In searching for medicinal herbs that I might use to ease cold and flu virus miseries, I discovered most culinary herbs I keep in regular stock were considered antiviral, which means they strengthen the immune system and either kill, or reduce, the reproduction of virus cells. Further digging revealed that comfort foods for the sick included one or more of these herbal seasonings.

These herbs and spices have been used for centuries for medicinal, as well as, culinary purposes, most also have antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial properties, with additional tendencies toward healing the body and easing cold and flu symptoms. In short, if we eat more herbal seasoned home cooked foods we will be healthier and stronger. The herbs can kill, or stop viruses (colds and flu bugs), while boosting our immune system, then go on to kill other bacteria that may cause secondary infections! [edited by the author for clarity]

According to research at Cornell University by professor Paul W. Sherman, and honors student Jennifer Billings [1], into the cultural use of spices for meat cooking and preservation, it was found that thirty common culinary spices tested killed, or stopped the growth of, at least 25% of the food poisoning bacterias. A large number killed at least 75% of the bacteria they were exposed to. Please refer to the sidebar information at right for the list of spices tested. You can quickly glance through the list and determine which of your favorite dinner recipes include the most powerful herbs and spices to allow you to fight off colds and flu.

Check the freshness of your dried herbs for the best flavors for cooking and medicinal potency. The fresher the herb, the darker and more brightly colored they are. Pale, grayish brown, herbs should be thrown out and your stock replenished. Most dried herbs have a shelf life of one year if kept in a cool, dark, and dry environment.

Chicken Soup

chicken soup with medicinal herbsIf you examine the herbal ingredients commonly used in the comfort food chicken soup, you can see why it is called “the Jewish penicillin.” Every recipe is a little different, but of the dozens of chicken soup recipes I reviewed, the following herbs were repeated: celery or celery seed, garlic and/or onions, tarragon or dill, black pepper, and bay leaf. Salt was included in all the recipes, contributing flavor, and sodium that may have been lost during feverish sweats.

Of course, the chicken and vegetables play a big part in the soup, too, by adding loads of vitamins, minerals, protein, rehydrating liquids, inner warmth, and aromatic steam to open sinuses. When we are sick, it makes us feel better just knowing someone took the effort to make chicken soup for us, it's like getting a hug in a bowl! Dr. Stephen Rennard tested his family's cold remedy, "Grandma's Soup," in the lab to find that there was indeed medicinal value to the claim.

For additional research on the medicinal values of chicken soup, please visit Dr. Stephen Rennard's chicken soup pages at the University of Nebraska Medical Center's web site, where you can get the Rennard's chicken soup recipe, research report, and watch the video. [2] The video is streamed below compliments of YouTube.

Cooking with the Rennards: Chicken Soup for a Cold
(6 minutes)

Although low on the bacterial kill list, black pepper "synergizes" other herbs, increasing their production of antibacterial toxins to be used against the virus cells. [1] What a neat trick!

Herbal Teas

herbal tea with medicinal propertiesYou can use culinary herbs for tea, too! The herbs can be combined to address multiple symptoms and to offset the stronger flavor of one. Choose a cold or flu symptom(s) from the Ailment Chart (sidebar at right) and use one teaspoon of dried herb(s) to a cup of hot water to brew yourself some herbal relief tea. Adding honey, lemon, or apple cider vinegar, creates a more pleasing taste for some, and contributes still more medicinal properties.

Honey is an antibacterial, antimicrobial, preservative, coats a sore throat, and has healing properties. It immediately enters the bloodstream, taking the helpful herbal constituents with it, for a much faster effect. Lemon and lime juice, and apple cider vinegar, lower the acid level in the digestive tract making an undesirable environment for bacteria and virus bugs.

A very popular Indian spice and milk tea called Masala Chai, is loaded with beneficial herbs and spices, primarily black tea, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, nutmeg (or allspice instead of the cloves and nutmeg), and black pepper. There is no set recipe as each family has a special blend of their own design.

Other cultural teas, such as Russian spice tea, uses black tea, citrus fruits, cloves, cinnamon, and honey. A mug of warm apple cider tea is made with equal parts black tea and apple cider, with cinnamon, nutmeg, and honey. And mulled cider is also made from apple cider, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and sweetener of choice. All of these recipes change with specific family preference and tradition.

The addition of apple cider vinegar to soups, salad dressings, and tea, is helpful for many ailments, including cold and flu symptoms. It is good to relieve coughs, sore throats, clear chest congestion, and sinuses. It has many vitamins and minerals to aid digestion and create better chemical balance in the body as well. [3]

More Home Remedies for Cold & Flu

garlic is one of the strongest herbal cold and flu remediesPopular cold and flu home remedies, from "Rodale's Encyclopedia of Natural Home Remedies" [4]:

  • Vitamin C from a vitamin supplement, citrus fruits, or many herbs and vegetables.
  • Garlic is the number one herb in antiviral, antibiotic, antibacterial, antiseptic, and antifungal strength. The onion is not far behind garlic in potency.
  • Apple cider vinegar, with the "mother" in the bottom of the jar, is the preferred vinegar for home remedies.
  • Hydrotheraphies: herbal steams to break up sinus and upper respiratory congestion; fomentation, or herbal hot packs (alternating with cool water wipes) on the chest; warm herb baths, and herbed foot soaks help the body's circulation to break up sinus congestion.
  • Horehound mint leaves are used as a tea to break up chest and sinus congestion. Horehound candy does a great job, too, as well as to relieve coughs and sore throats.
  • Aside from the more traditional herbs used for relief of cold and flu symptoms, like: echinacea, licorice, goldenseal, ginseng, elderberry, lemon balm, and hyssops, the culinary herbs in your pantry may prevent illness or help ease the symptoms. So, consider the helpfulness of the seasonings you will use when planning your next family dinner!

    The information in this article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.

    [1] Sherman, Paul & Billing, Jennifer. Darwinian gastronomy: Why we use spices.
    Bioscience. V:49, I:6, P:453-463. Washington. Jun 1999. 19 Dec 2008.
    [2] Rennard, MD, Stephen. Chicken Soup for a Cold. UNMC. 2000. 23 Dec 2008.
    [3] Van Der Burg, Lukas. The Apple Cider Vinegar Flu Remedy: Bitter, then Better. Apple Cider Vinegar Benefits. 24 Dec 2008.
    [4] Bricklin, Mark. Rodale's Encyclopedia of Natural Home Remedies. Rodale. PA. 1982.
    [5] Buhner, Stephen H. Herbal Antibiotics. Storey. MA. 1999.
    [6] Flu Facts. Roche laboratories. 2006-2008. 19 Dec 2008.
    [7] Annie's Remedy: essential oils and herbs. 2005-2008. 19 Dec 2008.


    The results of the Cornell University tested spices were stated by Stephen H. Buhner, in his book "Herbal Antibiotics" (pg 66) in descending order of strength [5]:

    Antiviral ActionHerbs /
    100% of bacteria
    garlic, onion, allspice, and oregano
    90 to 75% of bacteria
    thyme, cinnamon, tarragon, cumin, cloves, lemongrass, bay leaf, capsicums (hot peppers), rosemary, marjoram, and mustard
    72 to 50% of bacteria
    caraway, mint, sage, fennel, coriander, dill, nutmeg, basil, and parsley
    48 to 25% of bacteria
    cardamom, pepper, ginger, anise seed, celery seed, lemon or lime juice

    The cold and flu symptoms listed below came from FluFacts. [6] The majority of herbal remedies are from Annie's Remedy, a very informative herbal database web site. [7]

    (C=Cold, F=Flu)
    C Sore
    garlic, mints (peppermint, spearmint, catnip, horehound), thyme, sage, lemon or lime juice, honey, apple cider vinegar
    C Stuffy

    Use a towel to cover your head held over a steaming bowl of water with one or more of these herbs, or drink as a herbal tea.

    garlic, onion, mints (peppermint, spearmint, catnip, horehound), thyme, dill, anise seed, fennel, rosemary, cayenne, ginger
    garlic, mints (peppermint, spearmint, catnip, horehound), cinnamon, rosemary, cayenne, ginger
    garlic, mints (peppermint, spearmint, catnip, horehound), thyme, anise seed, fennel, rosemary, caraway
    F Cough,
    Use the herbal steam method, or drink as a herbal tea, for Stuffy Nose - Hacking Coughs remedy above.

    sage, basil, garlic, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, mints (peppermint), fennel
    F Headache garlic, cinnamon, cayenne, mints (peppermint, spearmint, catnip, horehound), rosemary, ginger, cloves, nutmeg
    F Fever &
    cayenne, basil, oregano, catnip, sage
    F Fatique sage, rosemary, ginger, nutmeg
    Nausea mints (peppermint, catnip), anise seed, fennel, ginger, cardamom
    mints (peppermint, catnip), marjoram, oregano
    Article Photo Credits:

    Wiki Commons:
    Thumnail photo is Public Domain, the remainder fall under the Creative Commons Attribution 2 & 3

    Related Video Links:

    On YouTube:
    Cooking with the Rennards
    Supermarket Herbalism Day 2: Cold & Flu Tea
    Home Remedy Secrets: Herbal Teas
    Home Remedy Secrets: Herbal Steams
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