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Colds & Flu Got You Down? Reach for Andrographis

Andro what? It isn’t as well-known as echinacea or elderberry, but andrographis—or Andrographis paniculata by its Latin name—may deliver even more powerful relief from colds, flu, and other infections.

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“When I call upon andrographis, I’m absolutely thinking, hit hard, hit fast, banish colds, flu – those respiratory diseases,” says Brian Keenan, ND, of the Institute for Natural Medicine. “This is one of those herbs that will make people who don’t believe in herbal medicine pay attention,” he adds. “If they’ll take it.”

What Andrographis Does

Andrographis increases the number of white blood cells that patrol the human body to detect and eliminate pathogens, and it energizes immune cells to more effectively get rid of bad bugs. The herb also has some direct antiviral and antibacterial effects. And once a battle is over, it helps the immune system clean up leftover debris.

When you take andrographis, “It’s like giving a cup of coffee to your white blood cells and saying, ‘go get ’em,’” says Keenan. “And they feel like ‘I had a good cup of joe; I’m going to go for a jog.’”

Proven Respiratory Benefits

Andrographis has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal herb. In recent decades, more than 1,500 scientific articles have been published on its mechanisms and benefits, with respiratory infections, such as colds and flu, being a major focus of research.

Reviews of studies with a total of more than 2,000 people have concluded that andrographis is safe and effective in preventing colds; reducing the severity of respiratory symptoms from colds, sinusitis, and flu; and speeding recovery.

When to Take Andrographis

This is an herb to keep on hand because it works best when you take it at the very first sign that you may be getting sick. If you wake up during the night with a stuffy nose or scratchy throat, get up and take some andrographis. Basically, anytime you feel as if you might be coming down with something, that’s the best time to start taking it.

And the reason why is simple: Once viruses and bacteria get into your system, they start to reproduce, and the longer they go unchecked, the more virulent and resistant they become. So the sooner you take andrographis, the easier it is to stop an infection its tracks. If hours go by—or even worse, days—andrographis will still help, but getting rid of the illness is more of an uphill battle.

Keenan also recommends taking andrographis when you’re traveling, especially if you’re visiting a place where there’s a high risk of some type of infection. The extra protection this herb offers can reduce your odds of getting sick.

Can It Help with Long Covid?

Andrographis is not a treatment for Covid-19. But in Keenan’s experience, it may help some—but not all—people who recover from a Covid infection and continue to suffer from persistent symptoms, known as long Covid. There hasn’t been any research to test this premise, but some principles of traditional Chinese medicine seem to apply.

In the context of traditional healing, Keenan has seen andrographis help people who run “hot.” Symptoms may include being irritable, staying unusually susceptible to other infections, or suffering from lingering respiratory issues.

On the other hand, Keenan does not recommend andrographis when fatigue, mental confusion, or lethargy are in the mix of symptoms. These would all be classified as “cold” symptoms in the traditional Chinese system of healing, and they don’t respond well to “hot” treatments.

How to Take Andrographis

In general, Keenan recommends the following dosages.

For treatment

500 mg, 3 times daily, starting at the first sign of symptoms or first inkling that illness may be on its way. Continue to take andrographis until you feel like your usual self.

For prevention

500 mg, twice daily.

For anyone who doesn’t like a bitter taste, capsules may be the best option. Otherwise, tinctures may make it easier to control the dose, and because they’re alcohol-based, they can be stored longer without losing potency.

Side effects are rare, but high doses of andrographis, especially if taken on an empty stomach, can cause nausea. If this happens, reduce the dose or stop taking it. If you took it without food, try taking it with food next time. Cell studies have suggested that andrographis may interfere with blood thinners, either increasing or decreasing their potency. But this hasn’t been tested in human trials.

Keenan recommends that pregnant women avoid andrographis because it’s very bitter, and bitterness can act on receptors in the esophagus and stomach that trigger contractions. For children, Keenan prefers elderberry or echinacea because they’re gentler herbs.