Natural Remedies for Cold and Flu Season
Winter is coming: with it, that cool, crisp air and it-that-must-not-be-named, the ever contemptible cold and flu season. In the days of yore, a kitchen or pantry would be stocked with herbs, tinctures, and teas that could rally to battle any range of ailments and illnesses — in North America specifically, a wealth of ancient herbal traditions survived the flood of new settlers in the early 17th century. The same plants and herbs coveted by those traditions — like nettle, mint, yarrow, and chamomile — were the original healers, and the foundation for modern medicine, from homemade to store-bought remedies.
No matter where you live, if you take a look outside chances are you’ll have access to a host of flora and fauna that pack a beneficial punch. Juniper, for example, is a common shrub with berries that act as a powerful antiseptic. Crabapples are chock-full of vitamin C. Harvesting plants from the wild can yield ingredients for anything from tea to cough syrup, all that can be crafted in your own kitchen. If you take a look outside only to see a brick wall and a view into your neighbor’s bathroom, you can still make your own seasonal cure-alls — just use a reputable resource like Mountain Rose Herbals or Frontier Co-op to find high-quality ingredients in bulk. Beyond the science-experiment novelty of creating your own natural remedies, it’s a healthy, economical alternative to the drugstore dash.
“There’s an energy of self-care around making your own remedies, and it’s proven to help you heal faster,” explains Shae Whitney, founder of Colorado-based DRAM Apothecary. “In the fall, you can harvest elderberry, chokecherry, rosehips, any kind of pine [EXCEPT for Ponderosa Pine — that one's toxic] are all good for cough and colds, just to name a few. This is a belief in many cultures — what you need to heal you usually grows in your backyard, you just need to look for it.”
Here, you’ll find three of Shae’s recipes for healing at home, whether you decide to get out there and forage locally (‘tis the season!) or source from your trusty herbalist.
For dry skin relief
Hops aren’t just found in your pint glass — they have nourishing properties for your skin and can be found growing in alleyways and historic districts. You can also find them at your local brew store. “Hops naturally contain constituents that can inhibit the enzymes in skin that cause aging,” explains Shae. “For this reason, they’re a wonderful addition to your winter self-care game when skin can become more stressed due to harsh temperatures and dry weather.”
Oil: olive, apricot, jojoba, or a blend of all three
Hops, de-stemmed, rinsed, and dried well
Essential oil. Before you settle on a scent, test a small drop on your bare skin. Some essential oils can be harsh to some people.
Cut stems from hops and rinse in a strainer. Let air dry until they are completely dry, or dry them in an oven set low at 150 degrees with the oven door slightly cracked.
Fill a mason jar or glass bottle with hops, then pour oil in until it covers the hops entirely. Use a solar infusion (that is, let the jar sit in the sun and infuse for a day) then strain out the hops and return oil to your jar. Apply to skin as desired.
For immunity, colds, and coughs
Elderberries and chokecherries are packed with vitamin C and when boiled down, make a potent syrup for coughs and colds. If you’re planning on hunting them down, chokecherries are great in late September and early October, but you’ll be able to find them in the wild up to the first frost of the season. Using local honey instead of sugar helps fight location-based illness, such as seasonal allergies.
“Berries contain high levels of antioxidants which help the body build immunity and clear out toxins,” says Shae. If you’re already susceptible to winter illness such as the flu, it’s a wise move to have a bottle of elderberry syrup on hand. Bonus points — chokecherry and elderberry syrups taste delicious!
2 cups water
1 cup elderberries or chokecherries
1 cup sugar or ¾ cup honey
2 vanilla beans
½ tablespoon cinnamon
Add water and berries to a saucepan and boil on high until the berries fall away from their seeds. Remove, strain through a fine sieve, then return to saucepan and bring to a boil again. Scrape any foam that collects at the top and discard. Add sugar or honey, cinnamon, and vanilla beans (split the beans to allow the seeds to disperse). Reduce to desired thickness.
Sanitize the bottle you’ll be storing your syrup in by running it through the dishwasher once or washing with hot, soapy water before bottling.
The syrup keeps for one year in a cool place out of sunlight or in the fridge.
For immunity and to soothe sore throats
A cup of tea is as beneficial as it is comforting. The 1:1 formula makes for an easy way to play with the scale of this recipe, depending on how much you find yourself drinking in the colder months. Juniper and rosehips are in season late summer through late spring, with rosehips getting sweeter as they remain on the branch and dry in the sun.
“Tea doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy to offer healing benefits,” Shae explains. “It’s one of the best ways to make use of medicinal plants as all you need is hot water. You can use fresh or dried plants, but if you’ll be drying them for the season be sure to provide a space with ample airflow to avoid molding.”
1 part juniper berries
1 part ground rosehips
Pick juniper and rosehips and dry thoroughly, then grind with a mortar and pestle or in a food processor on its lowest setting. If you buy your herbs, they’ll likely do this work for you.
Toss herbs together and feel free to add other favorites like peppermint (warms the body and settles the stomach), nettles (source of calcium), or fir needles (great for lung health.) Brew to your liking in a tea press or individual tea infuser for at least ten minutes. [H]
Check out DRAM Apothecary's Kickstarter to learn more about their humble Denver beginnings, their Western heritage history, and their future expansions in the historic (and haunted) frontier town of Silver Plume, Colorado.
Sam Alviani is a freelance writer and editor at Fellow Magazine.
Her list of favorite things rambles on, but includes grilled cheese sandwiches, Stevie Nicks, New Orleans, and her Blue Heeler pup, Lucinda.
You can follow her stories on Instagram.
Images ©: Sam Alviani