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Keep the dreaded lurgy at arm's length with these immune-boosting (and tasty!) teas from herbalist Toni Green.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

This contains antiviral, antibacterial, and expectorant compounds, plus carvacrol, one of nature's strongest antimicrobials, making it a great choice for preventing and treating coughs, sore throats, and colds. It relaxes the muscles of the trachea and bronchi, which then opens up the airways, so you breathe better. In Europe, thyme is officially approved as a medicine for bronchitis and whooping cough for this reason. Research by Germany's Practice for Internal Medicine found people with bronchitis who took a tincture of thyme and ivy leaf had 50 percent fewer coughing fits and less congestion. Another study, from Poland's Medical University of Lodz, showed thyme countered 120 strains of oral and respiratory tract bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant strains.

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

Research published in the Journal of International Medical Research has shown that, when it is used within the first 48 hours following symptom onset, it reduces the duration of flu symptoms by up to four days. Another study, published in Nutrients, showed that people who took elderberry for 10 days prior to travelling by air reported significantly fewer colds and flu. It works by binding flavonoids to flu viruses – including both the H1N1 human influenza virus and the H5N1 avian one – stopping them penetrating cell membranes or reproducing themselves.

Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia)

This stimulates production and activity of white blood cells, which are the body's first line of defence. Studies show that echinacea not only reduces your odds of contracting viral and antibacterial respiratory tract infections, but shortens their duration if you do fall foul of one; plus, it alleviates the aches and sore throat associated with strep throat, and reduces swelling in the throat and tonsils. Take echinacea when symptoms first appear; for acute infections, the key is frequent dosing – as you feel better, lengthen the interval between doses. Send it straight to the site of the infection by gargling with 30 drops of tincture in warm water.

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

This is antispasmodic, and so alleviates coughing; it's also expectorant, meaning it loosens phlegm, making it easier to expel, so it's great for sinusitis and bronchitis, as well as asthma and allergies. Hyssop is what herbalists term a 'stimulating diaphoretic', meaning it warms the body yet helps you sweat, which is helpful for lowering a fever. It is an exceptional remedy for lung inflammation and sore throat, and a great choice for people who use their voice constantly, like teachers or singers. I recommend taking hyssop tea, with a little honey, and also rubbing a few drops, diluted in olive oil, into the throat and chest.

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

This is demulcent, anti-inflammatory, and expectorant, meaning it soothes the airways while loosening and expelling mucus. Its main constituent, glycyrrhizin, inhibits the growth and replication of many viruses, including the flu virus, and activates the defensive white blood cells. Demulcent herbs need to make direct contact with the body part that requires relief, so take licorice in lozenge, syrup, or tea form.

Toni's best-ever cold and flu tea
1 teaspoon finely chopped licorice root
½ teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon hyssop
1 teaspoon elderberry flowers
thinly sliced ginger root
Pour one cup of boiling water over herbs and steep for 10 minutes. Strain, and add honey. Drink 3-4 cups daily.

Toni Green is a Tasmania-based naturopath, herbalist, and iridologist. www.naturalhealthsolutions.net.au