Cold & Flu Season Q&A: You Asked, I Answered!

Cold & Flu Season Q&A: You Asked, I Answered! | Growing Up Herbal | It's winter, and cold and flu season is here! You asked me some of your cold and flu season questions, and here I am, with my answers. Enjoy!

The winter season is known for an increase in viral infections, specifically cold and influenza, and now it seems, covid as well. Because of this, I recently reached out to my followers over on Instagram Stories to see if anyone had any cold and flu season questions they’d like for me to answer, and today, that’s exactly what I’m doing — answering those questions.

After reading through this Q&A post, if you have any additional cold and flu questions you’d like answered, feel free to leave them in the comment section below, and I’ll add them to this post over the next few weeks.

Cold & Flu Season Q&A

“I am trying to cut back on my kid’s sugar intake. Is there a way to make elderberry syrup with less honey or something besides honey? Also, how long will it stay good with something other than honey or less honey?”

If you want to avoid honey in your elderberry syrup, you can replace it with food-grade vegetable glycerin as glycerin doesn’t affect blood sugar levels. While I’m a big fan of reducing sugar consumption in one’s diet, I’m not all that worried about it when it comes to herbal preparations since the doses are so small, especially a child’s dose. You can read a post I wrote about sugar myths here if you’re interested. If you use glycerin in place of honey, your shelf-life will be the same as if you used honey, so it will need to be refrigerated and used in 1-3 months — longer if you use more glycerin. The only thing that will preserve it longer is adding an alcohol tincture to it, which I mention towards the end of the recipe.

“When making a cough syrup with mullein, aren’t you supposed to cold brew mullein because of mucilage?”

If you want the demulcent property from the mullein leaves, then yes, you would get more of it if you use cool water. However, for coughs, in addition to the benefits of the mucilage, you’re also seeking the anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and expectorant properties that come from the other phytochemicals in mullein leaves, and these are best extracted with hot water. So, if you want to extract all that mullein has to offer, you could do an initial hot water infusion and simply leave it alone until the water cools, working to extract all the beneficial properties from the leaf — mucilage included. Great question! I hope this answer was helpful!

“What are the differences in the action of elderberry and echinacea when dealing with cold and flu, or immunity in general? When is the appropriate time for the use of each?”

So echinacea mainly works to increase phagocytosis. Basically, it stimulates the immune system to make more white blood cells. These immune cells work to engulf and kill bacteria and dead viruses. It also has some anti-enzymatic activity for some bacteria, preventing them from infecting more cells. It’s not thought to have much action against viruses themselves, but it does help to clean the body of dead viruses and may have some astringent action in the tissues it touches, decreasing a virus’s ability to infect cells.

Elderberry, on the other hand, doesn’t do much for bacterial infections, but it works well for viral infections as it helps to inhibit viral replication in the cells, which helps you to get over an illness quicker or to not get as sick from it.

I use both of these herbs during cold and flu season in two different ways. One is as a preventative via small daily doses. The next is when an active infection is present via frequent doses. I wrote an entire post about these two herbs and know when to use each right here.

“There are so many herbal remedies touted for use during cold and flu season. Can you share what you do for cold and flu prevention?”

For prevention’s sake, I like to keep my cold and flu protocol simple. First off, I take a dose of Fire Cider each day throughout cold and flu season. If I’ve heard of viral illnesses going around locally, I add in daily doses of elderberry syrup (with a bit of echinacea root added to my recipe) to further support immune function before I get sick. If I come down with a viral infection, I increase the frequency of the elderberry syrup, and I add in separate doses of echinacea tincture for a day or two in an effort to provide my body with what it needs to slow or stop whatever has infected it. If I have a bacterial infection, I skip the elderberry entirely and go with echinacea (or another herb(s) that has antibacterial properties such as usnea or garlic) alone. I deal with other symptoms that accompany viral infections (coughs, sore throat, sinus congestion, etc.) by using appropriate herbal preparations for those symptoms, such as cough drops or a sinus rinse.

“When making concoctions, can you use a mixture of dried and fresh herbs?”

Yes, definitely! If you’re following a recipe that calls for dried herbs, but some of the ones you want to use are fresh, then you will simply douple the amount of dried herbs the recipe calls for when you add your fresh herbs in. Let’s say a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of dried yarrow. If you are using fresh yarrow, you’ll add 2 tablespoons. Does that make sense? Easy peasy.

Another thing to keep in mind if you’re making an alcohol-based preparation with a mixture of fresh and dried herbs is to bump the alcohol percentage up a bit since fresh herbs contain water, and you don’t want to dilute your final preparation too much. Let’s say you’re making a tincture with a 40% alcohol, such as brandy. Instead, maybe use a 50% vodka or use a high-proof alcohol and cut it in half with water until it is at 50% alcohol.

Okay, that’s it! If you like these little Q&A sessions and would like to see more of these, feel free to respond with a question of your own. While I can’t give out personalized herbal advice, I can offer general herbal information that you can use or direct you towards other resources that you may find helpful!

Love and light,

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