Coughs and colds affect most people from time to time – especially during season changes and the winter months. Surprisingly, colds can even be caught during the summer months as well.

So what exactly is a cold and what can you do to get through it as quickly and easily as possible?


The Cold Virus:

The common cold virus spreads in two ways; via the droplets that are launched into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes and also through contact.  So if somebody with a cold touches their eyes or nose and then touches you, they may be accidently passing the cold virus onto you.

The main symptoms of a cold include:

  • Blocked nose
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Headaches
  • A slight temperature

As there are over 200 types of cold virus it can be difficult to avoid catching one, however, the cold virus thrives when conditions in the body are just right. So, for instance if you’re run down in any way – such as stress, poor diet, lack of sleep and overwork or because of dysbiosis (a poorly functioning digestive system) you may be more likely to catch a cold virus. Guess where most of your immune system lives…In your gut. When the inner environment of the body is balanced and healthy, it is less likely that you will catch a cold.

If you want to treat a cold naturally, you need to look at two aspects:

  1. You will want to treat the symptoms of the cold
  2. You need to look at boosting your immune system to not only get you through your cold faster but to reduce the chance of catching another cold.

Herbal remedies for colds

There are a number of herbal remedies for colds that are useful including:

  • Elderflower
  • Sage – but not if you’re pregnant
  • Marshmallow
  • Yarrow – avoid this if you’re pregnant, unless advised by a herbalist


The immune system is made up of a network of organs, tissues and cells that work together to protect the body against attacks made by ‘foreign’ invaders – such as the cold virus or any of the bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites that can cause infections of any kind.

When treating a cold, you can help your immune system to overcome invaders by creating an environment where these types of invaders cannot live. One of the easiest ways to do this is to raise your core body temperature.

A traditional ‘cold and flu tea’ combining equal parts of yarrow, elderflower and peppermint does just that. This combination gently heats you with the elderflower working as a decongestant.  

You can read more about Elderflower and how it works here

Sage tea (taken hot or cold) is also useful for colds as it is an antibacterial, decongestant and expectorant. It helps to treat coughs, colds, fever, sore throats and chest infections. Sage contains thujone, so avoid if you’re pregnant.           

Ginger is probably best known for its anti-nausea properties but is also anti-inflammatory, a natural pain killer warms you up (making it uncomfortable for the foreign invaders to hang out), and contains antioxidants. It can be taken as a warming tea in the case of a cold.

Steaming is a great way to clear congestion; use either dry or fresh herbs, such as thyme or chamomile if you want to reduce chest spasm.  You can also add a few drops of tea tree, eucalyptus, sandalwood or thyme essential oil in hot water, (either in the bath or with a towel over your head over a basin).

Herbal Chest rubs can be made to create a soothing rub that acts as a decongestant – just like the Vicks Vaporub that your granny used to rub on your chest when you were poorly. A chest rub is essentially an ointment, which is a greasy preparation that doesn’t contain water; in its simplest form, it is just oil and beeswax melted together.

Your basic recipe is 1g of beeswax to 9mls of oil; you can create a different consistency to your ointment by varying the quantity of oil to beeswax or by using a different type of oil.

Elderflower, greater plantain, thyme and yarrow can be used in chest rubs. You can also add a couple of drops of essential oil to your chest rub ointment; tea tree oil is an excellent herbal immune system booster and eucalyptus is an effective decongestant.

Red Flags! (See your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms)

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever and you’re not sure why you have it; especially if it has gone on for a long time, keeps coming back, or only comes on in the night
  • Persistent, unremitting head pain
  • A headache that comes on suddenly; especially if it is followed by vomiting , dizziness or neck stiffness.
  • A sore throat that comes on quickly – especially if you are hoarse and have a high fever or trouble breathing
  • Persistent cough that lasts more than 3 weeks – especially if you are also getting night sweats, have lost weight and you’re not really sure why, or generally feel low
  • Fever and cough. Or if you develop a sudden chill followed by high fever, find it hard to breathe, or develop chest pain
  • Persistent monophonic wheeze. 
  • Your phlegm has blood in it.  You may have strained yourself coughing but it’s best to get it checked out by your doctor.