Here comes another winter…and with it, unfortunately, that dreaded flu virus… Are you sick of getting the flu each winter? How many days off work or school have you or your kids had to take because of the flu?

The Flu In Our Community

Last year, Australians suffered the largest influenza season since the 2009 pandemic year.

This resulted in a lot of people taking time off work and it was a significant burden on hospitals, with more than double the number of people with influenza than usual being admitted.

There was a higher number of deaths from influenza last year, compared with previous years.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the 2017 seasonal influenza vaccine was low for influenza A(H3N2), which was the most common strain of the virus.1

Although influenza is usually a self-limiting, acute infection, it can be dangerous in certain populations. It can have serious complications in those with lowered immunity eg individuals above 65 years of age, people with chronic health conditions (diabetes, asthma, heart disease, cancer),  pregnant women and young children.

So, is there anything you can do to help prevent the flu or treat it with natural medicines?

Yes, the good news is that there are several herbs that have been shown to clinically effective in reducing the severity and duration of the flu.

Herbs Effective For The Flu

1. Andrographis: also known as King of the Bitters, a traditional Chinese herbal medicine used for infections and inflammation. It exerts its anti-microbial effects by upregulating the expression of a particular peptide, which has been found to have an important role in innate immunity.

In a pilot study, patients who took tablets containing mostly andrographis and a small amount of Siberian ginseng for 5 days, had less complications of influenza compared with those in the control group. The herbs helped to reduce the duration of the disease and induce a quicker recovery, as well as reduce the number of days on sick leave 2

2. Berberine: this an active constituent of herbs such as goldenseal, coptis and phellodendron. In a mouse study, berberine was shown to decrease the mortality rate from 90% to 55% and reduce viral titres in the lungs 3. Berberine also inhibited viral neuraminidase activity and the production of inflammatory substances in vitro, which suggests it may preventing further damage to the body’s tissues and organs.

In another study, aqueous extracts of Phellodendron amurense demonstrated strong inhibition of the growth of H1N1 influenza A strains in mice. Inflammatory mediators were also inhibited by Phellodendron amurense in this experiment.4

3. Echinacea: one of the most widely used herbs to treat influenza. It acts on the immune system by stimulating and modulating it and it has anti-viral and antibacterial properties. Echinacea may improve the response to the influenza vaccine by reducing the severity of respiratory symptoms, as demonstrated in a preliminary study 5. A laboratory experiment also showed that E.purpurea root prevented influenza A virus-induced bacterial adhesion and the expression of inflammatory cytokines6.

A randomized, double-blind, multicenter, controlled clinical trial compared an echinacea formulation with the neuraminidase inhibitor oseltamivir, the gold standard treatment for influenza7. Results showed that recovery from illness was similar both treatment groups. In addition, there were less complications and fewer side effects (such as nausea and vomiting) in the Echinacea group compared with those taking oseltamivir.

Overall, clinical studies support the use of Echinacea in preventing the common cold and to relieve upper respiratory tract infections. For optimal effectiveness, a combination of a high quality E.purpurea and E.angustifolia root extract should be taken.

4. Thyme: contains essential oils and bitter compounds. These are thought to contribute to its antiseptic and immune supporting actions. The leaves from thyme are warming to the body and specifically stimulate the lungs. Thyme is traditionally used to expel mucous from the lungs and relieve congestion. It is an effective cough suppressant, hence its inclusion in many cough syrups.

5. Elecampane: has pungent properties, so it helps to expectorate and to suppress coughs. It is traditionally used to treat bronchitis, cough, hay fever, asthma, tuberculosis and pleurisy.

6. Elderflower: helps to relieve nasal secretions and sinus congestion. It is used in western herbal medicine to promote sweating, support the immune system and it has anti-viral properties. A standardized elderberry extract, Sambucol, inhibited replication of 10 different strains of influenza viruses8. The same authors also carried out a placebo-controlled, double blind study on a group of individuals during an outbreak of influenza B/Panama in 1993. They found a significant improvement of symptoms, including fever, in the majority of the cases in the Sambucol-treated group within 2 days, whereas it took 6 days for symptom resolution in the control group 8. An added benefit of using elderflower is that the taste is naturally sweet, so it’s an ideal herb for children.

7. Pelargonium: a traditional African herb, with anti-viral, immune-stimulating activity. This is also appropriate for treating colds and flu as well as acute bronchitis in children. An advantage of pelargonium is its pleasant taste.

Key Take Away Points

  • The 2017 seasonal influenza vaccine was not very effective for influenza A(H3N2), which was the most common virus in circulation at the time.
  • Herbs such as andrographis, Echinacea and berberine-containings plants can help reduce the duration and severity of the flu. They have anti-viral as well as immune supporting activities.
  • Herbs can also help to soothe a sore throat and encourage the production of mucus. This will help to relieve the symptoms of the flu.
  • Some herbs are kid friendly!
  • So, with the flu season just around the corner, it’s time to start boosting your immune system with some of these amazing herbs to blow away that dreaded flu before it gets you!


  1. Australian Influenza Surveillance Report - 2017 Season Summary
  2. Kulicheno et al. (2003). Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy, Vol. 3(1)
  3. Wu et al. (2011). Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, 17(6):444-452
  4. Kim et al. (2016). BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 16:265 DOI 10.1186/s12906-016-1206-x
  5. Di Pierro (2012). Alternative Medicine Review: A Journal Of Clinical Therapeutic, Vol. 17 (1), pp. 36-41
  6. Vimalanathan et al. 2017). Virus Research, Vol. 233, pp. 51-59
  7. Raus et al. (2015). Current Therapeutic Research, 77; 66-72.
  8. Zackay-Rones et al. (1995). Journal Of Alternative And Complementary, Vol. 1 (4), pp. 361-9


Article by Dr Amanda Reimann, Medical Herbalist & Biochemist at ATUNE Health Centres