To Flu Vaccine, Or Not Flu Vaccine: Natural Approaches to Flu Prevention


This blog entry is in support of our Wellness Wednesday video of this week, and a continuation of last week’s topic of flu vaccine decision-making.

Flu vaccine prescription is outside the scope of practice of naturopathic doctors: we do not prescribe it, or dissuade people from it’s use. Our responsibility is, offering reliable information in service of making an informed decision

Last week we began to work through the four (often unconscious) factors people consider when making a health decision, in this case with respect to flu vaccination:

  1. What are the risks of not vaccinating?
  2. Is the vaccine effective?
  3. Is the vaccine safe?

Today we review:

What are my alternatives to vaccination for prevention of flu?

To be clear: there are no “natural flu vaccines”.

A vaccine has a very specific mechanism of action – it “pre-raises” antibodies to a particular microbe in order that your body has a ready-made immune response to that specific microbe should you come into contact with it.

There are however other means of preventing infection – the most important example of a “natural alternative” to infection prevention, whether by the flu or any other infection, is hand-washing.

Natural Medicines for Flu Prevention

There are a range of natural medicines, primarily botanical medicines, that can be used to prevent flu infection.

Plants have over 124 confirmed pharmacological actions1, and approximately 40% of prescription medications have as their root a plant1, so it is reasonable that plant medicines can be used to protect against flu.

The primary actions to look for in an herbal medicine for prevention is plants that are:

  1. Immune- “boosting” (to increase your resistance to all infections, including the flu)
  2. Anti-viral (the flu is a virus)

A quick Google search will yield many results, here’s a more academic listing, but any product at the health store for “flu prevention” is likely to include some of the plants your Google search has turned up.

Botanical medicines however have nuance: for the initiated, they have “best ways” to be of use. To demonstrate this:

Echinacea spp. (Purple Coneflower)

Echinacea is an important “immune-modulating” plant. Immune modulating plants can be used daily through-out the season to support what-ever response your immune system is mounting (as opposed to “immune stimulating” plants that stimulate a specific action in the body determined by the plant/prescriber, rather than precisely what your body has “identified as it’s need”).

There are more than one species of Echinacea: the main one for infection prevention is one called Echinacea angustofolia. If buying a product in pill form, it should be “standardized” for chemicals called alkylamides.

Golden Seal (Hydrastis canadensis)

Golden seal is a plant that is most effective in treatment of infections at the mucous membranes – the pink skin in your nose and mouth (among other locations).

Practically, these types of infections are often experienced as runny nose, sore throat, etc. Sound familiar? Golden seal.

Garlic (Allium sativum)

Garlic is a plant that is useful in infections of the gastrointestinal tract, but has it’s strongest reputation as an herb for respiratory infection. The flu is a respiratory infection, therefore, garlic may be a better choice for flu prevention than some of the other plants that have demonstrated anti-viral activity.

Garlic, if purchased in pill form, should be standardized to a chemical called alliin, and be sold as enterically-coated capsules.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

St. John’s Wort has an anti-viral action against enveloped viruses, a specific design category of virus that the flu falls into. Similarly to garlic, this may make St. John’s Wort a better choice for flu prevention than some other anti-viral plants.

Do we have specific product recommendations?

Yes we do.

We do not usually recommend products in this forum, but as the above demonstrates, purchasing herbal medicines (and natural medicines in general) is much more complex than purchasing conventional medicines (e.g., aspirin), from both a “knowledge-required” and quality control perspectives.

If you are able to find them, MediHerb™ makes very high-quality botanical medicines. They are intended to be available only by prescription by a health care practitioner, and are available via our Online Dispensary. MediHerb™ produces Echincea-, garlic- and St. John’s Wort-based botanical medicines.

Viriditas Herbal Products are only available through naturopathic doctors, but if you are a patient of a naturopathic doctor, ask them if they are able to organize purchase of a tincture called “Children and Adults Cold and Flu Elixer”, which we’ve found to be excellent for both prevention and treatment of flu.

Viriditas Herbal Products also makes a tincture called “Herbal First Defense” which is very reliable for when you sense a tickle in your throat, and may or may not wake ill tomorrow. Taken at this juncture, “Herbal First Defense” will ensure you wake hale and hearty.

Lastly, our office offers a “Flu Clinic” – a “one-off”, one-hour consultation in which we can review with you flu prevention strategies in your/your family’s lifestyle and a botanical medicine regimen to help you have a happy and healthy winter season.


  1. Fabricant DS, Farnsworth NR. The value of plants used in traditional medicine for drug discovery. Environ Health Perspect [Internet]. Mar 2001 [cited 2016 Dec 14];109(Suppl 1):69–75. Available at:

Posted: 2016 December 14