Cold Remedies from Chinese Medicine

International Integrative Educational Institute   


Cold Remedies from Chinese Medicine

herbs cold season

How much more miserable could you be? Your nose is running. Your muscles ache. Your head is pounding. It’s the cold and flu season again, and the bug’s bitten you, but good. Don’t just lie there defenseless, there are natural cold remedies that can help. So, let the centuries-old healing power of Chinese herbal medicine put you back on your feet in no time.

Cold and flu (influenza) are viral illnesses. They will not respond to antibiotics. The only way we can roust those bugs out is to rev up the ol’ immune system- just the thing at which Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) excels.

In herbal medicine, whenever we see an infection of any type, there are three cardinal steps we must take. We must kill the invader, support the immune system to prevent relapse, and nourish the tissue that allowed the infection to take root.

Since Chinese herbal medicine is an individualized approach to health care, each herbal treatment is adjusted to the needs of the patient at the time. (1) We must consider the specific symptom pattern in deciding what combination of remedies would be successful. (2) For example, a person with copious mucus would best use a drying herb, and a person with a high fever would use an herb that cools them.

Each of these herbs is also suitable for children, in reduced dose.

Astragalus Root (Astragalus membranaceus, Huang Qi)

This herb is renowned for enhancing the immune system. Although it is preferred for long-term prevention (3), astragalus can be used for acute cold and flu. Since this herb is a building tonic, it is used primarily in deficiency colds, but will produce improvement in just about any case. According to TCM, astragalus strengthens the lungs. Families in China often add astragalus to the family teapot during the cold season, so that everyone can get a daily immune boost.

Astragalus abounds in the scientific literature. Many studies have proven its ability to enhance immune function, including activity against Coxsackie virus, a flu-like virus that mainly affects children. (4) This herb contains immune enhancing polysaccharides similar to those in echinacea and shiitake mushroom. (5)

Unlike most Chinese herbs, astragalus actually tastes pretty good as a tea, with a velvety texture and buttery taste.

Isatidis Root (Isatis tinctora, Ban Lan Gen)

Isatidis root is considered to be synergistic with astragalus, and the two are commonly used in combination. Where astragalus is warming, isatidis is a cooling herb, so it is used to reduce fever. Combination products are widely available.

Isatidis is a broad spectrum antimicrobial, (5) with activity against many types of virus and bacteria, (6) and, according to TCM, strengthens the lungs.

Honeysuckle Flower (Lonicera japonica, Jin Yin Hua)

The sweet tasting and smelling honeysuckle flower, when dried and brewed into a tea, is used in TCM to treat acute fever and sore throat. This cooling herb also strengthens the lungs.

Chrysanthemum Flower (Chrysanthemum morifolium, Ju Hua)

Yes, this is the flower you see at the florist, but get it from your herbalist, please. This cooling herb treats fever and red, dry, swollen eyes. It strengthens the lungs.

This herb also has immune enhancing properties. Scientists have discovered an anti-AIDS component in the plant. (7) Chrysanthemum also kills many pathogenic bacteria, including strep. (5)

In TCM, chrysanthemum is often combined with honeysuckle for a delicious, effective drink, especially for inflammation. (5)

Chinese Patent Formula Pills

Two outstanding prepared formulas deserve mention. Gan Mao Ling and Yin Chiao Chieh Tu Pien are pill combinations widely used in TCM for a quick treatment. Containing several of the herbs already mentioned, they are a convenient way to blast that flu bug. Follow the directions on the package.

With these cold remdies, the cold and flu truly don’t have to get you down. These simple herbal remedies can have you in the pink before you know it.



(1) Tierra, Lesley, Healing with Chinese Herbs, Crossing, Freedom, California, 1997.

(2) David Molony, The American Association of Oriental Medicine’s Complete Guide to Chinese Herbal Medicine, Berkeley Books, New York, 1998.

(3) Bone, Kerry, Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs, Phytotherapy Press, Warwick, Queensland, Australia, 1996.

(4) Peng T Yang Y Riesemann H Kandolf R The inhibitory effect of astragalus membranaceus on coxsackie B-3 virus RNA replication. Chin-Med-Sci-J. 1995 Sep; 10(3): 146-50

(5) Bensky, Dan, and Gamble, Andrew, Chinese Materia Medica, Eastland Press, Seattle, 1986.

(6) Xu YM Lu PC Experimental studies on immunostimulatory effects of the Isatis indigotica polysaccharide Chung-Hsi-I-Chieh-Ho-Tsa-Chih. 1991 Jun; 11(6): 357-9, 325-6

(7) Hu CQ Chen K Shi Q Kilkuskie RE Cheng YC Lee KH Anti-AIDS agents, 10. Acacetin-7-O-beta-D-galactopyranoside, an anti-HIV principle from Chrysanthemum morifolium and a structure-activity correlation with some related flavonoids. J-Nat-Prod. 1994 Jan; 57(1): 42-51