When you are feeling ill this winter, what do you reach for? Chicken noodle soup? Hot tea? Perhaps, a slice of pizza? All of these foods work, in part, because they contain healing herbs – herbs that you already have in your kitchen and that you use frequently such as thyme, sage, and basil.

Chicken soup can contain a large number of herbs and spices that help your body get over a cold or virus and can help calm some effects of the flu or strep throat. Garlic boosts the immune system in general. Parsley is loaded with vitamins and works as an anti-inflammatory to reduce the size of your glands. Black pepper reduces mucus and aids digestion. Sage helps you get a good night sleep and fights night sweats.

But, the real powerhouses in the soup are thyme and rosemary.  Thyme contains the powerful chemical, thymol, which is antiseptic and an infection fighter. It works against bacteria, funguses, and a range of microbes. Additionally, thyme relieves coughs and sinus pressure. If that weren’t enough, thyme also freshens breath and fights indigestion. Rosemary wards off headaches, suppresses coughs and fights congestion. The rosmarinic acid in it dilates blood vessels to help with pain. Rosemary also contains camphor which acts as a mild analgesic, also fighting pain. Camphor is used medically as a decongestant and cough suppressant – it is one of the main ingredients in Vicks VapoRub. It’s odor, while strong, fights off the sluggishness you feel when you are sick.

Herb stock for colds and flu

Fill a large pot with water, about one gallon

2 medium onions, finely sliced
1 whole head of garlic, minced
1 tsp whole black peppercorns (or ½ tsp ground pepper)

1  tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried sage
2 Tbsp dried parsley or one bunch fresh

*If you can find any of these fresh, include several sprigs

Bring the stock to a boil and reduce to simmer for at least one hour
When finished, run through a sieve or strainer to remove any large pieces
At this point, you can add chicken and vegetables for chicken soup
or you can refrigerate or freeze it for later.

Sore throats and coughs can also have their symptoms addressed with herbs and spices. A spice that has numerous healing properties is ginger. Its spicy kick warms the body. It aids digestion, reduces inflammation and works as a mild painkiller. Ginger also fights motion sickness – ginger candies are a great thing to have on hand when you travel.

Lemon and honey are standard ingredients in many cold-fighting concoctions. Lemon fights swelling in the throat, boosts the immune system and adds a big hit of vitamin C. Honey soothes and coats the throat, providing a protective barrier. Many doctors recommend eating a spoonful of straight honey to help with coughs. Honey is also antibacterial and antimicrobial, so it fights against the root causes of cough and colds while protecting your throat tissues.

Tea is another frequent home remedy that is pulled out to fight winter illnesses. Holding a cup of warm tea on a cold day warms the body and lifts the mood. Breathing in the steaming vapors moisturizes and clears out sinuses. When you add the right herbs and ingredients, tea can help even more.

Tea for a hacking cough

½ tsp dried ginger (or a slice of ginger root)
1 tsp dried sage
½ tsp dried thyme
Steep in a mug of hot water – in tea ball or strain before drinking
add 1 Tbsp honey
and 1 Tbsp lemon juice

A salt water gargle for a cough or sore throat is an old home remedy that is prescribed by doctors today. You can enhance this cure by adding turmeric, an anti-inflammatory powerhouse. Turmeric has a mildly bitter taste and is used heavily in curries and Indian food. It helps fight arthritis and other types of pain when eaten. It can help reduce the swelling in your throat that accompanies coughs and colds.

Turmeric and salt gargle for a cough

A pinch or two of turmeric
A pinch or two of salt
Add to warm water and gargle as you would regular salt water.

Finally, I have to include a plug for my favorite herb, parsley. Parsley has great nutritional value including vitamin K, vitamin A, folate, iron, zinc and vitamin C and can be eaten as a vegetable in salads as well as being used as an herb. The leaf also works as a histamine blocker, fighting both allergies and runny noses with other causes. It is an anti-inflammatory, reducing swollen glands and other pains. Parsley also fights bad breath, boosts energy, and aids digestion.  I grow parsley in pots outside my backdoor, and in winter regularly buy fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley.

All of these recipes can be improved by using fresh herbs rather than dried – but the dried work just fine. Remember, when you are sprinkling parsley, thyme, and basil on your pizza, that pizza will fight the winter ick a bit better than pizza without them.

 A note: This article is not a substitute for medical advice. I always check in with my doctor about using any herbal remedies long term, because they can interact with other medications you take and have effects I do not know about. Large doses can have negative effects, and many herbs and spices are not safe in large quantities. That said, all of the remedies mentioned in this article use culinary herbs that are accepted as food, so they are generally considered safe in recipe-sized doses.

Johanna Haas grew up in Buckhannon and now lives in Murphysboro, IL. She earned her law degree and doctorate in geography at Ohio State. Now she writes and teaches high school equivalency to adults. She is married to Shae Davidson, also from Buckhannon, and they live with three giant orange cats.