Turn up the heat- Garlic, onions and other warming herbs

When getting sick you may experience chills. Or, you may have a fever which makes you uncomfortably warm. In our first post about colds and flu, we discussed the importance of keeping yourself warm. In the case of the common cold, staying warmer not only helps prevent catching a cold, it also helps your immune system fight off the virus.  It is also very important to stay hydrated! Fever is not something to fear and suppress, as we have been conditioned to do. Fever is simply the immune system responding to illness; it is the result of  the hypothalamus gland raising the body temperature in response to disease causing organisms entering the body. Many viruses and bacteria have a hard time surviving the high temperature in the body caused by fever. This high body temperature also signals phagocytes, neutrophils and lymphocytes – the immune system’s infection fighting cells- to kick into action and fend off and kill the disease causing bacteria or viruses. With herbs and natural remedies we can support the immune system, manage a fever and strengthen our body’s ability to fight off the infection.

“By itself, fever is not an illness. Rather it is a sign or symptom of sickness. In fact, usually it is a positive sign that the body is fighting infection. Fever stimulates certain defenses, such as white blood cells, which attack and destroy invading bacteria.

“The fever may actually be important in helping your child fight his or her infection. However, fever can make your child uncomfortable. It increases his or her need for fluids and makes his or her heart rate and breathing faster.”

American Academy of Pediatrics

Keeping Warm

It is especially important to get warm and keep yourself warm in the early stages when you feel chilled. Covering up with a blanket, drinking warm teas and eating warm, light, nourishing foods are all helpful strategies. Warming teas and food will help the body to raise your temperature to an ideal, disease fighting heat. Any warm drink will be warming, but the effect can be enhanced by herbs which are mildly spicy and warming- for example cinnamon, ginger, peppermint. This is a nice, good tasting warming tea that I like:

1/4 oz Goldenrod leaves and flowers (Solidago canadensis)
1/4 oz New England Aster leaves and flowers (Symphyotrichum novae-anglia)
1/4 oz Elecampagne roots (Inula helenium)
1-2 Tbsp fresh sliced ginger (or 1-2 teaspoons dried) (Zingiber officinalis).

Boil 2-3 cups of water and pour over herbs, covering tightly. Allow this to steep for approximately 15 minutes and then drink freely. You can sweeten to taste.  I’ve include a delicious recipe for a herb infused honey which is excellent to add to this tea.


Brewing a tea of Goldenrod, New England Aster and Elecampane.
Brewing a tea of Goldenrod, New England Aster and Elecampane.


There’s much that I love about this tea! First, it tastes great. Also, the combination of herbs is excellent for cold stuffy conditions. Goldenrod helps to dry up and clear the sinuses. New England Aster is mildly relaxing to the lungs and supports the lungs to draw up phlegm. For more indepth info about Asters, click here. (New England Aster is a great herb to use for asthmatics for this reason!). And, even better, both Goldenrod and New England Asters can be picked in abundance through much of Eastern North America. Both bloom in the fall, often together in open fields and clearings in a bright display of yellow and purple. Elecampagne is a gently warming and stimulating herb. It supports the lungs and boosts the circulation, helping bring blood flow to the sinuses and loosening things up. Finally, ginger adds a gently pungent spicey-ness that helps relieve sore throats.


New England Asters in full bloom.
New England Asters in full bloom.



Herbal Honey Syrups!

Herbal honeys are an excellent and tasty way to experience the healing properties of herbs. Herbal honeys, or syrups, are especially nice to use when you have a cough and also make a nice sweetener for herb teas. You can take herbal honeys by the spoonful, too, which is especially good for coughs. Honey itself has healing properties and infusing herbs in honey enhances the health benefits of honey. It has also been shown that honey can help soothe coughs in young children and even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving honey to children to soothe coughs. Honey should not be given to children under 12 months. Glycerin tinctures are an appropriate alternative. Here is one recipe for cinnamon ginger honey:

2 Tablespoons dried, crushed Elecampagne Root
3 Tablespoons dried, chopped Cinnamon Bark
2-3 Tablespoons fresh sliced ginger root
1 cup unpasteurized honey

Add all the ingredients into a pot and place the pot  on the stove. On minimum heat, gently warm the herbs and honey together. You do not want to boil this, only gently warm it. Warm the pot carefully on minimum for about 10-15 minutes, turning the heat off before the mixture boils. Leave it covered on the stove – heat off- for a while. An hour or so should do. This gives time for the medicinal properties of the herbs to infuse into the honey. Then, gently heat the mixture again, being careful not to boil it. When it is warm, strain out the herbs. The second heating makes the mixture easier to strain. Pour the honey into a jar and store in the fridge or cool cupboard. This honey should keep for 3-4 months or longer. One teaspoon or so of this honey is excellent added to the Goldenrod – Elecampagne (and other) tea.


Slicing ginger, elecampagne in the pot
Slicing ginger, elecampagne in the pot


Providing your body warm nourishing foods helps warm you as well as nourishes your body to fight off the illness; fighting an illness requires your body’s energy and so you will need to replenish with good food and lots to drink. Staying hydrated is essential as fever can dehydrate you. Here again, warming herbs and spices can help. Think homemade chicken soup with onions, garlic and black pepper. Onions and garlic have gained an excellent reputation for fighting off colds and flu. Many sources on the internet attribute garlic’s many proven health benefits to a compound called “allicin” which forms when garlic (or onions) are crushed or chopped. However, there is stronger indication that the health benefits of garlic (which include immune system support to fight colds and flu) stem from a complex array of water soluble compounds extracted over time in water based solutions. For those who want more complex, clinical information click here and here and here.

In general, although many single chemical compounds in foods we eat are beleived to have various health effects, the best way to take advantage of these health promoting compounds is to eat the whole food: “The results of numerous epidemiological studies and recent clinical trials provide consistent evidence that diets rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of chronic disease. On the other hand, evidence that very high doses of individual micronutrients or phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables can do the same is inconsistent and relatively weak”

Linus Pauling Institute

When fever leaves you uncomfortably hot, when you no longer feel chilled, your pulse is strong and fast and you may be flushed, you can relieve some of the discomfort with herb teas which relax the system, open the pores and ease the blood flow. These will help you “sweat it out”. Our previous post includes some good tea recipes for this stage.

These posts contain some ideas and recipes for colds and flu, but certainly doesn’t cover everything! What are your favorite remedies? Where did you learn them? Did your grandma/mom/auntie/uncle have a favourite cold cure? And what “comfort food” is your favorite when your sick (whether its “good for you” or not!)?

This post is for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or illness. If your condition does not improve or worsens, please seek the advice of a Traditional Healer, qualified Herbalist or Medical Professional.

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