Cold and flu season is coming up, and no one wants to be laid up sick. While my usual focus is just food, there are far more recipes to boost your health and training than just meals. You, dear reader, are obviously the type who takes your health into your own hands, so I’ll occasionally post some herbal remedies, recipes, tinctures, and decoctions for various issues (or just for a boost of immune support) to add some further information and variety.

I’ll first add the customary disclaimers to this any any other herbal remedy or medicine I post. You should always judge any information regarding supplements or medicines for yourself, or clear with a medical professional if you have questions or concerns. I will always present clinical research backing up anything I write on this topic, but I reiterate that you are responsible for your health and personal situations, just as you are when you choose to depart from “natural” gains.

Briefly, influenza is an RNA virus, and alters its structure quickly, which is why a new flu shot is pushed every year. We all have had it at one point or another, and recognize the symptoms. Early on, you’ll feel chilly, achy, and just plain run down. (For me personally, I can feel something coming on when my arm hairs just don’t feel right on my skin, like a permanent feeling of goosebumps.) Then you’ll probably start feeling some swelling in the lymph nodes, and begin coughing and experience a sore throat as the virus enters your lungs.

The virus stimulates inflammation in the tissues it infects, and this inflammation leads to bursting cells. When this happens in the lungs, the virus is able to be “shed” from the host and transmitted.

The common cold is cause by a rhinovirus. For very mild illnesses, I’ll give recipes that are intended to work against an emerging infection for either one.

I won’t do too long an article to explain how the flu, cold, and coronaviruses work at various stages here; we’ll save that for a long form article. This week, we’re focusing on remedies you take as soon as you start to feel that first symptom, or even daily during cold and flu season to stop an infection before you ever really get “sick”.

Elderberry Decoction for Sore Throat and Upper Respiratory Infection


  • 1 oz. dried elderberries
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 3 cups cold water
  • wildflower/local honey to taste (I like 1 tbsp.)
  • Juice of 1 lemon


  • stainless steel pot (you don’t want the pot to react with any active ingredients)
  • glass jar for storage


  1. Combine elderberries, cayenne, and cold water in a pot.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered until the liquid is reduced by half.
  3. Let the mixture cool until you can work with it; still warm but not hot. If it’s cold, the honey won’t dissolve as well. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth and squeeze or press the solids to remove as much liquid as possible
  4. Add honey and lemon juice. Store in the refrigerator.
  5. Take 1-2 tbsp. daily (or as needed) as the first signs of any upper respiratory infections, and continue taking until symptoms subside.


  • The reason you want to use a stainless steel pot is that you don’t want the pot to react with any of the active chemicals in the elderberries
  • I actually make this, dilute with some pomegranate juice (high in antioxidants, and a bit cheaper than dried elderberries), and take twice daily as an immune support. I keep the “full” decoction for when I begin to feel something coming on. I can personally attest to the success of this decoction.
  • There are many, many other versions of this decoction with different ingredients. Some people omit the cayenne and add cinnamon and fresh ginger. Some recipes call for elder flowers as well as the berries, and yet others will use sage instead of the elderberries. Many herbal remedies exist to fight the same issues, and I’ll give a brief explanation of what the purpose of each ingredient is in the above recipe.
  • Why use cold water? Different compounds are extracted from the herb at different temperatures, so you want to start with cold water and heat through a larger spectrum of temperatures to ensure you’re pulling out everything you want.

Why is each ingredient needed?


Elderberries have been tested against influenza A and B, staphylococcus aureus, streptococcus pyogenes, E. coli, and salmonella. It’s also been tested against many other diseases.

It’s a potent anti-inflammatory, though some studies suggest the leaves and root are more powerful. Elderberries are strong antioxidants, and high in flavanoids found to bind to H1N1 virions and inactivate them, with a degree of inhibition similar to the common pharmaceutical Tamiflu.

The various parts of an elder plant have been historically used as herbal remedies across the world for generations. In European medical practice, elder has been used for 2500 years for inflammatory conditions and sore throats.

Most of the Western pharmaceutical research on these consists of looking at the isolated compounds found in elderberries. For example, anthocyanins (which create the color of the berries) are found in extremely high concentrations in elderberries and exhibit antioxidative and anti-inflammatory activity. The berries, leaves, and roots also contain ursolic acid, which is anti-inflammatory and found to have anticancer properties, simulate anabolism, and inhibit COX-2 (an enzyme which contributes to inflammation….you’re probably sensing a pattern here). Ursolic acid is also antibacterial and antiviral.


Cayenne pepper is an antibacterial. In fact, it kills 100% of bacteria exposed to it. It also can relieve pain and headaches. These effects are due to the presence of capsaicin, the chemical responsible for making peppers spicy. Cayenne pepper is also antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and contains Vitamins A,C, K, and E.


Where to begin? The body-building community in particular is discovering (or rediscovering) the power of honey. It’s anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial (due to the enzymatic production of hydrogen peroxide),and antibacterial. It’s also quite soothing for a sore throat. Additionally, regular consumption of local honey helps cut down on seasonal allergies.


The “return to tradition” meme has been circulating around the internet for some time, and it’s time to revisit some of that tradition in medicine. Most pharmaceuticals, even if ultimately synthesized, are inspired by or derived from plants and herbs already. The benefit of herbs over pharmaceuticals is that herbs have multiple active ingredients, many of which are synergistic (work together). Conventional medications rely on only one active ingredient, which is much like attacking an enemy army from only one direction every battle. I’ll continue to write more on herbal remedies and some of the chemistry behind them.

Selected References

  • Buhner, S. Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging Resistant and Epidemic Viral Infections(2013). Storey Publishing. IBSN: 978-1-61212-385-1
  • Buhner, S. Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging Resistant and Epidemic Viral Infections(2013). Storey Publishing. IBSN: 978-1-61212-385-1
  • Frank, T. et al Absorption and Excretion of Elderberry anthocyanins in healthy humansMethods and Findings in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology 29, no. 8 (2007). pp. 525-533
  • Glatthaar, B. et al. Antiviral Activity of a composition of Gentiana lutea L, Primula veris L, Sambucus nigra L, Rumex spp and Verbena officinalis L against viruses causing respiratory infections. European Journal of Integrative Medicine 1, no. 4 (2009)
  • Hearst, C. et al. Antibacterial activity of elder flower or berry against hospital pathogens Journal of Medicinal Plants Research 4, no. 17 (2010). pp. 1805-1809
  • Kowalczyk E, Krzesiński P, Kura M, Szmigiel B, Błaszczyk J. Anthocyanins in medicine. Pol J Pharmacol. 2003 Sep-Oct;55(5):699-702. PMID: 14704465.
  • Mandal, Manisha Deb, and Shyamapada Mandal. Honey: its medicinal property and antibacterial activity. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine vol. 1,2 (2011): 154-60. doi:10.1016/S2221-1691(11)60016-6
  • Buhner, S. Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria
  • (1999). Storey Publishing. IBSM: 1-58017-148-6