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Just when you think you've escaped, the flu can hit you like a brick. But before you run to the doctor or send your significant other to the store to wander haplessly through the aisles, remember: antibiotics don't work for viruses and most over-the-counter medications only treat the symptoms.

Thankfully, there’s a way to boost your immune system and actually help you fight viruses like the flu. Even better, this may be no farther away than your kitchen cupboard. Herbal teas are not only affordable and easy to find, they also offer a variety of amazing benefits for flu prevention and recovery. Read on to learn how you can reap the benefits from these simple ingredients in nature’s pharmacy.

Before You Start: Preparation Tips

Although almost anyone can make a cup of tea, it should be noted that preparing herbal tea as a remedy is a little different than casual drinking. One of the best tools for making medicinal herbal tea is a French press. Put a generous helping of herbs into the bottom of the press, pour boiling water to fill, and let it steep for 20 minutes. If you want to make your tea even stronger, use a handful of herbs and let it steep overnight into a preparation called an infusion.

1. Garlic, Ginger, and Cayenne

Although a strong blend of this tea can taste horrendous without honey added, it is one of the standard teas to try when you feel a virus coming on. Garlic is antibacterial; it also stimulates the immune system, helps with respiratory conditions, cleans out the digestive tract, and can aid in digestion. Be aware, however, that taking too much can cause gastrointestinal irritation, especially for children under 10. That is why ginger is the other ingredient in this tea—its ability to help with just about any kind of stomach ailment or nausea is hard to surpass.

Ginger is also good for pain and sore muscles. Cayenne, on the other hand, is anti-fungal and antibacterial, helps your digestive tract, breaks up mucus, and increases circulation. Garlic, ginger and cayenne all induce sweating, which helps detoxify the body. That’s why this tea really packs a punch that can help stop the flu in its tracks.

To make the tea you’ll need a few slices of fresh ginger, a clove of chopped garlic, a half a teaspoon of cayenne powder, and your favorite herbal tea. Boil the garlic and ginger first for 20 minutes, then steep the tea and add the cayenne. Add honey to taste (you can add milk as well). For best results, drink three to four cups per day.

2. Olive Leaf Tea

While there is less research about herbal teas than there should be, there are two key compounds in olive leaf tea, elenolic acid and oleuropein, which can be effective at inhibiting the spread of a virus and bacteria. Olive leaf also has more antioxidants and vitamin C than green tea, and has been used throughout history to treat fever and malaria.

Making the tea is simple. You can purchase extracts, powders, or dried leaves, or harvest your own olive leaves as long as they are pesticide-free. Steep about a teaspoon of dried leaves for 20 minutes, three times a day, adding honey to taste, because it’s quite bitter. It’s also a good idea to take this tea with food in order to avoid any stomach irritation.

Olive leaf tea is powerful enough to interfere with chemotherapy drugs and reduce blood pressure, so be aware of these contraindications if they could affect you or your family members.

3. Basil and Ginger

By now you may have realized that many of these remedies are also common culinary ingredients, and basil is no exception. You can unlock the potential of basil to fight illness by brewing a tea that calms the stomach, battles infections and respiratory disorders, and even staves off depression. Basil is also full of antioxidants and has antibiotic properties.

Thankfully it’s usually easy to obtain fresh basil, even in the winter, because fresh is best for this tea. Sweet basil will have a clove-like flavor, while lemon basil, Greek basil, and Thai basil will each have their own unique taste. You’ll need a handful of leaves for each cup of water that you brew. Wash and chop them into ribbons, and chop at least 10 thin slices of ginger. Steep for 20 minutes and sweeten with honey to taste. Drink a few cups a day.

Be aware that like any herbal medicine, basil can interact with medication, enhancing the effects of anti-clotting and blood pressure medicines in particular. Additionally, pregnant women should avoid the active oils in basil (as well as marjoram, oregano, peppermint and rosemary).

4. Catnip, Nettle, and Dandelion

These three so-called weeds—catnip, nettle and dandelion—are so full of powerful nutrients that you could benefit from drinking this tea all the time. Stinging nettle has very potent antibacterial and antifungal properties, and is considered one of the must nutritive herbs because it has so many vitamins and minerals, including more than 20 times more calcium than spinach. It can alleviate itching and sneezing from allergies and boost iron levels. In fact, there are so many benefits in nettle tea it’s difficult to list them all.

Catnip helps with achy muscles, nausea, and relaxation. It’s also anti-fungal and antibacterial. Dandelion can help reduce infection, assist in kidney function, ease menstrual complaints, cleanse the liver, and aid with digestion.

With this tea, less is more. You’ll need about an ounce of dandelion root and leaves, which is generally one dandelion plant, a handful of nettle leaves (dried or fresh) and a handful of catnip. Throw these into a saucepan and boil for a few minutes. Strain and drink with honey to taste. Start with only one or two cups of this tea a day, since it can have a mild laxative effect.

Similarly, be cautious if you are pregnant, since the tea can stimulate the uterus (which is why it is good for the menstrual cycle). Also be aware of any plant allergies and avoid accordingly: the tea may cause a reaction for people who are allergic to ragweed, chamomile, daisies, or related plants. Because it can work as a diuretic and can irritate the stomach in some people, it is best to drink a tall glass of water after consuming this tea.

5. Lemon Balm and Black Elderberry

While the stems, seeds, and leaves of the black elderberry plant are toxic, the berries have been used for centuries as a remedy for colds, fevers, aches and pains. The remedy works by lowering fevers, clearing congestion, cleansing the liver and kidneys, and acting as a mild laxative. Elderberries are also full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, providing they are cooked and prepared properly, and can give your immune system a much-needed boost. (Note that they may reduce the effectiveness of some immune suppressing drugs in patients suffering from autoimmune disorders.) Black elderberry has been shown to reduce the length of flu symptoms if taken within the first 24-48 hours.

Lemon balm has also been used to heal and sweeten, with its pleasant lemony scent and flavor. This easy-to-grow plant assists in sleep, improves the mood, soothes an upset stomach, and is full of vitamin C. To prepare the tea, use a handful of fresh (or a tablespoon of dried) lemon balm and two tablespoons of black elderberries. It is recommended that you use dried berries that have been prepared by an experienced or verified source, because the leaves and stems need to be separated properly from the berries in order to avoid their toxicity. Similarly, the seeds must be cooked to ensure safety, so be sure to simmer for at least 20 minutes before adding cinnamon and honey to taste.

“Let us thank Nature for all these gifts, the best gifts to be had, and do not envy others their riches. Stick quietly to your good, simple medicinal herbs.” – Sebastian Kneipp

While there are many warnings coupled with the administration of herbal remedies, the cautions are fewer and less dangerous than the side effects of an over-the-counter flu medication. Herbal medicine works slowly over time, rather than as a quick fix, because it boosts the body’s own healing powers. Coupled with good food and healing rest, herbal tea is not only comforting, it has amazing properties that can help you beat the flu.

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