First Defence Tactics: 3 Ways to Fight Early Stages of Cold & Flu

In my previous post, I talked about ways to boost the immune system to prevent infection.   Since sometimes it gets its way in, even despite the best of our efforts, I’ve created this follow up post to talk about the three main things I like to do to fight a cold or flu in its very early stages, as soon as I feel that tickle in the throat…

That feeling in the throat comes from a conglomeration of bacteria and immune cells, creating inflammation and subsequent irritation on the membranes between your nose and chest (where the bacteria are generally looking to invade).  At this stage of infection, your immune cells are just beginning to respond to live invading bacteria.  Your body is very vulnerable at this stage, and your infection is very contagious to others.  However, if you can respond quickly enough, and with sufficient potency, you can stop the invasion here, before you experience any more symptoms.

The three things necessary to do this are: 

killing off the invading bacteria

clearing the debris out of the body

restoring and strengthening the immune system before and after the battle

One safe, easily accessible herb that addresses all three of these necessities is garlic.  I like to take garlic immediately when I feel a cold coming on.  A good way to take it is to chop it up or mince it, put it on a spoon and swallow it down in small amounts with water.  You don’t have to chew it, just swallow it like a pill.  This way you hardly taste it, and it hardly affects your breath but goes directly to your digestive tract where it can be absorbed into the bloodstream.  You want to take at least three tablespoons of minced garlic, or about 5 or 6 cloves minced.  You need the garlic to be fresh and raw in order to be most effective.  Garlic kills off bacteria and reduces inflammation while supporting immune cell production and action.  It is also cleansing to the body, helping to clear out wastes (from killed off bacteria and their waste products) so that there is less chance of infection taking hold.  One way that garlic helps to clear out wastes is via the sweat glands.  Garlic is known as a diaphoretic herb, meaning that it induces sweating. 


Sweating is a relatively quick and easy method of clearing out wastes when fighting infection.  It is another thing that I try to do when I feel like I’m getting sick.  Building up body heat through saunas, baths, perhaps exercising and/or wearing lots of warm clothing will help to induce a cleansing sweat.  We have other diaphoretic herbs in additions to garlic that can help to encourage sweating.  Some of my favourites are ginger, elder flowers and yarrow.   I like to make a tea with chopped up ginger, elder flowers and/or yarrow flowers and steep it with a lid on for at least 10 minutes.  I will often pour a hot bath while the tea steeps, and then strain the tea and drink it in the bath.  This raises the body temperature (which activates immune cells) and triggers sweating which helps to clear out bacteria and infective toxins through the pores of the skin.  I like to use fresh ginger generously for this, but if all I have is dried powdered ginger, I will put a pinch of that into my cup of tea.  Powdered ginger is stronger than fresh, so a little goes a long way.  Elder flowers grow wild in our area, and I harvest them from the elder trees (Sambucas spp.) in June.  I then dry them to be stored and used in tea throughout the year.  Yarrow (Achillea millefollium) also grows wild in our area, found in fields, lawns and trail sides.  I harvest the flowering heads in early July, dry them like the elder flowers and store them for future use as well. (Both elder and yarrow are tremendously healing plants with many uses–this is but one of them).

Elder flower Sambucas canadensis

Another quick and easy method of clearing out waste products from fighting infection is through the urinary tract.  The kidneys and bladder will quickly and easily clear out wastes as long as there is enough fluid in the body to create urine.  This means, we need to drink lots of water!  If the throat is irritated, you might find that drinking warm or hot water is nicer than cold water, and this is fine.  The yarrow and elderflower are also good diuretic herbs, so drinking tea with them will encourage urination.  However, in order to be sure you’re clearing out all the wastes you no longer need, you want to have lots of fluid moving through your system.  And the best, cleanest most beneficial fluid is water.  Nature’s gift to us.  So I make sure I am drinking way more than I normally would whenever I’m feeling the throat tickle.

Yarrow Achillea millefolium

The final necessary piece in all of this is to ensure that the body is supported with proper restoration while your immune system fights the good battle.  The most important thing to do is very little!  Resting and better yet, sleeping will allow all of your healthy cells to regenerate, healing the damage caused by the invading pathogens, so that any remaining infection is easily fought off, and any bacteria hanging around looking for an opportunity to invade will not find one in you!  Staying home, putting extra blankets on the bed, wearing extra warm pajamas and avoiding anything that demands a lot of energy (both physical and mental) will all help to prevent the onset of illness or at least encourage a quick recovery.  Drinking tea without caffeine, but with chamomile, lemon balm, hops, passion flower or other soothing, tranquilizing herbs can help you to have a long, much needed restorative sleep.

Of course there are many tips to fighting off a cold or flu, and I’ve only touched on a few here.  I’m sure you have some of your own.  If you feel like sharing any of them in the comments here, I’d love to hear about them.  I hope the general concepts and suggestions I am offering here are of some value to you, however.  And I wish you warmth and vibrant health this winter!





  1. My husband and myself have both been taking elderberry syrup this year and so far even though everyone around us has been sick we have been fine. Last year before we found this we both had a bad time with the flu/cold things.

  2. Nice! Yes elderberry is a wonderful antiviral herb. I mentioned the elder flowers in the post, but elderberry is a very good idea too. It can stop a cold or flu from coming on if you take when you feel like you’re getting sick. And it’s pretty tasty too! Glad to hear you have been keeping healthy!!

  3. Yes, elderberry juice or tea is wonderful. There is a University study done in Israel that proved it helped to prevent or shorten the Influenza A or B flu. I took just a 1/4 cup a day every other day one fall and didn’t get sick until I ran out of it in Jan/Feb. I now get elderberry and echinea tea, but I like the juice better. I am actually growing an elderberry bush alongside our blackberry bushes.

    I would also suggest, if you are not vegetarian, chicken noodle soup or turkey soup. I just finished some turkey soup I had cooking in my slow cooker mixed with lentils, some veggies like carrots, broccoli & onion and ginger and tumeric sprinkled in. I think I will go and add a couple of cloves of garlic. 😉

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