A Sinus Formula for Allergies, Colds, and Flu
Written and Photographed by Juliet Blankespoor
This blend is helpful as an internal remedy for sinus congestion due to seasonal allergies, head colds, or sinus infections. It is very drying and decongesting, and therefore isn’t the best remedy for the beginning stages of a cold when runny mucus can actually help expel pesky viruses. Instead, use during the latter stages of an infection when the mucus is thick and yellow-green in color.
The herbs can be taken in tea form, instead of tincture, but the tea will be unpalatable to some because of its astringency and bitter flavor. For people who run dry, add marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root to the formula. Licorice is contraindicated in pregnancy, water retention, heart conditions, and high blood pressure.
- 2 parts tincture goldenrod flower and leaves (Solidago spp.)
- 2 parts tincture elderflower (Sambucus canadensis)
- 1 part tincture yarrow flower (Achillea millefolium)
- 1 part tincture nettles leaf (Urtica dioica)
Combine all the tinctures, using the above proportions. For a larger batch (yielding 8 ounces, or 240 ml), use 1 ounce (30 ml) of tincture as 1 part. This means that you would use 1 ounce (30 ml) each of yarrow and nettles to 2 ounces (60 ml) each of goldenrod and elder. For a smaller batch (yielding 1.4 ounces, or 40 ml), use 5 ml as 1 part. In this case, you would add 5 ml each of yarrow and nettles and 10 ml each of goldenrod and elder. You’ll need a glass beaker for the smaller measurements.
Use fresh plant tinctures if possible (1:2 95%), but you can substitute dried tinctures as needed. Combine all tinctures and store in a glass dispensing bottle. Dosage is 4 ml (⅘ of a teaspoon) three times a day.
Safety and Contraindications: Do not use in pregnancy. Although rare, goldenrod has caused allergic contact dermatitis after both handling and oral administration.1 Those with Asteraceae allergies should exercise caution with goldenrod. If you are harvesting your own goldenrod, be sure to gather only true Solidago species because there are deadly look-alikes (please see my in-depth article on goldenrod for details).
Herbs for Sinus Congestion:
Co-Starring Herbal Featurettes
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
Among its many uses, goldenrod is a premier decongestant, effectively alleviating upper respiratory congestion stemming from allergies, sinusitis, flu, and the common cold. It can be taken as a tea, syrup, or tincture for this purpose. In my experience, it is one of the strongest herbs for drying the sinuses.
Please see the above description of goldenrod’s Safety and Contraindications, and visit my article on goldenrod's medicinal uses for even more information.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory actions make it valuable for resolving infections, clearing sinus congestion, and bringing comfort to painful symptoms. Yarrow’s flowers can be used in tea or tincture form as a decongestant for seasonal or environmental allergies, and as a classic cold and flu remedy.
Safety and Contraindications: Do not use internally during pregnancy, although external use is completely safe. Internally and externally, yarrow may cause side effects (contact dermatitis, photosensitivity, and allergic reactions) for those with Asteraceae sensitivity (although reactions are very rare).
Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)
Elderflowers are the blooms of the familiar elderberry shrub. The flowers, like the berries, are well-known for their antiviral properties and are healing for the upper respiratory system. Rich in tannins and volatile oils, they effectively dry up excessive mucus and help it flow more freely from the sinuses, alleviating stuffy nose, headache, and earache. As well, their flavonoid compounds are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune-stimulating.
An infusion of elderflowers is also beneficial for alleviating congestion in head colds, sinus infections, and allergic rhinitis.
Safety and Contraindications: No known precautions.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)
Deep green nettle leaves are anti-inflammatory and drying to the sinuses, and are thus a helpful remedy for congestion. They also possess antihistamine properties and are a classic herb for the prevention and relief of allergies.
Safety and Contraindications: Although nettles is generally safe with relatively few cautions, there are a few things to look out for. Because it is a diuretic and astringent, it can be very drying as a tonic herb for folks who already have dry skin and dry mucous membranes. Additionally, its diuretic effects may compound pharmaceuticals with the same action, such as diuretic antihypertensive medications.
Ready for the full scoop on goldenrod? We share all about identifying, growing, gathering, and using this sun-bright wildflower here.
- Mills, S., and Bone, K. The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety (Elsevier Health Sciences, 2005).
Meet the Green Mastermind Behind Blog Castanea:
JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.
These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.