Last year, this article Don't Use Echinacea for This Season's Flu by herbalist Karen Vaughan intrigued me. This was mainly because she clarified a difference between immunomodulators which do not hype up your immune system and immune stimulants, like Echinacea that do. This year, this article in the NYTimes How not to fight colds, referred to studies made over the last couple of decades to conclude that it is not the virus that causes cold symptoms - it is the host's inflammatory response.
This goes against the logic of the plethora of alternative remedies out there that 'strengthen' the immune system but the language is confusing. What we want to happen is for our immune system to not overreact but to remain on even keel to function effectively. What we want is immunomodulation. We want to 'strengthen' but not stimulate. For that Karen recommends, among other things, Reishi and Astragulus.
In How to Treat Colds and Flu with Herbal Medicine she also recommends Miso soup with scallions before symptoms become pronounced, and Lemon Balm in a paste with honey but if you are actually coming down with something then there are some alternative strategies. If you are feeling more chilled than feverish you need warming diaphoretic herbs. This would include garlic, ginger, onion or galangal. In the early stages fresh ginger tea or eating sushi ginger in quantity can be helpful. If you are colder, then dry ginger tea, cinnamon chai (without milk or soy), garlic or a strong onion soup. Personally, I favor good old chicken soup with the addition of ginger, garlic, scallions and Shitaake mushrooms as regular cold season fare. I find that one of the first symptoms I usually get is a lack of appetitie and queasiness- so ginger and pepermint in tea is also in rotation.
I recently mentioned discovering Andrographis Paniculata. On a recent trip to Singapore, I found a store with a full department of Chinese medicine. Apart from a counter where there were herbalists taking and preparing orders, there were shelves packed with over the counter remedies. The cold and flu section was well represented with boxes of this herb in capsules. Here's a list of studies about this herb from the American Botanical Councils's herbal Library. Impressed by this, we now have two large pots of this herb in the garden- see pic above- it's just about to flower. If you were to try growing this, the time to harvest the leaves is just after they flower, so that you have supplies for the cold season.