The herbs here can ease coughs, congestion, and sore throats, and some may help prevent illness altogether, says Vermont-based herbalist Betzy Bancroft. Seek out teas and herbal extracts at natural-foods stores, and dried herbs from sources such as jeansgreens.com or mountainroseherbs.com.
(As always, talk to your doctor before trying new remedies, particularly if your symptoms are severe, if you take medication, or if you have a chronic health condition.)
A go-to herb for colds, this plant (Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia) may help support your immune system to fight viruses. The root, leaves, and flowers are all medicinal.
How to use: Take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of tincture (herbal extract) every two hours until symptoms are gone. Echinacea also comes in tea blends.
For short-term use only, goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) can help to clear up bacterial infections and restore the respiratory system lining after a bad cold.
How to use: Goldenseal is very bitter, so stick to tinctures or capsules. Use small doses of this potent herb. Safety note: Pregnant women and those with hypertension should not use goldenseal.
The flower form of the elder plant (Sambucus nigra) can induce sweating, which may help reduce fever.
How to use: Look for elder in cold formulas. To make a tea, pour boiling water over a teaspoon of dried elderflower. Steep 10 to 15 minutes, then strain. Drink up to three cups per day. Or make a tea that combines elder, echinacea, and a pinch of peppermint.
A cup of tea made with ginger (Zingiber officinale) can help ease congestion and warm the body, which helps your system fight infection. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it a good sore-throat remedy, too.
How to use: Simmer fresh or dried ginger for 20 minutes; strain and add a touch of honey and a squeeze of lemon, if desired. Incorporate ginger liberally into stir-fries and soups.
A sore-throat soother extraordinaire, slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) products are high in "mucilage," a substance that coats the throat and helps relieve coughs.
How to use: Look for slippery elm lozenges at health-food stores; follow package directions. To make a tea, simmer 1 tablespoon dried slippery elm bark per cup of water; strain and drink.
Loaded with antibacterial compounds, fresh or dried thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a cold-season powerhouse.
How to use: Use fresh or dried thyme in stews and soups. To make a steam, pour near-boiling water into a pot. Add a pinch of fresh or dried thyme, turn off heat, and create a tent by draping a towel over your head and the pot. Breathe in steam for five minutes.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), which has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine, may help to strengthen the body against illness when used over time.
How to use: Take astragalus in tincture or capsule form throughout the cold and flu season. You can also incorporate dried astragalus slices into soups or rice; remove the astragalus before serving.
With antibacterial and expectorant properties, eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) can loosen congestion and help you breathe easier.
How to use: Pour near-boiling water into a pot. Add a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil, turn off heat, and drape a towel over your head and the pot. Breathe for five minutes. Safety note: Do not use essential oils internally.
Also known as Siberian ginseng, this well-studied herb (Eleutherococcus senticosus) can help your body resist the effects of stress and boost your immune system.
How to use: Take in tincture or capsule form, or make an immunity chai by blending eleuthero with cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon. Simmer for 20 minutes and strain; drink two to three cups daily.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) has expectorant and soothing properties that make it a cough treatment supreme.
How to use: For coughs, try mullein tea: Pour a cup of boiling water over a tablespoon of mullein leaves; let steep for 20 minutes and strain. Add honey and lemon to mask the bitter taste. Treat ear infections with drops of oil infused with mullein and garlic.
Believed to boost overall health, tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) -- also known as holy basil -- contains antiviral and antibacterial compounds. It may help prevent illness when used over time.
How to use: Tulsi makes a delicious tea; look for it in packaged form or brew your own with loose tulsi. Aim for two to three cups daily.
Common culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) can help to ease sore throats and dry up sinuses.
How to use: For a sore throat, make a strong tea by pouring 4 ounces of water over 2 teaspoons of dried or fresh sage. Cool to room temperature. Gargle until the mixture is gone. Repeat three times daily. For drippy sinuses, drink a cup of regular-strength sage tea.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has immune-boosting and throat-soothing properties that make it an excellent addition to cough and cold formulas.
How to use: For coughs, make a tea that combines mullein leaf with a pinch of licorice. Safety note: People who have high blood pressure should avoid this herb or use the deglycyrrhizinated form (look for "DGL" on packaging).