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Influenza is the name of a virus and the infection it causes.

Although for most people the infection is mild, it can be severe and even deadly in those with compromised immune systems, including infants, the elderly, and people with diseases such as cancer and AIDS. In the past, huge epidemics of influenza have caused millions of deaths. Some nutritional and herbal recommendations for maintaining healthy immune function are also applicable for treating influenza.


Rating Nutritional Supplements Herbs
Asian ginseng
Wild indigo
Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.


What are the symptoms of influenza?

Symptoms of influenza include fever, muscle aches, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Other symptoms include headache, chills, dry cough, sore throat, pain when moving the eyes, sneezing, and runny nose. The onset of symptoms is often rapid and intense.

Nutritional supplements that may be helpful for influenza

Dockworkers given 100 mg of vitamin C each day for ten months caught influenza 28% less often than did their coworkers not taking vitamin C. Of those who did develop the flu, the average duration of illness was 10% less in those taking vitamin C than in those not taking the vitamin.8 Other trials have reported that taking vitamin C in high amounts (2 grams every hour for 12 hours) can lead to rapid improvement of influenza infections.9 10 Such high amounts, however, should only be used under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Are there any side effects or interactions with influenza?

Refer to the individual supplement for information about any side effects or interactions.

Herbs that may be helpful for influenza

Echinacea has long been used for colds and flu. Double-blind trials in Germany have shown that infections associated with flu-like symptoms clear more rapidly when people take echinacea.11 Echinacea appears to work by stimulating the immune system. The usual recommended amount of echinacea is 3–5 ml of the expressed juice of the herb or tincture of the herb or root, or 300 mg of dried root powder three times per day.

The effect of a syrup made from the berries of the black elderberry on influenza has been studied in a small double-blind trial.12 People receiving an elderberry extract (four tablespoons per day for adults, two tablespoons per day for children) appeared to recover faster than did those receiving a placebo.

Asian ginseng and eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) have immune-enhancing properties, which may play a role in preventing infection with the influenza virus. However, they have not yet been specifically studied for this purpose. One double-blind trial found that co-administration of 100 mg of Asian ginseng extract with a flu vaccine led to a lower frequency of colds and flu compared to people who just received the flu vaccine alone.13

Boneset has been shown in test tube and other studies to stimulate immune-cell function,14 which may explain it’s traditional use to help fight off minor viral infections, such as the flu.

Wild indigo contains polysaccharides and proteins that have been reported in test tube studies to stimulate the immune system. The immune-enhancing effect of wild indigo is consistent with its use in traditional herbal medicine to fight the flu.15 However, wild indigo is generally used in combination with other herbs such as echinacea, goldenseal, or thuja.

While not as potent as willow, which has a higher salicin content, the salicylates in meadowsweet do give it a mild anti-inflammatory effect and the potential to reduce fevers during a cold or flu. However, this role is based on historical use and knowledge of the chemistry of meadowsweet’s constituents; to date, no human studies have been completed with meadowsweet.

Are there any side effects or interactions with influenza?

Refer to the individual herb for information about any side effects or interactions.

Holistic approaches that may be helpful for influenza
Because family stress has been shown to increase the risk of influenza infection,16 measures to relieve stressful situations may be beneficial.