By Dr Leela Klein

With the changing of the seasons, especially the transition from warm to cold weather, many people become more susceptible to colds and flu. The great news is that Chinese medicine is equipped to deal with colds and flus at any stage. “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Those are the famous words from the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates.

Nutritional therapy, one of the pillars of Chinese medicine, contains a vast amount of foods for building up your immune system, preventing, as well as combating colds and flu. Here are some foods and herbs to help you stay healthy this cold and flu season…


  1. Congee:

Congee or ‘Jook’ is a traditional breakfast dish in China. It is a soupy porridge made with rice, water, vegetables and other ingredients to boost longevity, strengthen the digestive system, as well as an all purpose remedy for sickness.

Ingredients are added depending on what type of cold or flu you have, weather it is a heat type with symptoms like sever fever, mild chills, sore throat, sweating, and thirst or the cold type with symptoms of severe chills, profuse, clear discharge for the nose, mild fever, no sweat, headache and general aching.

White rice is generally easy to digest, makes the Spleen (which is responsible for digestion in Chinese medicine) happy and is less work for the body when it should be directing all its energy towards fighting the pathogen.

Congee is delicious and nutritious and can be eaten at any time of the year, but it is usually eaten in the cooler months for its warming and nourishing properties.


2. Ginger:

Ginger is one of the most commonly used herbs in Chinese medicine. Gingerol, the main bioactive compound in ginger, is responsible for much of its medicinal properties. It has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that have been associated with everything from alleviating motion sickness to enhancing brain function. Ginger may also be effective against the RSV virus, a common cause of respiratory infections.

Ginger warms and benefits the stomach, stops nausea and vomiting, and it warms the lungs to stop cough.

Adding a couple of slices or fresh, raw ginger to some boiling water and drinking it as a tea is a good way to resolve a fever by increasing sweating, thereby expelling internal heat through the pores. Another amazing way of using ginger when you have a col or flu is to grate some fresh ginger and put it in a cloth or old sock, tie a knot in the top and throw it into a warm bathtub. This is a great way to stimulate sweating and break fever. It will also leave you smelling delicious.


3. Bone Broth:

Chicken soup is not just good for the soul: There is a reason that it is prescribed by doctors and mums alike when you are feeling under the weather! All bone broths (beef, chicken, lamb and more) are part of traditional diets in every culture and the basis for all fine cuisine. The reason for this is that bone broths are nutrient-dense, easy to digest, rich in flavour and they boost healing.  They contain minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and sulphur, in forms that your body can easily absorb.

Bone broth or stock was a way our ancestors made use of every part of an animal. Bones and marrow, skin and feet, tendons and ligaments that cannot be eaten directly, can be boiled and then simmered over a period of days. This simmering causes the bones and ligaments to release healing compounds like collagen, glycine and glutamine, which have the ability to transform your health.  By regularly drinking bone broth or using it in recipes, you can help to promote healthy gut integrity, reduce permeability and inflammation and improve digestion. Studies are also proving that it can alleviate allergies, asthma and arthritis.  Bone broth can even endorse healthy sleep; enhance energy during the day while supporting your immune system during cold and flu season.


4.  Garlic:

Garlic is one of the most widely used herbs in the world and it has been used throughout ancient history for its health and medicinal properties. From a Chinese medicine point of view garlic is considered a warming herb and is used to aid the spleen and stomach in digestion, as well as to expel harmful microorganisms.

Studies have shown that there is also convincing evidence for beneficial effects on heart health and being able to significantly lower blood pressure. It is also known for its ability to treat infection, cleanse the blood of harmful cholesterol and powerfully boost your immunity.

Garlic supplementation is renowned for combatting sickness, including the common cold. If you often get colds, then adding more garlic to your diet could be incredibly helpful. Research confirmed that a high dose of garlic extract (2.56 grams per day) could reduce the number of days sick with cold or flu by 61%.


5.  Honey:

Since ancient times, honey has been used as both a food and a medicine. High-quality honey contains many important antioxidants, and has antibacterial as well as anti-fungal properties. Due to the antioxidants and flavonoids it contains, honey helps to reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease. It reduces ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders, and is also able to regulate blood sugar.

Different kinds of honey have different flavonoid profiles, depending on the floral source of the nectar. The most beneficial kinds of honey for the body are Manuka and buckwheat.

Manuka honey has been found to stimulate the production of immune cells while buckwheat honey in particular helps with coughs. In a study of 105 children, a single dose of buckwheat honey was just as effective as a single dose of dextromethorphan in relieving nocturnal cough and allowing proper sleep. This particular honey can keep you healthy throughout the colder months.


6.  Chinese Herbal Remedies:

The formula Gan Mao Ling (Common Cold Effective Remedy) is used as a preventative. For instance, it is highly beneficial when traveling on public transport where everyone is coughing and sneezing around you. I use it almost daily during the cold and flu season to prevent catching my patient’s colds.

Yu Ping Feng San (Jade Windscreen Powder) is a formula that is utilised to boost your immunity and prevent illness in people who catch colds easily. If you catch ‘everything going around’ this can be a great formula for you.

Sang Ju Yin (Mulberry Leaf and Chrysanthemum Decoction) is a classic Chinese herbal formula that is most effective when a cold or flu is still at its early stage with symptoms such as cough, mild thirst, and slight fever. It is used especially when cough is the main symptom.

The Chinese herb formula Yin Qiao San (Honeysuckle and Forsythia Powder) is a classic formula that treats colds and flus effectively. It is commonly used when presenting with heat, sore throat and fever. Taking a dose every couple hours at the first sign of illness can reduce the severity of the cold and also clear it up faster.




6.    Wong, L., & Knapsey, L. (2002). Food for the Seasons: Eat Well and Stay Healthy the Traditional Chinese Way. Maddington, Australia: Red Dog Books.