Sometimes when you’re under the weather, there’s nothing like a warm cup of tea to make you feel instantly better—and for good reason. “In nature there are very effective antiviral and antibacterial herbs and vitamins that boost your immune system and can really help prevent and combat a cold,” says Maoshing Ni, Ph.D., a doctor of oriental medicine based in Los Angeles. Herbal teas can make for a safe, easy, and tasty way to get these vitamins and nutrients. So whether you’re already in the throes of a tough cold, or looking to keep your child’s health in tip-top shape this winter, we’ve got the teas that’ll do the trick. Plus, all of these herbal supplements are safe enough for the whole family to use.
Teas to keep you healthy
When it comes to cold and flu prevention, experts agree that supplements and medicine alone won’t do the trick: “The first thing you need to do is get plenty of rest,” says Ni. “Studies show that your immune function will drop by 60 percent after just three nights of poor sleep—it’s such a critical component of immune function.” This goes hand in hand with managing your stress levels, says Hilary McClafferty, M.D., fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Section on Integrative Medicine. To do this, she recommends sipping a calming tea like fennel, lemonbalm, or chamomile before bed. These herbs are mild sedatives that not only help you relax, but will make you sleepy as well.
To enhance immune function, both Ni and McClafferty recommend drinking a tea made of astragalus root one to two times per day. Derived from the astragalus plant, the herb has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, says Ni. It increases immune cell activity and is often used as an adaptogen—meaning it helps the body adapt to stress and changes in environment, which is when your body is most vulnerable to developing infection. Another popular tea to boost your immune system? Ginger, thanks to its antiviral properties, says McClafferty.
Teas to help when you’re already sick
“At the first sign of cold or flu, you need to get plenty of rest, so go to bed!” advises Ni. You also want to make sure you’re drinking fluids, including hot teas. He recommends a ginger-cinnamon-licorice tea, like Yogi’s Egyptian Licorice blend: The cinnamon and ginger are warming spices that help you sweat, heating up the central nervous system, which then kicks your immune system into high gear, while the licorice supports adrenal gland function, which helps you adapt to environmental stressors. Ni also recommends taking a hot bath or shower and getting under the covers to help speed up the sweating process.
For a stomach bug, McClafferty suggests a tried-and-true peppermint tea. “Peppermint is really anti-spasmodic, so it helps with cramping and gastrointestinal upset,” she says. The tannins found in black tea have also been shown to slow down the effects of diarrhea, but keep in mind that it does contain caffeine so this one might be best for adults only (or use a decaf version for kids). For nausea and cramping in kids, a lightly sweetened ginger tea may help, as ginger has been shown to relax the intestinal tract. “This can be tremendously soothing for upset stomachs,” says McClafferty.
Teas to help you bounce back
Once you’re finally out of bed and back on your feet, you want to regain your energy quickly, says Ni. He recommends a goji berry tea sweetened with a bit of manuka honey (found at natural health food stores)—goji berries contain carotenoids, antioxidants that can enhance immune response and rejuvenate the body, while manuka honey has been shown to have antibacterial properties. You can also try a tea containing schizandra berries, like Numi Organic Tea’s White Orange Spice ($7 for 16 tea bags, numitea.com)—this fruit works to help cells produce more energy, says Ni.
As you’re recuperating, you’ll want to return to drinking stimulating teas, like ginger and astragalus root, two of McClafferty’s go-tos. Adults can also try a ginseng blend, since ginseng is known for its stimulating effects. Try Yogi’s Ginseng Vitality blend, which has ginger, astragalus root, and ginseng to help you bounce back.
3 Tea tips
Bagged versus loose
Fresh herbs are always better, says, Ni, but dried loose leaf or bagged teas work as well. And regardless of which type of tea you buy, always choose organic when possible, says McClafferty.
Best way to brew
Both Ni and McClafferty recommend using the purest water possible, to avoid any pesticides or chemicals. When brewing loose teas, Ni recommends adding the herb to water and bringing it to a boil—let it simmer for 15 minutes, then strain to drink. “Let bagged teas steep for at least five minutes,” says McClafferty, though milder teas, like chamomile, can steep even longer, since they won’t develop a super-astringent or bitter taste.
Teatime for everyone
“One of the best things about these herbal remedies is that they’re safe for everybody, even pregnant women and kids,” says Ni. However, if you’re not sure if an herb is right for you, it’s always a good idea to check with a licensed practitioner or pediatrician first. And, remember, if you’re adding any natural sweeteners to your brews, don’t give honey to babies under age one.
Have other natural remedies? Tell us how your family beats cold and flu season in the comments.