their back.  In their ignorance, they assumed it was some sort of punitive measure by parents.  In fact, it was a therapy called cupping, where a cup is place on one’s back and a candle behind the cup.  As the cup warms, it creates a sort of vaccuum, pulling the skin into the cup promoting blood flow.  I often think of mother’s tenderly cupping their sick children when I am rubbing Bodhi down with my therapies, and it reminds me that sometimes it is not what we do, but how we do it, and that we do it at all.  Caring for… nurturing… sympathy… compassion… love.  These, I would argue, can be the most powerful healers of all.  

     One of my favorites is eucalyptus essential oil.  I mix one drop with a teaspoon of pure sesame oil (this can be any kind of oil, even olive oil) and warm it with my hands.  Then I rub it all over Bodhi’s chest.  Immediately, his gaze becomes fixed, his breathing slows.  He takes in the caring massage as much as he does the scent of the oil.  It really helps to open up the nasal congestion.  (Think Vick’s Vapor Rub without the extra chemicals).  I will also add eucalyptus and lavender essential oils to his bath or humidifier in his room.

     Mists are often a nice way of calming a fussy, overheated, feverish child.  I like to mix rose water with some Bach’s Flower Essences Rescue Remedy.  I’ll mist it over Bodhi and let it fall on his face and body—very cooling for any pitta that seems to be overwhelming him. 

     Also, let’s not forget my previous post on ginger honey.  It can calm any nausea, is warming to the body and can potentially help drainage, much the way spicy food does. 

     A note about when to apply warming therapy versus cooling- You really have to consider all of the symptoms.  As an example, let’s say Bodhi is congested with a fever.  Do I include warming foods for congestion, even though he has a fever?  If it won’t cause discomfort, then it’s fine.  The sweating induced can also cool you. 

     Just remember that you can cool with cool or, less effectively (in my opinion), with heat via sweating (via broth, ginger, spicy foods, elder), but you can’t warm with cool. 


     These are the herbs that I like Bodhi and I to start taking once it is apparent that we are getting a cold. 

  • Echanacea– This herb is superb for boosting the immune system.  Imagine it as a drill sergeant ordering all of your macrophage T-cell soldiers to come to the front lines of defense.  That is why this is not recommended over long periods of time and is best used when symptoms are acute.  It becomes less effective if used for long periods of time as well, so use it in cycles of 5 days on, 2 off until you are well.
  • Contraindication: auto immune system disorders or an overactive immune system.
  • Elder – Often used in syrup form, these berries and the flower are perfect for little ones because it tastes so good.  It is very high in vitamin c and has immune enhancing properties.  It can induce sweating, as it is an effective diaphoretic, so it can be used to reduce fever if one is present.  Be mindful, however, that fevers can be a sign that your immune system is working.  Unless there is discomfort from the fever or it is above the safe range of temperatures, I personally leave it alone.  Your body is working!  Amazing!

     If there is any indication that there is also a sore throat or cough present, I will also start us on:

  • Wild Cherry Bark and Horehound are both excellent expectorants for coughs.  I like to make a tincture of these together. 
  • Marshmallow and licorice are wonderful for soothing a sore throat, as both are demulcents (or will coat the throat).  Licorice also has anti-inflammatory properties.  These are nice as teas, as they can properly coat the throat.
  • Contraindication- some studies have shown that licorice increases water retention, and therefore may increase blood pressure.  Those with high blood pressure, be aware.  


     In addition to these measures, I find that some yoga asanas can be energizing (in the way that you need when you have a cold), relaxing and restoring.  Find lots of pillows and bolsters to support you in these poses.  It also helps to have a timer with a soft alert.  I like to hold them for three minutes, but if I have an extra minute or two, I’ll hold my favorite for five.  Look any of these up on  It is a great resource!

  • Uttansana (standing forward fold)- Bring a chair over to your mat and pad it with a pillow or two.  Fold forward with your feet hips width apart.  Rest your forehead on the chair’s seat.
  • Setu Bandhasana (bridge pose)- Sitting down, place two thick pillows or folded blankets behind your back.  Allow your shoulders to grace the floor.  This is such a yummy, supported pose I often stay in this one longer than three minutes. 
  • Viparita Karani (waterfall)- I like to do this one against the wall.  It allows you to completely relax.  Place a pillow or two under your derriere and your legs up resting against a wall. 


 photo from

     And last, but not least, nourish thy self!  Brothy soups and mineral rich foods are gold for colds (think seaweed, bone broth, miso, leafy greens).  Stay away from dairy, sugar, and overly acidic things (even orange juice… try a hot lemonade with honey instead) as they tend to increase phlegm and mucus. 

Get well!




 ** note to reader- I am not a certified herbalist and this is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe anyone medications, herbs, or otherwise.  It is a journal of my musings and what works for our family.**