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The Women's Herbal Apothecary: Preparing Your Herbal Medicine Cabinet For Cold and Flu Season

Dr. JJ Purcell

Board-certified naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist working with medicinal herbs for over 20 years and author of The Woman’s Herbal Apothecary



The leaves turning on the trees and pumpkins popping up everywhere are two easy signs that it is time to prepare your herbal medicine cabinet for the fall and winter months. Even if you live in warmer climates, there is still a distinct cold and flu season, and it’s handy to have a few things on hand for moments of need. The first place to look is your garden if you have one. Fall is the perfect time to take stock of what you may still be able to harvest and what you have left from earlier summer harvests. Here is a list of a few of my favorites and what they are most often used for.

Rosemary leaves – respiratory infections, wet coughs, hair tonic

Calendula flowers – antimicrobial, cuts, burns, helps digestion, helps reduce smooth muscle cramping

Elderberry – antiviral, high in bioflavonoids, reduce sinus pressure Lavender flowers – antimicrobial, burns, acne, depression, hypertension

Yarrow flowers – styptic, colds/flus

Peppermint – nausea, brain stimulant, skin tonic, pain reducer, menopause

Mullein leaves – respiratory support

Coltsfoot leaves – respiratory support Dandelion root – blood sugar regulation, water retention, liver support

Lemon Balm leaves – calming, antiviral, anti-depressant

Echinacea purpurea root – white blood cell stimulator

Horseradish root – sinus congestion

Milk Thistle seeds – liver tonic without being stimulating

Garlic bulb – immune support, sinus congestion

Hyssop leaves – detoxing, tonic, antispasmodic, respiratory support

Thyme leaves – throat pain reliever, pain reliever, antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial

Hawthorn berry – calming, supports cardiac muscle and regularity

Hops – sedative, insomnia, nervousness

Catnip leaves – digestion tension, stomach upset, fevers in children

Fennel seeds – digestive system support, reduces gas and bloating

By taking the time to get a few things in the medicine cabinet now, you’ll be ready to fight anything that comes your way the moment it arrives. And that is key. If you can begin taking an herbal tea or liquid drops (known as a tincture) at the first sign of illness, you can give yourself a major head start in fighting off any bacterial or viral infection. I typically drink three cups of echinacea root and rosemary tea at the first sign of a chest cold, or I’ll take my respiratory syrup (see recipe below) when I feel a scratchy throat. I also love the warming sock treatment and use it right away when I notice nasal congestion from a cold coming on. An old nature cure treatment, it works wonders and I often use it on my kids with much success.

What conditions are warming socks used for?

• sprains, strains, pain, inflammation of feet/ankles

• fever

• headaches/migraines

• ear infections • sore throats

• nasal congestion

• upper respiratory infections

• coughs/colds

• bronchitis

• sinus infections

Warming socks are best done before going to bed, leaving them on while sleeping. This treatment works best if repeated for three nights in a row, as it ensures resolution to the process.


Pair of medium-weight 100% cotton socks

Pair of thick 100% wool socks

A warm bath or warm footbath



Rosemary essential oil


Make sure your feet are warm before applying treatment. Warming can be accomplished by soaking your feet in warm water for at least 5-10 minutes or taking a warm bath for 5-10 minutes. Dry off feet and body with a dry towel.

At this point you can rub on rosemary essential oil for an added effect of immune support. Soak cotton socks in icy cold water, wring out well and put on feet. Put heavy wool socks over the wet socks, being sure that the dry wool socks cover all of the wet cotton socks. Immediately go to bed, snuggling in tight with adequate blankets. Leave on overnight.

Effects of the Warming Sock Treatment:

• It sends a clear message to the brain, saying, “Oh my! I’ve got cold, wet feet! We need to warm them up.” This message increases the overall body temperature slightly and increases blood circulation in an attempt to warm the feet.

• Increased body temperature makes your body an intolerable place for bacteria and viruses to live.

• Increased circulation mobilizes immune cells to fight infection, reduce congestion and remove blood stagnation if there is an injury you are trying to repair.

• Most report a significant decrease in congestion after treatment.

Here are few of my go-to recipes for the fall/winter months. Take a day, have some friends over and work together to create an herbal medicine kit for colds and flus. Enjoy the seasons and stay healthy throughout.

Fever-Busting Tea

Yarrow flowers – 2 parts

Boneset – 1 part

Peppermint – ½ part

Mix together and steep 1-2 tsp in hot water, covered for 8-10 minutes. Add ½ tsp agave or maple syrup. You can collect these anytime, dry them and keep in glass jars for storage up to a year.

Cold/Flu Bath Salts

5 lbs salt of choice

1 oz each: eucalyptus leaves, rosemary leaves

Put salt into a clean, dry bucket that has a tight-fitting lid. Take herbs and mash up into the bucket. Put the lid on, shake every 3-4 days. In 2-3 weeks, it’s ready to go.

Respiratory Syrup

¾ oz elderberries

½ oz reishi mushroom

½ oz mullein leaves

¼ oz turmeric root

Add herbs to 6 cups water and bring to a boil. Simmer low with lid ajar until liquid is reduced by half. Double strain and save the liquid. Add 2 cups maple syrup to warm liquid and stir until dissolved. Add ¼ cup apple cider vinegar. Allow to fully cool and put into amber bottles for storage. Be sure to label

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