Medicinal plants: five herbs that can help boost respiratory health

Cold and the flu are common during winter. You may need a home remedy to improve your symptoms so you can get some work done.

If you’re looking for natural remedies for colds and the flu, try growing medicinal herbs like elderberry and ginger to boost your respiratory health. (h/t to

Before the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19), people wouldn’t always feel the need to go to the doctor’s clinic if they are experiencing respiratory ailments. Many respiratory illnesses are viral, and a doctor would often send a patient home with the advice to rest, drink plenty of fluids, take some medication and a large medical bill.

If you have the winter sniffles, here are some herbal alternatives to consider if you prefer natural remedies.


You can grow echinacea, specifically Echinacea angustifolia and E. purpurea, if you want to have access to an herbal medicine that can help with certain health issues.

According to Cat Ellis book “Prepper’s Natural Medicine,” cold and flu aren’t the best use of this herb. However, Ellis recommends echinacea in her elderberry and echinacea elixir, which is effective against rhinovirus.

Elderberry syrup

Elderberry syrup is easy to make and it can help with colds and the flu.

Elderberry is an antiviral herb, meaning it attacks and destroys invading virus cells. If you take elderberry syrup within 48 hours of contracting the flu, it can help shorten the duration of your sickness. The herb is also a natural immune booster.

Elderberries are full of beneficial flavonoids, especially anthocyanins which are responsible for their deep purple, almost black, color. These powerful antioxidants help boost your immune health.

Anthocyanins clear your body of free radicals that damage cells at the DNA level. These compounds also have antiviral properties that may prevent or reduce the severity of certain common infections.

Keep in mind that if you want to make elderberry syrup, you should only use the fruits and berries because the rest of the plant is toxic.

If you want to grow elderberry, note that the plant is a large bush. If you are going to grow elderberry in a container, you should use a container that’s at least 24 inches across and 20 inches deep.

You might need two compatible plants since elderberry requires cross-pollination. Also, elderberry might take over your garden so keep it contained in a large pot or bucket.

Another option is to forage for elderberries to make syrup.

Try the recipe below to make elderberry syrup at home:


  • 5 Cups water
  • 1 Cup black elderberries dried (4 oz)
  • 4 Cinnamon sticks (Optional)
  • 2 Teaspoons ground ginger (Optional)
  • 1 Teaspoon ground cloves (Optional)
  • 1-1/2 Cups honey (Optional)


  1. Add the water to a medium saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the dried elderberries, cinnamon sticks, ground ginger and the ground cloves. Stir to combine.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover the pan and reduce to a simmer. Let the mixture simmer for 45 minutes until it thickens and is reduced by nearly half.
  3. Remove the mixture from the heat. Set it aside and let it cool for one hour to steep.
  4. Pour the elderberry juice through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Remove the cinnamon sticks.
  5. Use the back of a clean spoon to press and mash the berries that are in the strainer over the bowl to get any extra juices out of them. Stir in the honey and mix until well combined.
  6. Carefully pour the syrup into a mason jar, cover it and refrigerate.

Dose recommendations:

  • 1/2 Teaspoon to one teaspoon a day for children over one year old.
  • 1/2 Tablespoon to one tablespoon once a day for adults.
  • If you feel a flu or cold coming on, take the regular dose every two to three hours until your symptoms subside.


You can grow some ginger at home by placing a fresh rhizome about two inches long in sandy soil and water.

Moisten the ginger occasionally with a spray bottle of water. After about five weeks, you should have enough ginger to break a piece off of as needed. Care for the plant so it will continue to grow.

Here is a recipe for a homemade ginger honey lemon tonic:

Ingredients for one serving:

  • 1 Cup water
  • A piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped (add more to taste)
  • 1/2 Medium lemon
  • 1 Teaspoon honey, or to taste
  • 1 Ounce whiskey (optional)


  1. Place the water, ginger, lemon juice and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat until the mixture is heated through.
  2. Pour the mixture through a strainer into a mug. Add the shot of whiskey, if using.

Slippery elm

Slippery elm has many uses. It can help support respiratory health and relieve associated ailments.

Star anise

Star anise can help with respiratory ailment support, but make sure you are using the Chinese evergreen Illicium verum.

Don’t take Illicium anisatum, the Japanese version, which is toxic.

Follow this recipe if you want a soothing tea made with ginger, slippery elm and star anise. This will help if you are dealing with a cough and sore throat:

Ingredients for one serving:

  • 16 oz. (500 ml) Water
  • 1/2 Tablespoon grated ginger (Fresh ginger)
  • 1 Star anise
  • 8 Sprigs of fresh thyme (You can also substitute 2 teaspoons of dry thyme.)
  • Juice of 1 lemon (plus additional lemon slice/s)
  • 2 Teaspoons honey, or to taste
  • 1 Teaspoon slippery elm bark powder


  1. Bring the water to a boil or near boil in a pan.
  2. In a tea infuser or sachet, place the grated ginger, star anise and thyme sprigs. Place the infuser or sachet in a pot and pour the hot water. Set aside and let the mixture infuse for at least seven minutes.
  3. Remove the infuser from the teapot and stir in the lemon and honey. Whisk in the slippery elm bark powder until dissolved.
  4. Add a slice or two of lemon with the peel and a stem of thyme before serving.


The longer you let the mixture sit, the more gelled (thicker) the slippery elm bark will become. If you increase the amount of slippery elm powder, the tea will have a more gelled consistency.

Cough drop recipe

This cough drop recipe is made with ginger and chocolate, orange and honey. Take some cough drops if you have a cold, a cough or a sore throat.


  • 1/2 Cup carob or cocoa powder, divided
  • 1/2 Cup filtered or distilled water
  • 2 Tablespoons raw honey
  • 1/2 Teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1 Teaspoon cinnamon
  • Orange zest from one organic orange
  • 2 Tea bags of your preferred herbal tea


  1. Bring the water to a boil in a pan. Pour over the tea bags in a large bowl and let steep until cool.
  2. Gently squeeze the water out of the tea bags and reserve two tablespoons of tea. Drink the rest of the tea so it doesn’t go to waste.
  3. Mix two tablespoons of tea, honey, cinnamon, ginger and orange zest in a separate bowl. Add 1/4 cup of cocoa or carob powder and mix.
  4. Add the remaining cocoa powder one tablespoon at a time. Blending well after each addition. Continue until you can squeeze the dough in your hand and it keeps its shape.
  5. Form the dough into small balls about half an inch in diameter and place them on a cutting board.
  6. Press the dough balls with your thumb and flatten them out until they are about 1/4 inch thick.
  7. Place the lozenges in a dehydrator at 95 F or in the oven with the oven light on. Dehydrate until completely dry.
  8. Store the cough drops in an airtight container and use as needed.

Grow plants like elderberry or ginger in your garden so you have access to medicinal herbs that can help boost your respiratory health and protect against a cold or the flu.

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