5 Herbal Treatments to Ease Flu Symptoms

Try these herbal remedies to shorten the duration and severity of flu symptoms
A woman holding her throat with a glass of water and lemon sitting on a table beside her
© Can Stock Photo / Subbotina

When a flu catches up with you, the message is clear: it’s time to slow down and give your body time to repair. By focusing on good nutrition, lots of rest, and a few quality herbs, you can shorten the duration and severity of symptoms of the flu while supporting the body’s vital force.

Making sure to drink plenty of fluids, opting for easy-to-digest foods like soup (try our easy bone broth recipe) and applesauce, and avoiding both sugar, which suppresses immune function, and mucous-producing dairy are simple ways to encourage healing. Further, allowing a low-grade fever (one to three degrees above normal body temperature) to stick around and do its job can have a profound effect on immune modulation and the healing response.

Having a few great herbs on hand in your winter wellness toolkit can help relieve symptoms and speed up the healing process when you’ve been knocked down by the flu.

Herbal teas can ease flu symptoms and promote sweating, which helps the body naturally rid itself of toxins. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), ginger (Zingiber officinale), catnip (Nepeta cataria), and elderflower (Sambuci flos) are all excellent herbs for encouraging a good sweat.

Dosing: Use 1–2 heaping tablespoons of dry herbs per litre of boiling water, steep for 15–30 minutes, strain, and drink throughout the day. Sweeten with honey, if desired.

Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) is safe, gentle, and capable of both preventing and fighting viral infections. For maximum effectiveness during an acute infection, it’s important to give Echinacea tincture in therapeutic doses.

Dosing: For adults, take 5ml per 75kg, 3 times a day. A child’s dose is calculated based on the adult dose using the following formula: the child’s weight in kilos divided by the base adult weight of 75kg multiplied by 5ml (i.e. A 23kg child’s dose would be 23/75 x 5 = 1.5ml). Echinacea may be diluted in ¼ cup of water or tea, with a dab of honey (for children over one) to help mask its strong flavour. 

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra or canadensis) syrup is a wonderfully sweet-tasting way to boost the immune system and treat influenza. Research has found that patients taking elderberry syrup had higher levels of antibodies against the flu virus and it has been proven effective against numerous influenza viruses.

Dosing: If symptoms develop in the chest, take 1–2 Tbsp, 3–6 times a day combined with a tea made from elderflowers. The adult dose is 15ml per 75kg. Child’s dose can be calculated using the same formula as described above with Echinacea.

Vitamin D3 can help shorten the duration of seasonal influenza. Cod liver oil is an excellent source of vitamin D and vitamin A (a key cofactor that helps convert vitamin D into its active form).

Dosing: Researchers have found that 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day for the duration of the flu can significantly ease symptoms.

Garlic and honey is a warming and drying antimicrobial that can be soothing to the respiratory tract. To make: peel, chop, and crush a head of garlic. Let sit for 15 minutes, place in a jar, and submerge in raw honey. Cover and let sit on counter for 3–5 days.

Dosing: ½–1 tsp (adults and children over one), 3-6 times daily, or as needed.

Note: For treating younger children with herbs, consult your health care practitioner.

Influenza typically comes on quickly, involves symptoms like severe aches, chest discomfort, headaches, and chills, and is usually accompanied by a high fever. Seek immediate medical care if your child has difficulty or rapid breathing, bluish or gray skin colour, severe or persistent vomiting, lethargy or trouble waking, excessive irritability, dehydration, or flu-like symptoms that improve but return with a fever and worsened cough.