When you start to feel that familiar tickle in your throat, you just know a cold is coming and a sore throat and sinus pressure will follow. So, what do you do? If you’re like most Americans, you start drinking tons of fluids, go to sleep a couple hours early, and hit the vitamin C pretty hard.
But did you know that tea is another powerful tool in the fight against the common cold? Each variety — including white, green, black, oolong, and herbal — have beneficial ingredients that can support your immune system, which can need a little extra support in the winter.
When I feel a cold coming on, I reach for the following varieties, which I know will build up my immune system to fight off illness completely — or at least reduce pesky symptoms like sinus congestion or a sore throat and cough.
1. Licorice tea
Licorice isn’t just a candy — it’s an immune-boosting herb, too! Licorice is very commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine because its flavonoid content helps boost immune health. It’s even been shown to fight off various viral and bacterial infections (1) such as MRSA.
Echinacea flower is found in most immune-support supplements; in fact, it’s one of the most common ingredients in the cold and flu aisle of the pharmacy and is known for both its antiviral and antibacterial properties (2).
I prefer to take echinacea in tea form, so I can sip it throughout the day. You can also add honey, which will give it some sweetness and is a powerful ingredient in its own right. In fact, studies have shown that honey is as effective as the dextromethorphan, a common cough suppressant in over the counter medications. (3)
This bright red herbal tea is mostly found iced, but you can use drink it cold or hot to fend off the seasonal sniffles. It’s got a high content of vitamin C, which studies have shown can reduce cold symptoms (4) by up to 30%.
The common cold is often accompanied by some sort of digestive distress. Enter: ginger, the ultimate remedy for nausea and an inflamed gut. Ginger is so powerful that studies have even shown (5) that it can ease the nausea associated with pregnancy and chemotherapy side effects. I love sipping on some ginger tea — hot or iced — throughout the day when I’m not feeling my best.
You may have heard of elderberry syrup or gummies, which are often used for immune support. That said, you might not know that it also comes in a tea form that contains significantly less sugar. Elderberry is famous for its antimicrobial and antiviral properties (6); it has even been shown to be a viable remedy against both pathogenic bacteria and the flu virus!
Chamomile is a go-to ingredient for sleep, so I like to keep it around for when I’m feeling under the weather and sleep is a top priority. I typically sip a cup about 30 minutes before bed to make sure I get some restorative sleep. Expert tip: The longer you brew an herbal tea, the more powerful it will be. Let your tea steep — don’t forget to use a lid to make sure the essential oils don’t escape! — for at least five minutes before you enjoy it.
7. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm doesn’t just smell like heaven, it has tons of vitamin C to help you fend off bugs that threaten to keep you home from work or school. It also boasts a light, sweet lemon flavor and is a great natural sleep aid (7). You can find lemon balm in many tea blends and also on its own.
8. Red Elm Tree
Red elm tree, which is also known as slippery elm, is used in many cough drops and teas because it forms a substance called mucilage when mixed with water. Mucilage helps coat the throat and has been traditionally used to treat common symptoms of laryngitis and other respiratory problems, like coughing. It also contains bioflavonoids, tannins, calcium, and vitamin E, all of which provide their own unique health-boosting properties. Red elm tree is the perfect addition to your winter wellness routine, especially when you’re feeling run down.
If you’re suffering from chest or sinus congestion, peppermint tea is the way to go. This type of tea clears the sinuses and opens up your nasal passages because of its menthol content — an ingredient that naturally soothes your sinuses and opens up nasal passages. (8) As an added bonus, it may also help reduce any nausea or stomach upset you may be experiencing.
This classic Chinese tea is made from the Camellia sinensis plant, which means you can find it in green, black, or white tea form. Research has pointed (9) to Pu-erh having antibacterial properties, which means it can help fight off harmful bacteria.
So next time you are feeling under the weather, grab your largest mug, your coziest blanket, and curl up with one of these cold- and flu-fighting teas!
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer webcam as well as in-person consultations for people across the country and around the world.
- Wang, L., Yang, R., Yuan, B., Liu, Y., & Liu, C. (2015). The antiviral and antimicrobial activities of licorice, a widely-used Chinese herb. Acta pharmaceutica Sinica. B, 5(4), 310–315. doi:10.1016/j.apsb.2015.05.005
- Hudson J. B. (2012). Applications of the phytomedicine Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) in infectious diseases. Journal of biomedicine & biotechnology, 2012, 769896. doi:10.1155/2012/769896
- Shadkam M.N., Mozaffari-Khosravi H., Mozayan M.R. A comparison of the effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and diphenhydramine on nightly cough and sleep quality in children and their parents. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(7):787–793.
- Anderson, T. W., Reid, D. B., & Beaton, G. H. (1972). Vitamin C and the common cold: a double-blind trial. Canadian Medical Association journal, 107(6), 503–508.
- Lete, I., & Allué, J. (2016). The Effectiveness of Ginger in the Prevention of Nausea and Vomiting during Pregnancy and Chemotherapy. Integrative medicine insights, 11, 11–17. doi:10.4137/IMI.S36273
- Krawitz, C., Mraheil, M. A., Stein, M., Imirzalioglu, C., Domann, E., Pleschka, S., & Hain, T. (2011). Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against
- clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 11, 16. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-11-16
- Cases J., Ibarra A., Feuillere N., Roller M., Sukkar S.G. Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Mediterr. J. Nutr. Metab. 2011;4:211–218. doi: 10.1007/s12349-010-0045-4.
- Caceres A, Alvarez AV, Ovando AE, Samayoa BE. Plants used in Guatemala for the treatment of respiratory diseases. 1. Screening of 68 plants against Gram-positive bacteria. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 1991;31(2):193–208.
- Su, Y., Zhang, C., Wang, Y. et al. Antibacterial property and mechanism of a novel Pu-erh tea nanofibrous membrane. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 93, 1663–1671 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00253-011-3501-2
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.
Our articles may include products that have been independently chosen and recommended by Dr. Will Cole and our editors. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.