Herbs for Respiratory Support: A Prepper’s Herbal Medicine Cabinet

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It is that time! Winter comes every year, and with it, the winter sniffles. Sometimes a simple cold, sometimes the flu, always just enough of an inconvenience to be noticeable and require a remedy. I’ve had this problem recently, in fact, and this article will discuss ways to deal with it. 

Firstly, however, the Disclaimer. I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on TV. None of what I’m saying in this article should be construed as medical advice. Always check with your doctor before changing meds, and if you’re in major distress, go directly to the nearest ER.

Whew! With those things being said, we can continue our education.

Few indeed would bother with a clinic visit for simple respiratory ailments before Covid came along. Many respiratory illnesses are viral, and a standard MD would simply send you home with the advice to rest, drink plenty of fluids, maybe some Tamiflu, along with a big medical bill. I well remember a flu season around 2009 or so when Tamiflu couldn’t be found for any money, and this history has repeated itself. And that’s even after studies showed that Tamiflu wasn’t all that effective in shortening the duration of the flu!  Covid of course, is a whole different topic, as Daisy has described in her own experience here. My intention is to discuss the simpler cold and flu version, and how to support your respiratory system toward recovery. 

I’ve been dealing with the winter sniffles myself, which isn’t as bad as the flu but definitely needed to be dealt with. People giving me paranoid looks, wondering if they’re going to be infected by Covid isn’t a great feeling! I can well imagine how Typhoid Mary must have felt. But take heart! There are many herbal alternatives.

Elderberry syrup

In my case, I went to a local herbalist and bought an elderberry syrup kit. Her kit contains elderberry, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and star anise, along with some locally produced honey. The syrup was very easy to make and has been quite helpful. Here’s a recipe for making your own elderberry syrup.

Here’s some information on the effectiveness and nutritional benefits of elderberry, how it’s used, and an important caution. Specifically, we use just the fruits and berries because the rest of the plant is toxic.  

Also be aware that this is a large bush, so if you’re considering growing in a container, you’ll want a container that’s at least 24” across and 20” deep. You’ll likely need two compatible plants as this one requires cross-pollination, and it’s about as polite as blackberry when it comes to sharing space. As in: NOT. Elderberry will take over the universe if it can.

Stark Brothers has some good information for those interested in growing it.  A less than obvious option for acquiring the berries is to volunteer in a community garden that grows it. There’s one near my house that will give me all of the berries I want, a full plant even, for the cost of helping out in the garden. 


Another easy-to-grow herb is Echinacea, specifically Echinacea angustifolia and E. purpurea. According to the Cat Ellis’s book Prepper’s Natural Medicine, cold and flu aren’t the best use of this herb, but she does include it in her Elderberry and Echinacea Elixir as effective against rhinovirus. Mount Sinai discusses the controversy as to whether or not this herb actually works here.

Slippery Elm

How about slippery elm? According to Healthline, there are a number of uses for this herb! Yes to supporting respiratory health and helping to relieve associated ailments. It’s also demonstrated usefulness in GERD, UTI, and IBD! Check out the studies here.

Star Anise

How about the star anise from my elderberry syrup kit? According to Healthline, it does indeed aid in respiratory ailment support but comes with a caution: the one we want is the Chinese evergreen Illicium verum. Don’t take the Japanese version, which is toxic.


According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, ginger can be grown at home by placing a fresh rhizome about 2” long in sandy soil and water. Moisten occasionally and in about 5 weeks, you’ll have enough to break a piece off of as needed. If care is used, the plant will continue to grow.

Some specific remedies

Our friend Laurie Neverman of Common Sense Homesteading gives a number of natural remedies for the cough that always seem to be associated with both colds and flu. She discusses the benefits of several home remedies, from cold air to steam to elderberry syrup, honey, and lemon. She also gives recipes for making all of the above, along with homemade cough drops here. 

For chest colds, Cat gives a recipe for Respiratory Infection Tea that requires hyssop, mullein, slippery elm, marshmallow root, elecampagne, colt’s foot, spearmint, cloves, licorice, and thyme. Are these herbs effective? According to scientific studies, yes! Cleveland Clinic has written about the benefits of mullein. Healthline discusses the benefits of hyssop but be careful! A search of PubMed yields a few cautions related to it that are worth reading. 

Cinnamon and ginger are discussed in The Old Farmer’s Almanac as natural aids during cold and flu season, along with turmeric, thyme, and cayenne pepper. Thyme is a green herb easily grown in pots, but turmeric is a bit trickier. Sometimes a trip to the local herb shop is the best way to obtain ingredients. The blue turmeric sold by Baker’s Creek is expensive and way too much for my small yard! 

You can also check out Cat’s recipe for instant fire cider here and Daisy’s recipe for Honey-Thyme cough syrup here.

This is just the beginning.

Honestly, I’ve barely scratched the surface of herbs that can help support the respiratory system during the cold and flu season. Some sites list as many as 30!

And don’t forget the old standbys in the mint family. Some even suggest catnip, although more data is needed to validate that use. This brings me to a caveat that really applies to any herb: when doing research, be careful of whose claims you choose to believe. Anyone can write a blog and say whatever they wish.

I look for scientific validation via well-designed studies that adhere to the scientific method. I try to avoid Big Pharma-funded studies, preferring instead cross-validation from several sources on a given use of any herb. Catnip tea is touted as a cure for many ailments, but there isn’t much scientific evidence backing those claims. The same can be said for many, many herbs on the market. It is best to have many options, but I suggest sound research and due diligence before taking something that might be trendy but ineffective or, at worst, outright toxic. 

The more options we have, the better off we’ll be. Consider adding more herbs to your toolbox for respiratory wellness, obviously, with the approval of your physician. Don’t stop taking any medication without your doctor’s help, and always check for potential interactions before taking herbal remedies with pharmaceutical medications.

What about you?

That being said, do you use herbal remedies to help you through cold and flu season? Do you have any favorite remedies to share? Please tell us in the comments section! 

About Amy Allen

Amy Allen is a professional bookworm and student of Life, the Universe, and Everything. She’s also a Master Gardener with a BS in biology, and has been growing food on her small urban lot since 2010.

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Amy Allen

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  • Thankyou so much for this article. I can tell how much work you put into it and all the links are so very helpful. I truely loved this. I caught the “C” and that dry, nagging cough kept me up forever. I made a batch of Daisy’s honey cough syrup and that really helped. I’m going to look into the elderberry tincture. It’s so expensive to buy and the flu and rsv are going around like wildfire and I feel like my immunity is low. I’m usually strong as a donkey. Timely article and well written. This is one of the better ones.

    • You’re welcome! I’m glad we could help. Please be aware that a tincture is a different item than a syrup and take this into account when choosing your product. Good luck!

  • I grow many of these plants but honestly don’t know how to make use of them properly, I need to know how to extract for tinctures, teas, oils, when to harvest, how much to use and which parts not to use. I have jars of dried leaves but don’t want to have to drink a gallon to get the benefits, if you know what I mean. It’s difficult to find locally raised honey, which is important to match the allergens that one would be exposed to in that particular area. I know this is a loaded comment but just thought it was noteworthy.

    • Absolutely! That information is essential to proper use of the herbs. Cat’s book referenced in the article has some information. Check out her course in our Courses section. It’s very hands-on.

  • All this is great, and I have used it but when your old and really really sick you need the big guns. Being older the body just doesn’t recover like you used to. I had bad CV 19 back in Dec of 2019. Way before things got shut down or even began to be understood. 3 weeks and minutes before I was deciding to go to the hospital God brought a few remedies to my mind. Hydrogen peroxide in a nebulizer. All cool mist humidifiers are nebulizers. Vicks has the best med screen in theirs. I added 1 C of HP and did deep breathing and had instant relief. A cytokine storm is allergic reaction. Benadryl helps stop this reaction. Simple. Eucalyptus oil in a rib rub helps with coughing out junk. It’s an expectorant. 3 drops in an oil is all you need, more with this is not better. An old wife’s remedy was also 3 drops on a sugar cube, but not recommended for internal use today by medical professionals. Old PPL get exhausted from coughing and their hearts give out. You have to cough the junk out, so every cough needs to be productive. Hawthorn is needed to strengthen the heart! And Milk thistle to help the liver detox the overload of virus is also real good. A good night sleep will really help, so my mom’s remedy I like best. 1 or 2 or 3 strong hot toddies before bed. Will help you sweat it out and sleep much better. Fresh lemon is always better than vit C. Always! New science released has alcohol and nicotine taking out CV 19. So if it can do that to CV, it can to other viruses! That is why mom used it for us. I also used a sinus wash of saline and tea tree oil. 7 drops in 6 oz of saline 2 X a day. I like the squeeze bottle the easiest to use. It will get all the way up to the 3-rd. level sinus unlike the pot. And the tea tree oil is antibacterial, viral, and microbial. The drainage will also help your tonsils to detox. Real good to keep on hand is 40,000 volts electrolytes. Consentrace sells lots of mineral products I use. This doesn’t go bad, and you can always turn any drink into an electrolyte drink. Anyone with babies should keep this in the cupboard. Anyway, I am not a med professional, just a forever student. But I use this now for every cold and virus and it works for all. Oh, hot toddy! 1 or 2 shots of whisky. 4 to 6 oz hot water. 1/2 lemon juice and honey to taste. And HP is 100% kill unlike all the others 99% and less! If your lungs are really junked up repeat the process as often as needed. I also slept with the nebulizer on low all night helped to sanitize the room and protect other family in the home. Anyway, now we know why the homeless didn’t have any real trouble with the virus!

    • Goose grease was always rubbed on the chest in times past, or a mustard. ? Mum, who passed on last year , was made to swallow the goose grease!

  • I wouldn’t know. The last time I had the flu was in my teens. Never been sick after. In fact, I don’t think I ever been sick since eating only Bible approved foods.

  • These are good starter suggestions. But for flus and colds, in addition to Elderberries, I would add both cloves and cinnamon. There is a reason these are considered “winter” or “Christmas” spices. An excellent reference is The Green Pharmacy “Herbal Handbook”. This reference is a must have reference for anyone interested in natural health and healing.

  • 2 herbal tea recipes (from dried herbs) for respiratory illness prevention and support: dried yarrow leaves and flowers, dried elderflowers, dried rose hips (use 1/2 amount of what you use for yarrow and elderflower), large pinch of dried mint, any type. let steep 30 minutes. add manuka honey to warm, not hot tea or it loses it’s efficacy. I’ve used this 3 or 4 times so far this year, at the first sign of feeling sick, have not been sick. A naturopath I go to, makes a tea for the Vid using mullein, marshmallow, thyme, boneset, elderberry, rosehips and peppermint. I don’t know ratios. Must be used at onset of illness. I saw someone mention nebulized Hydrogen peroxide…use food grade. There are instructions, pretty concise, at EarthClinic and other sites. Also the FLCCC site has protocols for Prevention, Early treatment and so forth. I did this also when I was sick. Got better in a week, or less. Do your research before you need it.

  • Thank you for this article. My whole family caught the Koof over Christmas, Even the jab happy adult kids, two caught it twice each after all the jabs. It goes on for weeks. I didn’t take anything and just waited it out,
    I would light on any smoking medicinal or therapeutic with Covid. Our lungs are hurt and infected and more prone to infection, bronchitis and pneumonia. Remember it’s not just the sniffles.

  • First, garlic. The way one wants, cooked or raw, but daily is much better than monthly. If any garlic-eater gets any disease, just make a little cure doubling the daily dose and it should help.
    Second, sweet wormwood (artemisia annua), the plant that neutralised that coronavirus in Africa, where it (the sweet wormwood) is widely and successfully used against the malaria virus. Recently I recommended to an 80-year old woman, after two weeks of Wuhan-flu symptoms, to infuse 5 grams of the dried plant in 1 liter of almost-boiling water and to drink it throughout the day, and in a week she was cured.

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