Regardless of whether they receive treatment with a neuraminidase
inhibitor, there will be approximately a week during which patients
will feel ill. Here are some herbal remedies, teas, soups, and an
herbal bath that should make the "external invasion" (as the
cold and flu are described in Chinese herbal medicine) more tolerable.
Echinacea, obtained from soluble root extracts of the American
coneflower, is the best known of the herbal remedies available to
treat or prevent upper respiratory infections. A recent literature
review revealed generally positive results in eight out of nine
treatment trials, but marginal benefit in three out of four prevention
Echinacea appears to enhance immune function by increasing
antigen-specific immunoglobulin production. In addition,
natural-killer (NK) cells and monocyte levels (both mediators of
nonspecific immunity and well-demonstrated killers of virus-containing
cells) increase in mice as early as one week after beginning
Starting echinacea therapy early in the course of an infection
leads to greater symptom reduction. However, there is very little
evidence to support its prolonged use to prevent upper respiratory
Other herbals with limited data supporting their role in managing
viral infections include Andrographis paniculata SHA-10 extract
and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis).
Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, in her book The Chinese Kitchen, recommends
a simple tea of chrysanthemum flowers and sugar if you feel wet and
cold. If you are experiencing a tight cough, try winter melon tea with
fresh water chestnuts as a snack.
Among the more traditional teas, peppermint tea can be used to
treat indigestion and GI (gastro-intestinal) discomfort. It should not
be confused with spearmint, which is similar in appearance. Both are
used as flavoring agents, but peppermint owes its therapeutic utility
to the presence of menthol, which is not found in spearmint.
Thyme tea dries mucous membranes and relaxes bronchial passages. It
is useful to sooth coughs and sore throats. Thyme's strong flavor can
be enhanced in teas by adding licorice, mint, or lemon juice.
Grace Young, in her book The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen,
describes a dried fig, apple and almond soup that she says helped
eradicate a persistent cough that had lasted for months despite taking
codeine cough syrups and throat lozenges.
For a sore throat, Yin-Fei Lo recommends poached pears with honey
and lemon balm, or steamed peaches with honey dates. Fortunately, you
don't have to be sick to eat this delicious treat.
Finally, a hot herbal bath can soothe aching muscles. Steep one
large handful each of fresh thyme, lavender and pennyroyal in eight
cups of hot water for twenty minutes. Strain and add to bath water.
This year, instead of sticking to the old adage "take an
aspirin and call me in the morning," consider including food and
natural remedies as part of your prescription for the flu.
John Russo is senior vice president of medical communications at
Vicus.com. He is a pharmacist and medical writer with more than 20
years of experience in medical education.