Upper Respiratory Infections – Colds and Coughs

There are more than 200 different rhinoviruses that cause upper respiratory infections, and many more microorganisms that can infect the lungs. The usual symptoms of such infections are sore itchy throat, watery eyes, fatigue, nasal congestion, mucus and sometimes fever and cough.

• At the beginning stages, quick use of heat-clearing herbs can be of great benefit. Many people are aware that use of echinacea tincture, one teaspoon every two to three hours can often stop a cold in its tracks. Ginger tea and honey can also be useful.

• TCM doctors use the traditional formula “Honeysuckle and Forsythia powder” commonly known as yin chao or yin qiao san pills. These are usually available over-the-counter at Chinese herb shops and grocery stores (Remember these pills, though primarily made of herbs, often contain small amounts of aspirin and occasionally antibiotics.) These work very fast and effectively in the first 24-48 hours of a viral or bacterial infection. Use three of the 500-mg tablets three or four times per day. If the infection is very strong, we also give isatis root and leaf as well.

• A simple Ayurvedic home remedy for colds is just to drink plain ginger tea with honey every two to three hours. Pour boiling water over a teaspoon or two of freshly ground ginger and steep for ten minutes.

• To stop infectious coughs, combine ephedra, apricot seed, isatis root, isatis lef, andrographis leaf, licorice root, trichosanthes fruit and vasaca leaf as 60-70% of a basic formula, then add herbs as outlined in the basics of respiratory system treatment section, depending on the different symptoms.  These herbs relax and open the lungs, slow the coughing and fight infection. Because the lungs are so delicate, the secondary choices and proportions of each herb are very important. If you use too many very hot herbs when the lungs are inflamed, you can worsen the condition. If you use to many cold herbs when the lungs are cold and damp, you will worsen the condition.


For cough, and if you are not sugar sensitive, you can purchase Chinese Honey Loquat Syrup at most Chinese grocery stores. Also useful is to use the following Ayurvedic-based diets for cough. Note that cough can change character, so follow diet that fits you best, and change if the cough changes.

• Diet for Dry Cough

Recommended Foods: Rice, wheat • meat or chicken soup with carminative (hot) spices, • well-cooked vegetables, potato • fruit (only during daytime hours) •  beef •Tea, coffee and other hot drinks • dried fruits • milk
Prohibited Foods: Raw salad, cauliflower, cabbage, radish, turnip, squash, mushroom • peanuts • coconut • alcohol • chili • yogurt, cheese • fruit late at night or early in the morning • cold drinks.

• Diet for Cough with Mucus

Recommended Foods: Barley, wheat, corn, millet • beans • boiled green vegetables with hot spices • potato • chicken soup (fat removed) • alcohol • tea, coffee and other hot drinks • ginger tea • cheese • honey.
Prohibited Foods: Milk products, except cheese • pork, beef, mutton, fish • onion, turnip, cauliflower, cabbage, radish, beet, carrot • sour fruit • coconut • peanut • raw salad • oily food preparations • cold drinks.

Post Infection Annoying Cough

Many people have noticed that there is a very annoying post-URI cough that seems to persist for weeks and even months after the initial infection is gone. To help break up post-flu mucus and congestion, mix one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon and one teaspoon of honey into 1/4 cup of warm water and drink first thing in the morning. You can repeat this in the afternoon and in the evening if needed.

When the post-infection cough is very serious, bordering on chronic bronchitis, I use a formula such as this, made with 4:1 powdered herb extracts.  Take 2 1/2 – 3 spoons 3-4 times a day:

Bakeri bulb (xie bai /  Allium chinensis) – opens lungs 18 grams
Bupleurum root (chai hu / B. chinensis) –  liver tonic 18
Aster root (zi wan / A. tataricus) – reduces phlegm, stops chronic cough 12
Platycodon root (jie geng / P. grandiflorum) – expels phlegm and cough  12
Scute root (huang qin / Scutellaria baicalensis) – antiinflammatory, anti-allergy  12
Pinellia tuber (ban xia / P. ternata)  – dries up mucus  12
Chih-ke fruit  (Bitter orange, mature / Citrus aurantium ) – reduces congestion) 12
Ginger root, fresh (sheng jiang / Zingiber officinalis ) –  digestive 6
Ginseng root (ren shen / Panax ginseng) – improves digestion, strengthens energy 3
Licorice root (gan cao / Glycyrrhiza glabra) – soothes stomach, detoxifies) 6
Jujube fruit (da zao / Zizyphus jujuba ) tonifies, reduces shortness of breath) 6

Research Highlights

• A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, multi-center study using three tablets three times per day of a combination of echinacea root, wild indigo root (Baptisia tinctoria), and thuja leaf (Thuja occidentalis) followed 263 patients. Results showed a rapid onset of improvement of cold symptoms (Henneicke-von Zepelin et. al., 1999).

• In a randomized double blind study using an extract of Chuan xin lian (Andrographis paniculata) on 158 patients, researchers concluded, “Andrographis paniculata had a high degree of effectiveness in reducing the prevalence and intensity of the symptoms in uncomplicated common cold beginning at day two of treatment. No adverse effects were observed or reported” (Caceres et. al., 1999). This herb is very clinicallyeffective for viral infections.