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Herbs That Protect During Cold and Flu Season

Honey Honey
DaVinci Laboratories

During this cold and flu season, many are wondering how to stay protected from the severe symptoms taking people out of work, school and daily activities.

Honey is a natural and complex substance. It contains many constituents that promote immune functions. Honey has been shown in various studies to act as a cough reliever. In a study conducted with a pediatric population, honey was compared to honey flavored over-the-counter antitussive, dextromethorphan and to no treatment. Honey was preferred by both children and parents over the honey-flavored dextromethorphan for both cough and ability to allow uninterrupted sleep.1 The gift from bees also acts as an antimicrobial agent. Several studies have shown honey is effective on gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria when used topically as well as orally.2-6

The amla fruit (Emblica officinalis), or Indian gooseberry, has been shown to have antioxidant and immune supportive activity. Amla has direct respiratory healing properties. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted on volunteers with long smoking histories showed that E. officinalis reduced shortness of breath on exertion, cough with expectoration and palpitations. A molecular study showed that amla may regulate expression of pro-inflammatory genes, reducing the immune burden in lungs infected with virus or bacteria.7

Holy basil, or Ocimum sanctum, has been used in ayurveda for a plethora of needs. It has been confidently given as an expectorant as well as an agent to combat malaise, fever and chills. Furthermore, holy basil has been shown to be a antimicrobial, including being an aid against viruses.8-10 The immune system interaction of this herb makes it attractive for cold and flu season.11 An elegant study on Ocimum sanctum displayed the immunomodulatory effects of this herb using healthy subjects. Healthy volunteers were given 300 mg of holy basil extracts or placebo. Levels of cytokines interferon-gamma and interleukin-4 were measured in serum. T-helper and T-cytotoxic cells, B-cells, and natural killer cells were measured from serum using flow cytometry. It was found that after four weeks of treatment, those taking holy basil had increased levels of cytokines and leukocytes. This study provides insight to the molecular working of Ocimum sanctum.12

Tinospora cordifolia is an immunomodulator, stimulating T- and B- lymphocytes. Study conducted in vitro showed that extracts of this herb increased reaction and communication from T-cells, without over stimulation of cytokine release.13 Additionally, this herb acts as an antispasmotic, easing intercostal muscles during times of infection.

Adhatoda vasica is an effective yet gentle antitussive. A study conducted on mice showed that this herb not only reduced the amount of effort to cough but also relaxed intercostal muscles.14 Furthermore, A. vasica has been a potent herb against bronchitis in Ayurveda due to its affinity for the lungs as well as its cooling and lubricating actions.

Glycyrrhiza glabra contains a triterpenoid called glycyrrhizin. It serves as an anti-inflammatory agent. A study showed that not only does glycyrrhizin reduce inflammation caused by various agents in the lungs, several other constituents in whole licorice root play various roles in reducing acute inflammation in the respiratory system.15

It is clear that several different herbs modulate the immune system and act directly in respiratory illness that people are experiencing this year. They are affordable, natural, and potent choices to keep people from getting sick or treating sickness swiftly.


1 Paul IM. Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and No Treatment on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality for Coughing Children and Their Parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161(12):1140. doi:10.1001/archpedi.161.12.1140.

2 Estevinho L, Pereira AP, Moreira L, Dias LG, Pereira E. Antioxidant and antimicrobial effects of phenolic compounds extracts of Northeast Portugal honey. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008;46(12):3774-3779. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2008.09.062.

3 Silva TMS, dos Santos FP, Evangelista-Rodrigues A, et al. Phenolic compounds, melissopalynological, physicochemical analysis and antioxidant activity of jandaíra (Melipona subnitida) honey. J Food Compos Anal. 2013;29(1):10-18. doi:10.1016/j.jfca.2012.08.010.

4 Bueno-Costa FM, Zambiazi RC, Bohmer BW, et al. Antibacterial and antioxidant activity of honeys from the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. LWT – Food Sci Technol. 2016;65:333-340. doi:10.1016/j.lwt.2015.08.018.

5 Can Z, Yildiz O, Sahin H, Akyuz Turumtay E, Silici S, Kolayli S. An investigation of Turkish honeys: Their physico-chemical properties, antioxidant capacities and phenolic profiles. Food Chem. 2015;180:133-141. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2015.02.024.

6 Blair SE, Carter DA. The potential for honey in the management of wounds and infection. Aust Infect Control. 2005;10(1):24-31. doi:10.1071/HI05024.

7 Nicolis E, Lampronti I, Dechecchi MC, et al. Pyrogallol, an active compound from the medicinal plant Emblica officinalis, regulates expression of pro-inflammatory genes in bronchial epithelial cells. Int Immunopharmacol. 2008;8(12):1672-1680. doi:10.1016/j.intimp.2008.08.001.

8 Yucharoen R, Anuchapreeda S, Tragoolpua Y. Anti-herpes simplex virus activity of extracts from the culinary herbs Ocimum sanctum L ., Ocimum basilicum. African J Biotechnol. 2011;10(5):860-866. doi:10.5897/AJB10.1351.

9 Cohen M. Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014;5(4):251. doi:10.4103/0975-9476.146554.

10 Nakamura CV, Ueda-Nakamura T, Bando E, Melo AFN, Cortez DAG, Dias Filho BP. Antibacterial activity of Ocimum gratissimum L. essential oil. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 1999;94(5):675-678. doi:10.1590/S0074-02761999000500022.

11 Mediratta PK, Sharma KK, Singh S. Evaluation of immunomodulatory potential of Ocimum sanctum seed oil and its possible mechanism of action. J Ethnopharmacol. 2002;80(1):15-20. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(01)00373-7.

12 Mondal S, Varma S, Bamola VD, et al. Double-blinded randomized controlled trial for immunomodulatory effects of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) leaf extract on healthy volunteers. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011;136(3):452-456. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2011.05.012.

13 Manjrekar PN, Jolly CI, Narayanan S. Comparative studies of the immunomodulatory activity of Tinospora cordifolia and Tinospora sinensis. Fitoterapia. 2000;71(3):254-257. doi:10.1016/S0367-326X(99)00167-7.

14 Jahan Y, Siddiqui HH. Study of antitussive potential of Glycyrrhiza glabra and Adhatoda vasica using a cough model induced by sulphur dioxide gas in mice. Int J Pharm Sci Res. 2012;3(6):1668-1674. www.embase.com/search/results?subaction=viewrecord&from=export&id=L368418730http://sfx.umd.edu/hs?sid=EMBASE&issn=23205148&id=doi:&atitle=Study+of+antitussive+potential+of+Glycyrrhiza+glabra+and+Adhatoda+vasica+using+a+cough+model+induced+by+sulphu.

15 Jayaprakasam B, Doddaga S, Wang R, Holmes D, Goldfarb J, Li X-M. Licorice Flavonoids Inhibit Eotaxin-1 Secretion by Human Fetal Lung Fibroblasts in Vitro. J Agric Food Chem. 2009;57(3):820-825. doi:10.1021/jf802601j.


Growing up near the Himalayas, Dr. Shailinder Sodhi developed an early interest in ayurvedic plants and herbs, and received his BAMS (bachelor in ayurvedic medicine and surgery) degree from Dayanand Ayurvedic College in Jalandhar, India in 1985. In 1993, he received a naturopathic medicine degree from Bastyr University, as well as a degree in diagnostic ultrasound from Bellevue College. Dr. Sodhi practices naturopathic medicine along with his wife, Dr. Anju Sodhi, and his brother, Dr. Virender Sodhi, at the Ayurvedic and Naturopathic Medical Clinic in Bellevue, WA, which he established in 1989. In addition, Dr. Sodhi serves as president of Ayush Herbs Inc., a manufacturer of high-quality ayurvedic herbal formulas, is an adjunct faculty member at Bastyr and has been published in several natural health magazines.