Home Herbal Medicine Cabinet: Cold and Flu Remedies

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Cold and flu season is here, and we at Stick Out Your Tongue are here to help you navigate the waters of home remedies for colds and flu prevention. Chinese medicine has a lot of advice for how to avoid or quickly overcome a cold or flu. You do not have to suffer for weeks with a cold or flu when you learn a few of these strategies. In fact, if you have an appointment with your acupuncturist and are not too sick to get there, keep it! Most acupuncturists would rather you come in when sick and get the right herbal formula, than stay home. We have tricks to stay healthy, and the rest of this post is to help you learn some of our tricks.

1. Use the Correct Herbs

Chinese herbal medicine is older than the use of acupuncture. Back in the day when Chinese herbal medicine was the medicine of the times, people did not have homes with heating and cooling systems that offered temperature control. Drafts, dampness, and cold weather infiltrated shelters, and it made colds and flus truly dangerous to humans. As a result, Chinese herbal medicine devotes a large percentage of its focus to correctly treating colds and flus with herbs.

To learn how to choose the correct herbs to treat your cold or flu symptoms, it is important to pay attention to the symptoms you are developing. Colds and flus are divided into cold patterns or heat patterns.

Cold patterns have these symptoms:

  • feeling chilled or slight fever, but doesn’t want to get cold
  • little to no sweating
  • tight, achy muscles
  • heavy feeling muscles
  • feeling tired
  • clear or white mucus

Heat pattern symptoms:

  • feeling feverish, feeling too hot
  • sweating
  • sore throat
  • yellow mucus

sometimes heat patterns also have a strong cough

Common culinary herbs to treat cold pattern colds and flus are warming:

These include cinnamon, fresh ginger, and green onion. While not in the Chinese medicine materia medica, I also find that elderberry tincture or elderberry syrup and echinacea are useful for cold pattern colds and flus. Use raw honey in teas.

A great strategy when coming down with a cold pattern cold is at the very first hint of feeling sick start taking an elderberry tincture or tea, cook with garlic and ginger in large quantities. This could look like a vegetable stir-fry with double the usual amount of garlic and ginger, or a garlic, ginger, sesame oil flavored chicken soup with plenty of vegetables.I also will use citrus in my teas or water, and take some extra Vitamin C.

I will also use one of the two main cold pattern herbal formulas from Chinese medicine: Gui Zhi Tang, or if you have a great deal of neck and shoulder tension, Ge Gen Wan. You can acquire these from any of your local acupuncturists.

Common culinary herbs to treat heat pattern colds and flus: 

For heat patterns, these colds come on fast and furious. These require stronger herbs that can tax the body if overused. It is pretty clear when a heat pattern cold is happening, you sweat and you have sore throat, plus the other signs listed above. For these instances, I’ll use oregano oil tincture 4-6x a day, and I may eat some raw garlic cloves or simply cook with very large amounts of garlic. I’ll also use one of the cooling herbal formulas from Chinese medicine: Gan Mao Ling or if the symptoms are really strong, then I’ll use Yin Qiao San. If there is a vigorous cough, I use Sang Ju Yin.

Note: citrus and vitamin C is good for any type of cold or flu.

2. Stay Hydrated

Make sure to drink plenty of water and non-caffeinated tea to give your body the hydration it needs to fight off pesky virus and bacteria invaders.

3. Try Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy uses warm and cold water to help your body stimulate your immune system. My favorite hydrotherapy for quick success overcoming or avoiding getting sick is to use the Wet Sock Treatment. Check out our blogpost devoted to the Wet Sock Treatment here.

4. Keep A Home Herbal Medicine Cabinet

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What I have on hand at all times at home in the medicine cabinet in case I start to get sick:

  • elderberry tincture, syrup, or tea
  • a bottle of Gui Zhi Tang and/or Ge Gen Wan
  • a bottle of Yin Qiao/Gan Mao Ling or both
  • a bottle of Sang Ju Yin
  • a throat spray for those times where a sore throat is really all too present
  • I almost always have garlic and ginger in my pantry

5. An Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure

The most important strategy is to listen to your body and pay attention to both your family and work environment. If your co-workers start getting sick or any of your family members come home with a cold, that is the best time for you to increase garlic, ginger, and/or oregano in your diet. Listen to the symptoms they complain about and it can help you decide if you need to use more of the cold pattern herbs or the hot pattern herbs.

Simply cooking with garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and oregano and taking a little bit of elderberry before showing symptoms of getting sick, my help you completely avoid getting sick. But if you start to show symptoms yourself, that is when I recommend busting out the arsenal of the appropriate cold or heat pattern Chinese herbal medicine formulas, plus a tincture, add hydrotherapy, and eat healthy.

One of my favorite soups for any cold or flu is this: Chicken Soup To Ward Off A Cold. Sometimes I’ll make it for dinner when the people around me start getting sick as a preventative measure. Sidenote: this soup uses garlic and oregano but in amounts that are supportive to your system and will not overly tax your body. Save the oregano tincture (the highly concentrated form of oregano) for those times that you have a heat pattern cold.


Lindsey Thompson is an East Asian Medicine Practitioner at the Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. She loves growing vegetables, raising chickens, and striving to get the most out of life. Practicing medicine and help people find ways to improve their health at home is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her career.

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