We are officially in the throes of cold and flu season, and whether you’re attending work or school, the grocery store or the gym, one thing is certain: Viruses and bacteria are lurking everywhere, and they’re just waiting to attack.
So how can we prevent these little invaders from taking over our bodies and hijacking our immune systems? A healing foods diet, regular exercise, and natural stress reduction can certainly help. But there’s still more you can do.
Antiviral herbs, which are easily found in multiple forms, including from teas, tablets, and tinctures, are scientifically proven to guard against viruses that cause both the common cold and the flu. Even if you’re already under the weather, they can help alleviate symptoms and help you get back on your feet, faster.
5 Antiviral Herbs
Here are five of my favorite antiviral herbs to keep you healthy this winter.
Goldenseal is one of the five top-selling herbal products in the United States today, and it’s popular for a good reason. Goldenseal contains the compound berberine, which has been proven to be antimicrobial, antitumor and anti-inflammatory—attributes that make goldenseal a powerful defense against the pathogens that cause the common cold, flu and many other health complaints.
Research conducted at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School has shown goldenseal’s medicinal effectiveness as an immune stimulant may be due to its ability to reduce the pro-inflammatory response, which indirectly limits clinical symptoms during infection. Studies have also shown that goldenseal might help boost white blood cells, which is a measure of the infection-fighting ability of the immune system.
2. Astragalus Root
Astragalus is a plant within the Leguminosae (beans or legumes) family that has a very long history as an immune system booster and disease fighter. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and is a known adaptogen—a term given to plants that help the body adapt to environmental stresses, while also helping to prevent sickness and disease.
Scientific studies have shown that astragalus has antiviral properties and stimulates the immune system, suggesting that it may help prevent the common cold or flu. As with many other natural cold remedies, it seems to work better when healthy individuals use the supplement regularly in order to prevent illness before it happens.
A regimen of astragalus before the colder months of winter is said to prevent or decrease the number of colds and upper respiratory illnesses individuals will have throughout the season.
Elderberries are an excellent general immune system booster. The berries contain chemical compounds called anthocyanidins, which are known to have immune system-stimulating effects. And in addition to preventing illness, the elderberry extract has been shown to be a safe, efficient and cost-effective treatment for both cold and flu symptoms.
A 2016 study published in Nutrients showed that elderberry supplementation could actually reduce the duration and symptoms of a cold in air travelers. Travelers using elderberry from 10 days before travel until four to five days after arriving overseas experienced, on average, a two-day shorter duration of their colds and also a noticeable reduction in cold symptoms.
Another study published in the Journal of International Medical Research showed that when the extract is used within the first 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms, it shortens the duration of flu symptoms by an average of four days.
Echinacea is one of the most popular and commonly used herbs, thanks to its history of fighting the illness that dates back to its use among Native Americans, who commonly used it as a general cure-all. Those tribes knew that echinacea contains powerful compounds that inhibit bacteria and viruses from penetrating healthy cells, greatly reducing the chance infection.
Fast forward to today, and countries like Germany (where the government regulates herbal remedies) have approved echinacea to treat colds, flu-like infections, upper respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections and slow-healing wounds.
Science has also backed up echinacea’s lengthy medicinal history: A review of 14 clinical trials revealed that echinacea reduced the odds of developing a cold by 58% and the duration of a cold by 1 to 4 days.
5. Olive Leaf
More and more studies are proving that olive leaf is a powerful medicinal tool with an amazing ability to provide immune system support. Oleuropein, one of the primary compounds in olive leaf, has attracted attention since the early 1900s because of its antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Research shows that olive leaf extracts effectively fight against a number of disease-causing microbes, including some of the viruses that cause the flu and other respiratory infections.
The powerful compounds found in olive leaves also destroy invading organisms and don’t allow those viruses to replicate and cause an infection—which is just the kind of support you need when everyone around you is coughing and sneezing!