Natural flu treatment can be a safe way to help build your body's defenses and fight off infection.
With Herbal Antivirals (Storey Publishing, 2013), herbalist and researcher Stephen Harrod Buhner arms readers with medicines that are easy to grow, easy to use, and easy to make — natural remedies that combine modern science with herbal methods. In this book, Buhner gives herbal protocols to intercede at all levels of viral pathology. This excerpt from “Viral Respiratory Infections and Their Treatment” includes valuable guides to natural flu treatment, including ginger juice tea recipes and herbal tinctures.
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Herbal Antivirals.
Again, just to emphasize this: there are thousands of combinations of plant medicines that can be created to treat respiratory infections. These are just the ones I have found useful. Please feel free to experiment, combine, innovate, and find your own unique combinations. There is no one right way to the truth.
An influenza infection can run the range from extremely mild to extremely severe. I break the disease down into four types, each needing a different approach: 1) early onset; 2) mild infection; 3) moderate infection; and 4) severe infection. I will go into some of the unique aspects of treating severe infections at the end of this section.
I have found two natural flu treatment approaches that can short-circuit a developing episode before it gets a good hold in the body: oscillococcinum and an herbal tincture combination.
I have found this homeopathic remedy to be extremely good for stopping the development of the flu if you take it at the first signs of the flu, that is, the moment you feel that first tingling sensation in your body that tells you that you are about to get sick.
Oscillococcinum comes as little sugar granules in tiny tubes. Take one tube every 6 hours, three per day, for 2 or 3 days in a row. This is often enough to stop the infection.
Herbal Tincture Combination
For many years I used a particular tincture combination: Echinacea angustifolia (now I use ginger juice (note: E. purpurea is useless for this; it won’t work), red root, and licorice, in equal parts. The dosage is a full dropperful of the tincture (30 drops) every hour, every day, until the symptoms resolve themselves.
I have found this useful for stopping the development of a flu infection if you take it at the first signs of tingling or soreness in your throat. The tincture mix should be held in your mouth, liberally mixed with saliva, then swallowed, slowly, letting it dribble down the back of the throat.
For Echinacea angustifolia to work for a cold or flu the herbal tincture must touch the affected membranes. Echinacea is antiviral; it’s been found active against HIV and influenza H5N1, H7N7, and H1N1 (swine origin). However, in order to inactivate the influenza strains, it needs direct contact with the affected cells just prior to or right at the moment of infection. Echinacea inhibits the receptor cell binding activity of the virus, interfering with its entry into the cells while at the same time strengthening the protective power of the mucous membranes through hyaluronidase inhibition. In essence, it strengthens the cellular bonds in the mucous membranes and makes it harder for a virus to penetrate. If the virus does penetrates deeper into the body, the herb just won’t work because direct contact is not possible.
Goldenseal has some similar actions on mucous membranes, which is why the deplorable echinacea/goldenseal combinations are so common. They are only effective at the first signs of infection. (I reiterate: They are only effective at the first signs of infection. If the infection is full-blown, you are just wasting your money.) Again, E. purpurea (in the form in use in most of the West) will not work. The Germans use only the fresh, stabilized juice of the stalks, not the root, and it is the root that nearly every American herbalist and company use in their products. (Capsules, of any species, are completely useless for viral and bacterial infections.)
If you do get sick but have a relatively mild case developing, then the following protocol, composed of two parts, will usually get rid of it.
Fresh Ginger Juice Tea
Ginger is useful for the flu only if the juice of the fresh root is used. Dried ginger is useless.
At the first signs of an infection that is not going to stop, juice one to two pounds of ginger. (Squeeze the remaining pulp to get all the juice out of it, and keep any leftover juice refrigerated.) Pour 3 to 4 ounces of the juice into a mug, and add one-quarter of a lime (squozen), a large tablespoon of honey, 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne, and 6 ounces of hot water. Stir well. Drink 2 to 6 cups daily.
This will usually end the infection within a few days. If it does not it is still tremendously useful as it will thin the mucus, slow the spread of the virus in the body, and help protect mucous membranes from damage.
Comment: Some people find that an elderberry syrup will provide the same effects.
Herbal Tincture Combination
Tincture combination of 2 parts lomatium, 2 parts red root, 2 parts licorice, and 1 part isatis (e.g., 2 ounces of each of the first three, 1 ounce of the latter). Dosage: 30–60 drops each hour until the condition improves.
I treat moderate and severe influenza infections similarly, though with severe infections there needs to be a great deal of focus and persistence. The doses often need to be higher as well and additional formulations used as symptoms develop.
The primary interventions are:
• Direct antivirals that will inhibit viral penetration of host cells and replication. (The primary antiviral herbs for this are Chinese skullcap, isatis, licorice, houttuynia, lomatium, cordyceps, astragalus, rhodiola, boneset, elder, Strobilanthes cusia, Forsythia suspensa, and Sophora flavescens.)
• Reducing cytokine levels, thus inhibiting damage in tissues.
• Thinning the mucus and promoting fluid drainage from the lungs.
• Repair of damaged tissues.
• Normalization of immune responses.
• If sepsis is a potential problem, large quantities of HMGB1 inhibitors should be used.
Treatment of moderate to severe influenza is composed of three main formulations, to which others can be added if necessary. These are an antiviral tincture formulation, an antiviral ginger juice tea, and an immune complex tincture formulation.
Antiviral Tincture Formulation
Equal parts of Chinese skullcap, isatis, licorice, houttuynia, lomatium, red root, yerba santa (Eriodictyon spp.), elephant tree (Bursera microphylla), osha (Ligusticum porteri), and either inmortal (Asclepias asperula) or pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa).
This formulation contains potent antivirals, specifically Chinese skullcap, isatis, licorice, houttuynia, lomatium. These are designed to kill the virus and inhibit its entry into the body. And of course many of them have alternate actions as well. Licorice, for example, is mucoprotective, strongly anti-inflammatory, and expectorant. Chinese skullcap is potently anti-inflammatory for the cytokine cascades that influenza creates, provides splenic protection and activation, will help lower fevers, and is an expectorant. All of these antiviral herbs have multiple functions in respiratory diseases.
The four herbs added to this protocol that are not discussed in depth (yerba santa, osha, elephant tree, and inmortal or pleurisy root) do not have to be included in this formulation, though they do help considerably, primarily through helping with the tastiness of the formulation, thinning the mucus, stimulating expectoration, and promoting lymph drainage from the lungs.
Both yerba santa and osha are added for taste as well as their medicinal actions (isatis really does taste foul to me). Osha is a relative of lomatium and has its own antiviral and expectorant actions. It has strong impacts on inflammation in the lungs and increases the degree of oxygen intake during respiration. It also has the added benefit of anesthesizing the throat tissues, helping reduce throat soreness. Yerba santa is a very good expectorant, bronchial dilator, and decongestant. Elephant tree is anti-inflammatory, thins and softens bronchial mucus, and stimulates expectoration. It is a major source of copal and a close relative of myrrh. (Myrrh can be substituted for elephant tree in this formulation if the tincture is stabilized with 20 percent glycerin.) I consider all three of these herbs to be specific for maintaining the mucous membranes of the lungs, thinning the mucus, and increasing expectoration. Inmortal (or, as an alternative, pleurisy root) improves cilia function and is a bronchial dilator, an expectorant, a febrifuge (lowering fevers), and most especially a potent medicinal for stimulating lymph drainage from the lungs.
Dosage needs to be high for two reasons. The first is that there are so many herbs in the formulation that each herb has a reduced presence in the formulation. The second is the nature of moderate to severe influenza infections. As the disease progresses up the scale of severity, the cytokine cascade increases in intensity. The body needs to be bathed in the plant compounds in high enough quantities that the cytokine cascade is potently inhibited. In addition, the body needs to be suffused with enough of the antiviral compounds that the viral entry into host cells and its presence in the body are severely curtailed.
For moderate influenza: 60 drops or 3 milliliters (a little over 1/2 teaspoon) every hour.
For severe influenza: 1–2 teaspoons every hour.
Dividing the formulation: You can if you wish divide the formulation in two. The first would contain Chinese skullcap, isatis, licorice, houttuynia, and lomatium and would be primarily an antiviral formulation (and would taste from okay to bad). The second would contain red root, yerba santa (Eriodictyon spp.), elephant tree (Bursera microphylla), and either inmortal (Asclepias asperula) or pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa) and would taste very good. (I would skip the osha if the formulation is split in two.) This second formulation would primarily be for lymph and spleen optimization and protection, expectorant and decongestant actions, mucus thinning, cilia protection, and lymph drainage from the lungs. The dosage for each would be half the dosage as when combined.
Ginger Juice Tea
This is the same as discussed earlier, in essence: ginger juice tea, hot. Again, ginger is useful for the flu only if the juice of the fresh root is used. Dried ginger is useless.
Juice one to two pounds of ginger. (Squeeze the pulp to get all the juice out of it.) Keep it refrigerated. Pour 3 to 4 ounces of the juice into a mug, and add one-quarter of a lime (squozen), a large tablespoon of honey, 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne, and 6 ounces of hot water. Stir well. Drink 4 to 6 cups daily.
Ginger in this form is potently antiviral for influenza. The fresh juice tea will also thin the mucus, help protect mucous membranes from damage, and act as a potent diaphoretic, lowering fever during the infection.
Immune Complex Tincture Formulation
Equal parts of the tinctures of astragalus, cordyceps, and rhodiola. All of these herbs are active against influenza viruses. They are also potently adaptogenic, that is, they increase the resistance of organisms to stressors, whether microbial or external. Additionally, astragalus and cordyceps are highly specific for the cytokine cascades that are initiated by influenza. These herbs will help through their antiviral actions, modulate the overactive immune response, lower cytokine levels, and enhance a healthy immune response to the infection. Again, dosage levels should be highish, for the same reasons as outlined above.
For moderate influenza: 1/2 teaspoon of the tincture 3x daily.
For severe influenza: 1-2 teaspoons of the tincture 6x daily.
Reprinted with permission from Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections by Stephen Harrod Buhner and published by Storey Publishing, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Herbal Antivirals.