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The Willow Journal

Herbs for Immune Support: Part 2- Acute Cold/Flu

Herbs for Immune Support: Part 2- Acute Cold/Flu

So you are feeling that tickle in your throat? Maybe a little feverish or stuffy? This is a very specific time where herbal medicine can be utilized to help you recover more quickly and move through the uncomfortable symptoms with grace and ease.

The herbs that we lean on during an illness are sometimes different than the herbs we use to keep us from getting sick in the first place. Their focus is on boosting immunity and directly addressing the specific symptoms that are presenting.

This is Part 2 in our series on herbs for immune health, your complete guide to the herbs you need when you actually are sick. We cover herbs to use at the initial signs of illness, the various stages of fever, as well as how to address common symptoms like sinus congestion, wet cough, dry cough, and sore throats.

If you are interested in learning exactly what to do to prevent an illness from taking hold in the first place, read Herbs for Immune Support: Part 1-Prevention. 

What to do when you get sick...

The First Signs

What is the first symptom most of us get when our body is fighting off an illness? That tickle in the back of the throat. Maybe it feels sore when you swallow or rough when you talk. This is the perfect time to work with stronger immune stimulants and anti-virals to nip it in the bud!

Immune Stimulants

Immune stimulants like Echinacea have become popularized and widely known. However, with the mass commercialization of this powerful plant, some of the nuance of when to use its medicine has been lost. Because of its stimulating nature, it is not recommended for long periods of time or daily use… see more on this in Part 1. 

Echinacea shines most brightly at the initial signs of illness. It works best in warding off a cold when taken in high doses, frequently at the first symptoms.

If the illness has taken hold for more than 3 days, Echinacea doesn’t do as much for “boosting” the immune system. At this point, later in an illness, Echinacea’s role is to promote lymphatic clearance. It may still help you get over it quicker and may help move congestion or aches from a fever.

Herbal formulas to use at the first signs of illness:

Immuno-stim Throat Spray- This throat spray not only has our favorite immune stimulant, Echinacea, but it also contains several antiviral herbs like Usnea, Propolis, Yerba Mansa and Osha to halt the growth of viruses in the throat. It is tried and true by our community, many of whom swear by it to keep them from getting sick at the first signs.

Dosage at onset of illness: 2-3 sprays in throat, 3-8x daily

Immense Defense- Our famous formula for halting or helping you get over an illness quicker. It contains immune stimulants like Echinacea & Myrrh. It also has Milk Thistle, Red Root and Poke Root to support lymphatic clearance to move the virus out of the body quicker and lessen symptoms of congestion, aches and pains.

Dosage at onset of illness: 3 full droppers, 3-6x daily

Dosage after 3 days into an illness: 2-3 full droppers, 3x daily

Ultra Echinacea- If Echinacea is really calling your name and you want the best extraction possible, go for our Ultra Echinacea. Best used at the onset of illness in high doses, this will help boost immunity and action of white blood cells to engulf pathogens. We prepare ours in a double extraction process to obtain not only the alcohol soluble tingly alkamides, but also the water soluble immunomodulating polysaccharides for optimal immune benefits!

Dosage at onset of illness: 3-4 full droppers, 3-6x daily

Oh Yeah, You're Sick

Okay, so now you’re past the point of the initial tickle in the throat into full blown cold/flu. From a vitalist herbalist perspective, at this stage our main focus is in supporting the body’s innate ability to heal. We do this by addressing symptoms as needed to promote comfort, while you rest and ride it out.

Here are the most common symptoms associated with viral illness and what to do to address them.

Sinus Congestion

While it is never comfortable to deal with the icky sticky sick goo we call mucous, it is an important aspect of the immune system. Mucous contains antibodies and helps to kill and wash away pathogens.

The goal is to nurture the mucous to flow freely as a thin liquid. This is best achieved by staying hydrated and using pungent herbs to help support circulation and flow.

Especially during an active illness like cold or flu, it is best not to suppress mucous with decongestants but encourage its flow. This will not only support the body’s overall immune system and recovery, but it ultimately help you get over the congestion quicker.

Steam Inhalation Treatment: Our Steam Inhalation Treatment is one of my favorite remedies for sinus congestion because it not only helps support circulation to the mucous membranes, but it also delivers moisture through the steam. Antimicrobial essential oils from the whole plants are carried on the steam and are met directly with your respiratory tissues to help kill pathogens in the respiratory system.

Dosage/directions: Bring 6-8 cups water to boil remove from heat, add 4 tbsp of Steam Inhalation Treatment, once the temperature is comfortable, sit over the bowl and trap steam with a towel so that you are breathing in the steam. Once you are finished steaming, you can strain the herbs and drink the remaining liquid as a tea for extra benefits.

Steam 1-2x daily during acute illness.

Marshmallow Cold Infusion: Demulcent herbs like Marshmallow root help our bodies hold onto moisture. When the main goal is staying hydrated during an illness, drinking a cold infusion of Marshmallow can be really supportive.

Dosage/directions: Add 4 tbsp Marshmallow Root (purchase at your local apothecary or call in your order at Dancing Willow Herbs 970-247-1654) to a quart sized mason jar, fill to the top with room temperature water, stir and cover with a lid. Let sit overnight or for at least 4 hours, strain and drink throughout the day.

1 quart daily during acute illness.

Fire Cider: You know how that soup with lots of garlic and spicy chillies tastes especially good when you are sick? Pungent, spicy flavors are typically antimicrobial, immune stimulating substances. They also help to stimulate circulation and help promote movement & flow of mucous… which is our ultimate goal (next to staying hydrated) when sick. Fire Cider can be really helpful at promoting movement of mucous, especially when it feels blocked and congested.

Dosage/directions: Take 1 tsp straight, add to a little bit of water and take it like a shot, or add to hot water, broth or soup.

1-2 tsp, 3-6x daily during acute illness.

Wet Cough

Much like sinus congestion, a cough is the body’s innate wisdom at play, designed to expel infectious agents bound up in mucous out of the body. Especially in the case of a wet cough, our goal is to support the body in expectorating and getting the mucus out of the lungs. It is best to avoid cough suppressing herbs (antitussives), such as Wild Cherry Bark, unless the cough is interfering with sleep. When the goal in a wet cough is to support the removal of mucous, antitussives are counteractive… but they may be necessary to help someone sleep. This takes precedence because sleep will ultimately help support the body in healing more than any herb ever could! If this is the case, use Wild Cherry Bark before bed or nap times exclusively.

Wet coughs benefit most from stimulating expectorants that will help bring circulation to the lungs, expel mucous and also posess antimicrobial substances to support the immune system.

LNG Ease: LNG Ease is our best formula for when you have a lower respiratory infection. It contains herbs which are powerful expectorants, but it also contains herbs which support lung capacity which can help you breathe deeper and more comfortably when you are ill.

Dosage: 3 full droppers, 3-4x daily during acute illness

Herbal Cough Syrup: An expectorant formula that will help dry up a wet cough, while also soothing the cough reflex. Its antimicrobial nature will support immunity and open lung capacity. Best taken when a wet cough is preventing you from sleeping.

Dosage: 1 tsp before bed or nap times

Dry Cough

A dry cough is approached differently, as our main superstar- mucous, is not present. When mucous is present, our goal is to remove it from the body. In the case of a dry cough, respiratory tissues become irritated and trigger the cough reflex.

Our goal here is to soothe the cough reflex so your lungs can relax and your body can rest. We want to bring moisture to the lungs, soften the cough reflex and work with relaxing expectorants to open lung capacity.

Calm a Cough Tea: This tea contains Wild Cherry Bark, an excellent antitussive for soothing the cough reflex. It has Marshmallow root, our superstar demulcent to help bring moisture to the lungs/throat and soothe the cough reflex by reducing irritation in the tissues. Paired with lung tonics like Mullein and Coltsfoot, this is our go-to formula for a dry cough.

Dosage: 2 cups of tea, 2-3x daily. Add honey or lemon for extra soothing support.

Sore Throat

If your sore throat persists and becomes more than that initial tickle warning sign of illness, some of these herbal strategies may come in handy. Sore throats are more commonly caused by viral infections. However, it is important to distinguish if you have Streptococcus bacterial infection if the sore throat lingers for more than a week.

Throat Ease Tea: Throat Ease is our tea blend designed to address not only the symptoms associated with a sore throat, but also promote localized immunity to help you get over it quicker. Marshmallow and Licorice are demulcents that helps soothe and bring moisture to the throat. Calendula and Sage are both antiviral and enhance immune activity directly in the mucous membranes of the throat.

Dosage: 2 cups of tea, 2-3x daily. Add honey or lemon for extra soothing support.   


While fevers are really uncomfortable, from a vitalist herbalist perspective, they really are the body’s innate wisdom helping you get over the illness quicker. There are important phases of a fever, which require varying herbal support.

Stage 1- The Chills:

The first stage of a fever is when you may feel cold, shivery, with an aversion to cold or wind. During this phase, your body closes the pores to prevent sweating and heat loss to elevate your temperature above your typical baseline in order to kill the virus. During this stage, it is important to support the body’s natural inclination. Instead of using herbs or substances that reduce a fever, this is when we want to utilize herbs that will help increase body temperature. Staying warm and bundled with blankets, warm liquids and fasting will help support the body to move through this phase quicker.

Herbs for Stage 1:

Stage 2- Hot & Bothered:

Once you break through to a higher temperature and into stage 2, you will notice your skin will become hot and dry. During this stage we don’t necessarily want to reduce the temperature (unless someone is dehydrated), but instead we seek to utilize herbs that will open the pores to promote sweating called relaxing diaphoretics. It is critical to stay hydrated here, consistently drinking lukewarm or room temperature teas or water with minerals.

Herbs for Stage 2:

Stage 3- Recovery:

During this phase your temperature will start toggling back to a normal range. It is critical that you don’t do too much, and keep resting. Be mindful to stay warm, and consider including only easy to digest foods like broths and soups. In traditional cultures, it is understood that the period of recovery should be at least the length of the days of active fever. We will talk more on this in Part 3… what to do to support yourself after an illness, to avoid lingering flu-like symptoms… but rest comes first and foremost here.

Herbs for Stage 3:


With this resource at your disposal, I hope you feel more empowered to trust the innate wisdom of your immune system and use herbs to support the process. If you ever have questions or need support, feel free to call us. We would be happy to put together herbal packages for pickup, or quick shipment during cases of acute cold/flu. 

Keep your eye out for Part 3 where we will discuss all things recovery- how to support your body after you have been sick to avoid lingering symptoms. 

Stay healthy out there!