Your kitchen likely contains remedies that will build immunity and help ward off respiratory illnesses. Here are a few superstars:
Garlic – Allium sativum. Garlic has been used for centuries as both a food ingredient and a medicine. Older test-tube studies note that garlic may have antiviral activity against influenza A and B, HIV, HSV-1, viral pneumonia, and rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. However, current research is lacking (1)
Animal and test-tube studies indicate that garlic enhances immune system response by stimulating protective immune cells, which may safeguard against viral infections (2)
In addition to being antimicrobial, it promotes digestion through stimulating bile in the liver. Both garlic and onions may help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Chopped garlic cloves can be infused in olive oil for a day or two, then strained and used for cooking. This oil is also excellent for helping to combat ear infections, and as a topical rub for coughs and colds. The oil is applied to babies’ feet as a safe way to help fight respiratory infections. You can smell it on their breath a few minutes later. When cooking with garlic, chop it, and let it sit several minutes to stabilize the medicinal properties.
Onions – Allium spp. The aromatics in raw onions can help calm a cough. A quick home remedy is to cut a red onion, place some sugar on it, let it sit overnight and the next day it will produce a syrup that can be eaten as a cough suppressant.
Oregano – Origanum vulgare-is a popular herb in the mint family that’s known for its impressive medicinal qualities. Like rosemary, sage, and thyme, oregano is intensely aromatic, warming, and antibacterial. All species of the oregano plant contain a volatile oil high in two chemically related expectorants (carvacrol and thymol). These oils help loosen phlegm and make it easier to cough up. In one test-tube study, both oregano oil and isolated carvacrol reduced the activity of murine norovirus (MNV) within 15 minutes of exposure (3). This is why oregano has been traditionally used to help ease chest congestion, as well as symptoms that come with the cold and flu. Oil of oregano is also commonly used to help beat bacterial infections.
Sage – Salvia officinalis. Also a member of the mint family, sage is an aromatic herb that has long been used in traditional medicine to treat viral infections (4).
The antiviral properties of sage are mostly attributed to compounds called safficinolide and sage one, which are found in the leaves and stem of the plant (5).
Garden sage is used for decreasing excess secretions in the body including respiratory and sinus mucus. It is cooling, drying, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial. Gargle sage tea for sore throats or add it to soup, infused vinegar, infused honey, and cough elixir. Do not drink sage tea if you are pregnant or nursing because it may dry up breast milk.
Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis. Rosemary is one of the most versatile culinary herbs. It’s a wonderful addition to teas, soups, sauces, meats, vegetables,
breads, and even desserts like cookies, cakes, and chocolate. It is antimicrobial, antioxidant, aids in circulation, has a warming quality, and promotes memory retention.
As previously stated, Rosemary is frequently used in cooking but likewise has therapeutic applications due to its numerous plant compounds, including oleanolic acid (6).
Oleanolic acid has displayed antiviral activity against herpes viruses, HIV, influenza, and hepatitis in animal and test-tube studies (7).
Plus, rosemary extract has demonstrated antiviral effects against herpes viruses and hepatitis A, which affects the liver (8).
Thyme – Thymus vulgaris. is a stimulating expectorant which treats coughs, upper respiratory infections, bronchitis and whooping cough. I find that the easiest way to use it is to make tea and might be one of my favorite remedies for coughs.
It is full of volatile oils that excite lung tissue, break up congestion, fight bacteria and viruses, and promote expectoration. You can also add thyme to many recipes. I add it to my cough elixir, fire cider, and cough and cold teas.
Peppermint – Mentha × piperita – Peppermint is known to have powerful antiviral qualities and commonly added to teas, extracts, and tinctures meant to naturally treat viral infections.
Its leaves and essential oils contain active components, including menthol and rosmarinic acid, which have antiviral and anti-inflammatory activity (9).
In a test-tube study, peppermint-leaf extract exhibited potent antiviral activity against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and significantly decreased levels of inflammatory compounds (10).
Recipes for Respiratory Support
This respiratory steam can be made with any volatile oil-rich culinary herbs and spices you have on
hand. Try thyme (Thymus vulgaris) aerial parts, rosemary (Rosmarinus offcinalis) aerial parts, sage
(Salvia officinalis) aerial parts, basil (Ocimum basilicum) aerial parts, marjoram (Origanum
majorana) aerial parts, mint (Mentha spp.) aerial parts, bee balm (Monarda fistulosa or M. didyma)
aerial parts, cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) bark, clove (Syzygium aromaticum) bud, citrus peels, or
any combination of these.
¼ cup dried or ½ cup fresh oregano (Origanum vulgare) aerial parts
4-6 cups (32-48 fl oz) water
1. Place oregano in a large bowl or pot.
2. Bring water to a boil.
3. Pour just-off-the boil water over the herbs. Stir briefly to incorporate the herbs.
4. Let steep, covered, for 5-10 minutes while the water cools enough for steaming.
5. When the water has cooled to a comfortable steaming temperature, sit in front of the bowl and
place a towel over your head to create a tent.
6. Close your eyes and breathe deeply while steaming for 5-15 minutes
Kitchen Spices Cough Syrup
This recipe can be made as-is, but should be noted that thyme combines well with demulcent herbs, such as licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root (not to be used for individuals with high blood pressure), fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) seed, plantain (Plantago spp.) leaf, or violet (Viola spp.) aerial parts, for a dry cough. Simply replace half of the thyme in this recipe with your choice of demulcent herbs.
Note: this syrup should not be given to children under 1 year of age.
⅓ cup dried or ½ cup fresh thyme (Thymus vulgaris) aerial parts
⅛ cup anise (Pimpinella anisum), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), or cardamom (Elettaria
1 cup (8 fl oz) water
½-2 cups (6-25 oz) raw honey
1. Bring water to a boil.
2. Place herbs in a small saucepan.
3. Prepare a concentrated herbal infusion: pour 1 cup of just-off-the-boil water over dried herbs.
Steep for 20-40 minutes, covered.
4. Strain infusion and return liquid to the saucepan.
5. Add ½ to 2 cups of raw honey. If made with ½ cup of honey, the syrup will have a shelf life
of 3 weeks, refrigerated; if made with 2 cups of honey, the syrup will have a shelf life of 1 year,
refrigerated (Cech, 2000; Gladstar, 2012).
6. Warm mixture just slightly to enable the liquid and sweetener to mix. Avoid heating above 110
degrees F (Cech, 2000).
7. Transfer syrup to a sanitized bottle or jar (ideally, a dark-colored jar to protect from light
exposure) using a sanitized funnel and cap tightly.
8. Label and store in the refrigerator.
9. Take 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon as needed.
This simple recipe combines garlic with honey, another antimicrobial superfood. Garlic honey and the
honey-steeped garlic cloves can be taken on a regular basis to stave off infection. They can also be taken at the first sign of illness or to soothe a sore throat, cough, cold, the flu, or sinus infection. Try garlic honey stirred into a hot cup of tea or eaten by the spoonful!
Note: Honey and garlic can both harbor spores of Clostridium botulinum (the pathogen that causes
botulism). The growth of C. botulinum spores is more likely to occur in a neutral pH, a moist environment, or an environment without oxygen. C. botulinum spores are less likely to reproduce and the risk of botulism is lower in preparations with high acid (pH of below 4.6), high sugar, or high salt content (United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, 2010). Honey is approximately 80% sugar, making it high in sugar. Honey is also acidic, with a pH of 3.9 (National HoneyBoard, n.d.). Though many use this recipe as-is, because the honey is diluted by the garlic thus causing the sugar content to lower, some individuals choose to use a pH meter and add a splash of apple cider vinegar to keep the pH levels below 4.6.
3 garlic (Allium sativum) bulbs
1. Peel and separate the cloves and chop or grate.
2. Fill a sanitized, dry jar about half full with chopped garlic cloves, then cover with honey. (Avoid
filling to the top of the jar as a harmful bacteria is more likely to grow if there is no air space at
the top of the jar.)
3. Stir the honey with a sanitized, dry spoon to make sure that all of the garlic is covered.
4. Cap and label the jar, and store for up to 3 months.
5. To use, take 1 teaspoon once a day as a tonic or 4-6 times a day during an active infection.