“Ask the Herbalist”: Q&A on How to deal with Lingering Colds

Seacoast Kids Calendar welcomes back Nicole MacDonald, Licensed Counselor and Clinical Herbalist to answer your questions regarding whole life health.


How can I resolve my lingering cold and cough? I’ve been sick for weeks—coughing, aching, congested, and I am totally exhausted. I took antibiotics and my doctor says to just rest, which I have, but I still can’t seem to kick this!


You are not alone! A lingering cold and cough is a common winter complaint, especially from parents of young children and overworked individuals.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the problem of the lingering cold is rooted in a deficiency of your body’s vital energy or Qi (pronounced “Chee”). Qi supports the defensive function of your immune system, and if you’re depleted because of overwork or chronic illness, you become more susceptible to colds and flu. When you do get sick, you may not have the Qi to fight off infections, clear the mucous that builds up in your respiratory system, or return to your previous level of energy.

Three components to this lingering cold and cough presentation need to be addressed in order for you to recover fully–the actual infection, the residual mucous, and the deficient Qi.  Herbal treatments can help with each of these aspects so you kick the cold and rebuild your immune system and stay well.

1.  Problem: The Infection also described as “Toxic Heat and Inflammation.”

The presence of ear, sinus and throat pain, fever, sweating, swollen painful glands, and yellow-green mucous, are all signs of infection in your body. The intensity of these symptoms usually abates after a few days, but low-level versions of the above symptoms can linger on.

Solution:  Use herbs that are “cool” in nature and have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, like echinacea purpurea root (echinacea spp.), chaparral (Larrea divaricata) and Oregon grape root (mahonia repens). The Mind & Body Herbs formula,”Detoxify” contains some of these and other supportive herbs. I frequently suggest “Detoxify” for sinus pain with yellow-green mucous and for other symptoms of inflammation in the body.

2. Problem: Phlegm or Mucous Harbored in the Lungs and Sinuses.

Mucous can become difficult to expectorate because your body’s ability to expel it is compromised, especially if the mucous itself has become dry and thick, possibly from over-the-counter decongestants. These decongestants typically work by drying mucous, instead of helping the body expel or transform it. You may notice initial relief from taking these medicines, but later you may find that you are left with an unproductive cough, a heavy head, or pressure in your sinuses.

Solution:  Wild cherry bark (prunus virginiana), yerba santa (eriodictyon spp.), and elecampane (inula helinium) are commonly used herbs that can help resolve phlegm and cough. The Mind & Body Herbs formula, “Respite,” combines several herbs to quiet coughing, help expectorate mucous, and resolve phlegm. “Respite” can be given to adults and children.

3. Problem: Weak Immune Function, or Deficient Qi.

If you’ve been trying to recover from your upper respiratory infection for weeks and feel exhausted, then you need immune boosting or “tonic” herbs. This is the component that you may miss when you visit your local health food store for a natural remedy. You may get herbs that fall into the first two categories, but without the energy to help you rebound from the effects of the infection, symptoms may linger on for weeks or longer.

Solution: Chinese red ginseng (panax ginseng), American ginseng (panax quinquefolium), and astragalus (astragalus mongolicus), are some examples of common herbal Qi tonics, which have been used effectively for centuries.

I typically suggest a Chinese tonic tea formula chosen for a particular individual’s constitution, but may also simply suggest a formula blend of Qi tonics* called “Endurance” by Mind & Body Herbs. Not only can this formula help you get over your cold, but it can also boost your immune system and your tolerance to stress. This will support your wellness in flu season and through other stressful times in your life. *Note that Qi tonics may be contraindicated during the acute stage of a cold or flu, especially in higher dosages.

Consider your need to address these three aspects of your health when you find that you’re not recovering fully from a cold or flu. Herbal medicine can help you get well and fend off infections.

Call or write if you’d like to purchase any of the formulas suggested here, or if you’d like a consultation for a custom formulation made to build your immune system, or to address other issues for which you may want natural remedies.

New Reader Q & A Series: “Ask the Herbalist”

SeacoastKidsCalendar is excited to invite Nicole to take your health questions relating to herbal and holistic remedies! Submit your questions via email and we’ll answer them in our next Q & A series in April!

About the Author


Nicole MacDonald, LCMHC, RH (AHG) – Nicole is both a integrative psychotherapist and a clinically trained herbalist. She specializes in helping people resolve anxiety, as well as stress related problems with natural solutions and a holistic approach. Visit Nicole in Dover at the Journey to Wellness Integrative Medical Center or in her new Portsmouth office.

Nicole MacDonald, LCMHC, RH (AHG)
Licensed Counselor and Clinical Herbalist
Journey to Wellness, 839 Central Ave. #5, Dover NH
603-380-6580; nicole@nicolemacdonald.com

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