Cold and flu season begins in the fall and ends in early spring. Scientists suspect that we are more prone to contracting the cold and flu in the fall and winter months than in the summer and spring due to a seasonal decline in sun exposure, leading to a reduction vitamin D and potentially a vitamin D deficiency. We also tend to be enclosed in spaces with closed windows during the winter which results in the exposure to more sick people. Herbs have been used across many cultures for centuries to support a healthy immune system and to treat and prevent viral and bacterial illnesses. Always consult with a healthcare professional before taking herbal remedies. Herbs are known to interact with many medications.


Stress can often play a role in dampening your immune system and increasing your susceptibility to the common cold and flu. Astragalus is a plant native to China and Korea which works as an adaptogen, strengthening your immune response and helping your body adapt to and overcome stressful situations. When Astragalus is taken regularly during cold and flu season, it can reduce the frequency of illness and the duration of your symptoms.


Ginseng is an herb commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The active ingredients are contained in the root of the ginseng plant. There are different types of Ginseng available for use and each plant has slightly different properties. One type, North American Ginseng, has been shown to increase the concentration of natural killer cells in the blood, a key type of white of blood cell important for destroying cells that have been invaded by viruses. Ginseng can be used similarly to Astragalus, to aid your body’s primary defenses especially when you feel run down such as during the frantic holiday season. Ginseng can boost your energy and increase your cognitive abilities when taken regularly.


Ginger is a wonderful herb and spice found in many recipes with very powerful immune enhancing benefits. As a tea, fresh ginger root can be very soothing to a sore throat. In sinus congestion, ginger can be added to soup or brewed with a blend of honey and lemon to encourage the thinning and elimination of mucous from your sinuses.


Another handy culinary herb to have around the kitchen during cold and flu season is garlic. When garlic is crushed, it produces allicin, the active antimicrobial agent. Garlic also contains manganese and vitamin C. To receive maximum benefit from this plant, chop or crush the garlic clove and consume it fresh. You can add it to sauces, soups, and on your salads during cold and flu season and year round.


A natural anti-viral and anti-microbial with a long history of use, Echinacea root has been shown in studies to increase your white blood cell count. You may take this herb on a regular basis during cold and flu season to stave off illness. I often recommend taking an extract of Echinacea at the first sign of the cold or flu, such as the dreaded sore throat, to help reduce the duration of illness. When shopping for Echinacea, look for angustifolia or purpurea.

Oregano Oil

The Oregano plant is native to the Mediterranean region of the world. Many cultures routinely cook with oregano as a spice, however, the oil extracted from this plant is the common component used as a cold and flu treatment. Oregano oil is an essential remedy to keep in your medicine cabinet. At the onset of a sore throat 1 to 2 drops can be taken every few hours. It can also be used as a gargle when mixed with a carrier such as coconut oil or by simply mixing it with water. This remedy is not recommended in pregnancy or when breast feeding.

You can use a wide array of herbs to maintain good health during the winter. It’s important however, to consult with a naturopathic doctor or herbalist to learn more about which remedy may work for you.

About the Author

Dr. Olivia Rose graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Nutritional and Nutraceutical Sciences and in 2006, she graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.

In addition to her private practice, Dr. Rose is the director of Fertility Acupuncture Services, a mobile service that brings acupuncture to couples undergoing in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination at Toronto fertility clinics. Her special areas of interest include infertility; children and teen health; stress management; weight loss; heart disease; digestive and immune health; skin rejuvenation and pain management. She is a birth doula and has additional training in cosmetic acupuncture and needle-less therapies for skin rejuvenation and joint pain.

Dr. Rose is a sought-after lecturer for community organizations; a freelance writer and mentor to new graduates. She has been interviewed by various media outlets including Global Toronto’s, “The Morning Show”, “News at Noon” and “News Hour”. In her free time, she unplugs at the spa and she enjoys spending quality time with her husband, son and tea-cup Yorkie. For more information on Dr. Rose's practice and special events, please visit -