As cold and flu season is full-force, there are natural remedies, herbs for winter wellness, straight from the earth, that can help strengthen your immune system. Learn which immune-boosting herbs you should stock up on this winter to avoid that pesky common cold.
As cold and flu season is full-force, there are natural remedies, herbs for winter wellness, straight from the earth, that can help strengthen your immune system. Learn which immune-boosting herbs you should stock up on this winter to avoid that pesky common cold. | @TheFoodieDietitian

This mindful monday, we’re talking about how to be mindful of your winter wellness and practice self care by stocking up on winter herbs for immunity. Taking a holistic approach to nourishment means choosing foods, movement, and inspiration that nourishes. But there are also everyday (and not-so-everyday) herbs that have functional properties for keeping us healthy and nourished, especially during the winter season when we’re more susceptible to the common cold and flu.

Last Sunday, I attended a talk at Allandale Farms by Boston herbalist, Steph Zabel, on herbs for immune health and winter wellness.

Not only did we learn about different herbs and their touted health benefits, we got to taste each and every one in a tea decoction and discover easy ways to use them.

 herbs for winter wellness 2
  • Traditionally used in Chinese medicine.
  • Studies have shown antiviral properties and stimulation of the immune system.
  • Researchers have also looked at this herb for treatment for cancer patients who have weakened immune systems from radiation and chemotherapy – helps them recover faster and live longer.
  • USE: Take preventatively during the winter to build up the immune system. Don’t use during acute illness.
  • Note: people with autoimmune disease should avoid
  • Cultivated in India. Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine.
  • Immunomodulating herb – good for that person who gets every virus that goes around.
  • Calming/grounding effect that helps with anxiety and those who have sleep issues.
  • USE: immune tonic, used preventatively.
  • Strong taste – Steep in 1 cup of milk (any kind) and add honey and cinnamon as desired.
Holy Basil
  • Native to India – referred to as the “elixir of life” in Ayurvedic medicine.
  • High in essential oils (super aromatic) so it’s an antibacterial and a digestive herb.
  • Nervine – calming/grounding herb used for overwhelm and over active mind.
  • USE: colds, coughs, respiratory illness, low immunity and fatigue.
Rose Hips
  • Food grade nutritive herb – high in vitamins A and C, variety of antioxidants (bioflavenoids)
  • Naturally high in pectin – can be used as a thickening agent for herbal syrups or made into jams and sauces.
  • USE: preventative immune tonic
  • Traditionally used in Europe.
  • Research shows that the elderberry can kill many flu viruses and shorten the duration of the flu.
  • Contains flavonoids (antioxidants) that help prevent damage to the body’s cells
  • USE: preventatively as an immune strengthener and/or at the onset of cold/flu symptoms
Lemon Balm
  • Originally cultivated in Southern Europe.
  • Sweet and aromatic leaves yield a delicious, uplifting tea. Good for newcomers to herbal tea.
  • Calming to the nervous system. Traditionally used for insomnia.
  • Anti-viral properties
  • USE: uplifting herb for mild, seasonal depression or as an anti-viral for colds and flu.
  • Originally known to the Greeks as an herb of immortality and for its abilities to enhance inner wisdom.
  • Traditionally used an important culinary herb
  • Improves digestion with its high aromatic essential oil content.
  • Grounding – good for anxiety, depression
  • Antiseptic, antibacterial
  • USE: sore throat, respiratory infections and colds.
  • Originates from Mediterranean one of the oldest plants on record.
  • Highly potent and anti-microbial herb. Useful in clearing out infections.
  • USE: acute symptoms, especially cough, sore throat, congestion, viral and bacterial infections.

So, how do you use these herbs?

herbs for winter wellness
  • Create a tea decoction: For woodier, root herbs: simmer in sauce pan for 30-40 minutes. For flower herbs, add to boiling water and let steep for 15 minutes.
  • Add to vinegars: fill jar halfway with dried herbs and then cover with vinegar to the top. Let sit for 2-4 weeks (give it a shake daily). Then strain it, transfer to a dark colored bottle and store in the fridge. Vinegars will pull out minerals so it’s good to use vinegars with more nutritive herbs. You can even make your own herbal salad dressing! From a taste perspective, Steph recommended using lemon balm or sage for salad dressings.
  • Add to honey: fill jar halfway with dried herbs and then add honey to the top. Steep for 2-4 weeks. To strain, gently heat in a water bath.
  • Make a Simple Elderberry Syrup and add to teas, desserts, or eat by the spoonful!

Day-Old Cold Tea, courtesy of Steph Zabel

  • Yield: 2 cups 1x


  • 2 cups water
  • Knob of fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp elderberries
  • 1/21 tbsp thyme
  • Spoonful of honey
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice


  1. Grate a knob of ginger and let it simmer in 2 cups water for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Turn off heat and add dried thyme and elderberries; let steep another 15 minutes.
  3. Stir in a spoonful of honey and 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice.


Drink this at the first signs of a cold.

Steph recommends organic, high-quality herbs to use for medicinal purposes and uses the following online sources for purchase: Mountain Rose Herbs, Jean’s Greens, and Zack Woods Herb. 

For more resources on herbs from Steph, visit her resources page. 

Do you use herbs to boost your immune system during the winter months?

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  1. Rehan

    Excellent post please also guide how to admimister these herbs speciallt thyme for small kids as young as 1 year to 2 years of age.

  2. I came down with a cold this weekend. This post is perfect!

  3. So interesting Kara! I love tulsi tea/holy basil, but I never knew much about it.

  4. This is such a wonderful list! I have yet to encounter the sniffles this season (fingers crossed it stays away) but I’ll know to come back if my immune system comes under attack. Happy Monday and have a fab week!

  5. This is an excellent post! I have a friend who is very knowledgeable about holistic medicine and she recommends taking oregano supplements the minute I feel a cold coming on. Do you have any information about using oregano for preventing colds and flu?

  6. What an interesting post! Love your mindful Monday series.

  7. This is so so interesting – I very briefly dabbled in healing herbs when I got a summer medicinal herb share last year but I didn’t do much with them. I got to go get some elderberries – a few friends swear by them to ward off sickness.

  8. This is so interesting! I’ve never been much into herbal remedies but have recently been interested in learning more. This is a great resource!

  9. Your Mindful Mondays are always so inspiring! I learn something new every time. During my dietetic internship, I got to do a rotation at the American Botanical Council, and I learned how to make tea decoction, balms, etc. So much fun!

    • UT CPD? I remember taking a field trip there during my internship, although I never had a full rotation there. What a small world!! 🙂

    • Best DI rotation ever! I did my specialty rotation at Bastyr University for Natural Health and I got to take a tour of their herb garden and chat with their herbalists. Pretty cool stuff!

  10. Thanks so much for sharing these great tips! I have just recently become more interested in medicinal herbs and such. They seem intimidating at first but when you receive the right information from a professional (like yourself) it makes me feel better 🙂 Might have to give some of these a try!

    • Thanks, Alanna! I’m by no means an herb expert but feel lucky that I learned it all from the expert! It’s always been an interest of mine. Looking forward to experimenting with these herbs more.

  11. Love this post and lots of great information Kara! Although I have a lot to learn, I’m very interested in the medicinal benefits of herbs (and spices too!). Right before Blog a Brûlée, my husband and I visited an herbal apothecary in New Hampshire, and brought back a cold and flu tincture, along with some other herbs to try. I’m also a fan of Holy Basil tea-it seems to energize me in a subtle way 🙂

    • Thanks, EA! I’m by no means an expert in this area but found the class very informative. That’s so neat you got to visit an herbal apothecary in NH. Where abouts in NH? I might have to take a day trip 🙂 I love holy basil too. That and sage were probably my favorites we tried.

  12. That tea sounds awesome! I’ll have to try it out!