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Immune: Diaphoretics and colds

by Paul Bergner

Medical Herbalism 3(4):1,10

Many of the herbs recommended for colds in herb books are diaphoretics. They move the circulation toward the surface of the body, helping to cool it off through sweating, and increasing the immunological activity on the “front lines” of the body’s battle against the cold. Diaphoretics and other herbs can be very helpful in a cold, but the different kinds must be carefully selected or they can actually aggravate symptoms. The two main questions (adapted from traditional Chinese medicine) to ask are: “Is the person more hot or more cold?” and “Is the patient more strong or more weak?” Different herbs will in effect warm or cool the patient and the wrong kind will make them feel worse instead of better. Cayenne or garlic are as out of place in a “hot” cold as a roaring fire on a hot day in July; likewise cooling herbs like goldenseal are as out of place in a cold person as a tall cool lemonade on a winter day. A person who is weak and run down should not take diaphoretics, because they may further exhaust the system.

The person who is “hot” usually looks and feels hot, and has a faster than normal pulse. This person usually develops some dehydration, and as a result the mucus and the coat on the tongue become more yellow-colored, and the urine is more scanty and darker colored. They may feel some chills, but a fever is predominant and they want to throw off their bed covers and wear lighter clothing. The cold person is dominated by chills, wants extra blankets and clothes, and has a slow or normal pulse, and has no signs of dehydration. The mucus and urine are more white or clear.

The strong person has a firm pulse, no unusual fatigue, and may have a headache, body aches and stiffness, and does not sweat spontaneously. A weak person on the other hand will have a weak pulse, general fatigue predominating, a pale face, and will sweat spontaneously. A strong hot person may also sweat, but the weak person sweats easily whether hot or cold. A weak person who sweats easily should not take herbs that make them sweat more, and which would further deplete their energy and dehydrate them. The accompanying chart shows appropriate kinds of herbs for each type of cold. Non-diaphoretic warming and cooling herbs are included where appropriate.

To make a strong diaphoretic brew, put an ounce of the herb in a pint or quart jar. Pour boiling water over it and immediately cover the jar with an airtight lid. Without the lid, the diaphoretic volatile substances will quickly evaporate. Let the brew cool until it is at room temperature. Then add echinacea or other herbs in alcohol tincture form to the tea. A quarter to a half cup, repeated four times a day, will probably be sufficient. A caution on using strong herbs in pregnancy: Most diaphoretic herbs also promote menstruation, and should be avoided in concentrated forms during pregnancy. Moderate amounts of ginger tea are fine during pregnancy, and may also help with morning sickness.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    182