Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cure for the Common Cold

Well, a possible cure at least.

I haven't had a full-blown cold for a very long time. Oh, I still get that funny feeling in the back of the throat that signals misery is in the offing, the telltale sinus pressure, gritty eyes, and a sense of muzzy-headedness that threatens to take over my ability to think altogether.

Right then -- RIGHT THEN, at the very first hint of a cold -- is the time to take The Cure.

Once up a time I began the journey to become a master herbalist. Because life took a turn, I veered off that path after less than a year. But I learned a lot in that short time, including a serious respect for plants as nature's drugstore. This recipe was given to me by a man who studied the art and science of herbal remedies for decades. He's also completely against western medicine. I'm not, but if there's a way to treat illness, especially minor illness, with herbs, I'll try that first.

Cold Tissane:

1/2 oz. marshmallow root
1/4 oz. wild cherry bark
1/2 oz. lemongrass

Pour 1 quart of boiling water over dried herbs and steep for 20-40 minutes. Don't let the steam escape because it will take some of the medicinal properties of the herbs with it (I find a French coffee press works well). Strain the tea, and sip it over the course of a day. It should kick the impending cold virus right out of your system.

This tea (tissane is just a fancy word for tea) tastes pretty good, too. Marshmallow root is sweet. In fact, it used to be the the flavoring for, you guessed it, marshmallows. It coats your stomach, so it's also good for indigestion, but for the purpose of The Cure the marshmallow root actually makes your nose run a bit more. This washes away bacteria and infection. At least that's the theory. All I know is that is clears my sinuses, which makes me happy.
Dried Lemongrass and Marshmallow Root

Note: Folks with diabetes have to be careful with herbs, since many contain sugars even if they don't taste particularly sweet. Marshmallow root contains polysaccharides, and may be one to avoid.

And you know those wild cherry throat lozenges in the cold remedy aisle? The crimson drops with the fake fruit flavoring are a far cry from the real deal. Originally the name had nothing to do with the taste of cherries. Rather, the lozenges contained an extract of wild cherry bark, the dusky brown stuff on the left. It acts as a sedative on the cough reflex (antitussive), so if you do get a full-blown cold, wild cherry bark can still help you feel better.

As for lemongrass, it's supposed to relieve congestion and coughing. It tastes pretty good, too.

If you're feeling particularly frisky, you can make your own lozenges. Just take a hard candy recipe and replace the water with a concentrated version of this tea (use the same amount of herbs but only a cup of water -- or however much water the recipe calls for). Cut the "candy" into lozenge-sized squares and allow to harden. Voila! Be sure to store them in an airtight container.

Unfortunately, these herbs are not readily available at your neighborhood drugstore, or even at someplace like Whole Foods. Cities and some larger towns have shops that specialize in herbs, and these are common enough that most would carry them. Also, tea stores might have marshmallow root, wild cherry bark and lemongrass, or be able to order them for you.

I take the easy route, though: San Francisco Herb Company has good quality and good prices -- and a lot of selection. I even order some culinary herbs from them by the pound, things like caraway seeds (for rye bread and sauerkraut) and peppercorns. Given the price of an ounce of either of these in the grocery store, the savings over time are huge. SF Herb Co. is also a good source for potpourri ingredients, teas, essential oils, and other goodies.

Here's to a cold-free winter and spring!


  1. This is a new recipe I hadn't heard of. We try to grow lemongrass year around. It's also good for digestion. Our dog loves it so since he's spoiled rotten, we keep plants around for him (and I occasionally try a blade or two). Thanks for the herb company link. I'll have to check them out. Herbs are about the only thing I have any luck in growing. The more unusual the herb, the better I like to try growing it (just to be different I guess). :)

  2. I like a tea of slippery elm bark for a cold, too, and a good wash with a neti pot. Thanks for the recipe!

  3. I love that you grow lemongrass for your dog, Mason. It's an annual here -- a good insect repellent, and at least one study shows it lowers cholesterol.

    Slippery elm bark would be a good addition, Anon. Very soothing.

  4. This is great information, Cricket. I've been lucky enough to avoid colds for a couple of years, but I know it can't last forever.

  5. I agree that a natural remedy is great choice over a "western med, over-the counter" choice. Sometimes you just gotta go to the drug store, but I find that herbal teas are especially helpful, without unpleasant side effects. I've been lucky this year so far, but I would love to be able to have this on hand to try if my luck runs out...Thanks, Cricket!! Sherri

  6. Everyone's talking about the herbs...I want to know about the beautiful teacup and saucer! Looks like a family heirloom ~ very pretty.

  7. Hi Sherri -- thanks for commenting. The thing I like best about herbal teas is they're holistic rather than focusing on a single constituent.

    Anon, the teacup was an out-of-the-blue gift several years ago from a friend who thought I'd like it. Obviously, I do.

  8. I wish I would have had this recipe last week. I felt miserable. Sore throat, congestion... all the things you were talking about. I am going to have to get some of these herbs and have them on hand. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Glad to hear you're feeling better now, Kerrie. I'm sure you're crazy busy with the upcoming Northern Colorado Writers Conference, eh?