Herbal Remedies: Treating Symptoms

What is an adaptogenic herb?

If you are unsure what an adaptogenic herb is, or if you clicked on this page by mistake, start HERE for a quick overview on the three categories of herbal treatments to quickly find the solution you are looking for.

Treating Symptoms with Natural Herbs

If you are one of the millions of people who experience a winter illness, this time reach for a more natural remedy. You may be surprised at how quickly herbs and foods you might already have in your kitchen can heal your immune system and soothe your symptoms. The herbs that can help you are listed here, categorized by the benefit they promote. It is always better to take action at the first sign of something going wrong, rather then wait to see if “it really gets bad.”

Make sure you are also eating a healthy, seasonal diet with local and organic produce if possible while trying out more natural remedies. It is also extremely helpful, especially at this time of year, to increase your intake of zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin D. (Click the links for more info on each!)


The dictionary definition of an expectorant is; “Promoting or facilitating the secretion or expulsion of phlegm, mucus or other matter from the respiratory tract.”

Over the counter drugs like “Mucinex” have cutesy commercials that give you an idea how the product works. As with any manufactured drug, the commercials end with the quickly spoken list of potential side effects. The herbs listed here have no commercials, no spokesperson, and for the most part, no side effects. Trying these herbs may save you the cost and discomfort of needing to take the chemical and artificial drugs and can help get the mucus out of your system.

Peppermint – Also listed as a “anti-tussive” (next section) peppermint is wonderful for soothing and unclogging a sore throat and nose. Peppermint cough drops and peppermint teas are both very mild ways to get the healing benefits of this common plant. Peppermint is also found in natural cold and cough remedies. Snipping fresh peppermint from a garden or an indoor herb pot allows you to chose how you want to use the plant and how much of it you will need. The FDA has approved using mentholated ointments and steam inhalants containing peppermint for relief of milder symptoms.

Image result for peppermint

Other Natural Expectorants Include:
Grindelia (Also listed below as an antitussive)
Ginger (Also listed below as an antimicrobial
Thyme (Listed as both antitussive and antimicrobial)

Look for these in specialty teas, herb based cough drops and syrups, natural medicines, and ointments/rubs.


Better known as cough suppressants, antitussives should not be over used. Coughing is the body’s way of clearing and cleansing the throat and upper respiratory system. Coughing will help expel any foreign materials but also mucus created by the body. Coughing will naturally increase if you begin to use an expectorant (see above). Life still goes on and there are times when coughing is just a pain and could be considered rude in some situations. Work, meetings, social and public outings are perfect examples of this. For these times, using an antitussive herbal remedy can quite down your achy throat for a little while.

Licorice Root – The history of using licorice root for stomach and digestive issues goes back hundreds of years. In modern times, animal studies have now scientifically proven licorice root to cause a strong cough suppressant reaction within the respiratory system. High doses of  licorice root, up to 3 grams per day in healthy adults, can be used for 2 to 3 weeks if you are battling a particularly persistent cough or cold. Licorice is beneficial for IBS, GERD and other digestive disorders as well. Taking licorice long term for these types of issues is safe when the dose is limited to 1 gram per day. There are side effects too much licorice is taken at one time, or if licorice is taken for too long – So be mindful of the doses in the natural products you chose. Click here for my favorite Licorice Tea.

Other Natural Cough Suppressants Include:
Slippery Elm (Also listed under Demulcent below)
Peppermint – (See description under ‘Expectorants’)
Grindelia (Also listed as an expectorant)
Thyme (Listed as both an expectorant and an antimicrobial)


Commercial antibiotics are given out today as broad spectrum “cure alls” while medicinal foods and herbs sit quietly in the pantry. Widespread use of antibiotics causes so called “Super Bugs”. These are strains of bacteria and germs become adapted to and therefore resistant to the general antibiotics. There is also compelling research describing the re-colonization of antibiotics in your digestive system after taking antibiotics. You see, antibiotics kill off all of the ‘good guys’ as well. Studies are showing it takes months for a healthy balance to return and some times years for the balance to return to exactly how it was before. Using antimicrobial herbs and foods, you can keep the bad bacteria from invading your immune, digestive and respiratory systems.

Andrographis – This herb packs a double punch for your body and is best for people who need an immune boost – yesterday! Andrographis stimulates immune cells to work harder but also helps your overburdened immune system by killing viruses (but not bacteria or other live invaders). This dual purpose herb is very effective whether you usually get sick in the winter, or are already getting sick.

Some research has seen the chances of respiratory infection drop by 50% when andrographis is taken for two months. Feel like you’ll get sick soon? If you start supplementing with andrographis by the second day of symptoms at the latest, you will get ahead of your infection and experience less severe symptoms and be healthier faster. Studies conducted in 1995, 1999 and 2003 show this effect is amplified when used with the herb eluthero. When taken preventatively, dose with about 500 mg. If taken within two days of infection symptoms appearing, take 1,000 to 2,000 mg of andrographis leaf spread over the day.

Astragalus – This woody root has several active ingredients that stimulate and enhance your overall immunity. Astragalus increases the levels of various immune cells within mucosal membranes – this makes blowing your nose and clearing your throat more effective at sweeping away unwanted pathogens. Astragalus acts as a first defense, it removes harmful virus and bacterial before they have a chance to attack the body. In addition to supplements, astragalus is available in natural grocery stores an the whole root. The root can be prepared in several ways to suit your tastes. There are recipes around the web for making alcohol tinctures, but the easiest preparation is letting the root simmer in soup or tea to unlock the nutrients. (You do not eat the actual root) If you choose a supplement, look for a 0.3% standard for the active ingredient “astragolide”.

Other Antimicrobials Include:


Demulcent relieve minor pain and reduce inflammation by encouraging mucous membrane to soften and form a soothing film. These types of herbs and medicines are best used towards the end of an illness, or with a very mild illness. You would not want to use a demulcent with an expectorant, as you would be promoting contrasting processes within the body.

Slippery Elm – The bark of slippery elm was an official drug in the United States Pharmacopia for over 100 years. In fact, the FDA still endorses slippery elm as a nonperscription demulcent. Due to its wide use in this country as a popular soothing herb, many formulas for colds, even ones not branded as ‘natural’ will include slippery elm.

Click here for the “old school” throat drops on Amazon.

Other Demulcents Include:
Licorice (See Antitussives above)

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