TCM Herbal Treatment for Cold and Flu: Medicinal Herbs Induce Sweating to Relieve Chills and Fever

In traditional Chinese medicine, the common cold and flu are believed to be caused by an external pathogen that enters the body through the skin. This can happen if the body’s defenses are run down, leaving it vulnerable to invasion.

Sweating, or diaphoresis, is a natural therapy used for acute diseases such as cold or flu. Treatment with diaphoretic herbs stimulates sweating to drive the pathogen out, eliminating the cold or flu while it is still in the early stages. This process is known in TCM as “releasing the exterior.” The two categories of diaphoretic herbs are warming and cooling diaphoretics; both have a spicy or pungent flavor and contain volatile oils.

Treating Wind-Cold Symptoms of Cold and Flu with Warming Diaphoretic Herbs

At the earliest signs of a cold or flu, the invading pathogen is still located near the surface. This stage of illness is known in TCM as External Wind-Cold. Symptoms include:

  • mild or no fever
  • strong chills
  • aversion to wind and cold
  • body aches and stiff neck
  • no thirst
  • no sweating
  • runny nose with watery clear or white mucus

External Wind-Cold is treated with warming, stimulating diaphoretic herbs that induce sweating by increasing the circulation of the capillaries of the skin. Here is a list of some Chinese and

Western warming diaphoretic herbs:

  • Angelica (Angelica archangelica) Du Huo
  • Cinnamon Twig (Ramulus cinnamomum cassiae) Gui Zhi
  • Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) Hu Sui
  • Ginger root (Zingiberis officinalis) Sheng Jiang
  • Ledebouriella (Radix ledebouriellae divaricatae) Fang Feng
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Treating Wind-Heat Symptoms of Cold and Flu with Cooling Diaphoretic Herbs

If the cold or flu has progressed past the initial stages, the condition is then known as External Wind-Heat, and cooling, relaxing diaphoretic herbs are indicated. Symptoms of External Wind-Heat include:

  • fever
  • mild or no chills
  • aversion to heat
  • thirst and desire for cold drinks
  • body aches and headache
  • sore throat
  • some sweating
  • nasal congestion with thick yellow mucus

External Wind-Heat is treated with cooling diaphoretic herbs that act by relaxing the surface and opening the pores, enhancing the body’s natural sweating response. Here is a list of some Chinese and western cooling diaphoretic herbs:

  • Burdock (Arctium lappa) Niu Bang Zi
  • Chrysanthemum flower (Chrysanthemum moriflorium) Ju Hua
  • Elder flower (Sambucus nigra) Shu Chin Shu
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
  • Mulberry leaf (Morus alba) Sang Ye
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

How to Treat Cold and Flu with Natural Sweating Therapy

Whether using warming or cooling diaphoretic herbs, the following steps are used for sweating therapy:

  1. Drink a cup of hot infusion (tea) made with the appropriate herbs.
  2. Go to bed and wrap warmly with blankets.
  3. Allow to sweat for 10 to 20 minutes. (Sweating for extended periods can cause exhaustion.)
  4. Sponge off with lukewarm water.
  5. Change to dry pajamas, change sheets if necessary, and cover to stay warm.
  6. Eat some nourishing soup, such as chicken broth or miso, or rice porridge.
  7. Drink room temperature water.

Contraindications: Burdock should be avoided with symptoms of diarrhea; Cinnamon twig should be avoided by women who are pregnant.