Pelargonium is a herbal medicine that is more effective for treating colds, sore throat, sinusitis and acute bronchitis than anything I can prescribe as a doctor. The herbal remedy is extracted from the root of a South African geranium, Pelargonium sidoides. It has several centuries of use as a Zulu herbal remedy known as Umckaloabo – a word which roughly translates as ‘for heavy cough and chest problems’.
Pelargonium was first popularised in Britain over a hundred years ago, when it was brought back from Africa by an Englishman who was ‘cured’ of tuberculosis by a tribal healer. Then known as ‘Steven’s Consumption Cure’, it went out of fashion with the advent of anti-tubercular drugs. Pelargonium is now re-emerging as an effective treatment for both bacterial and viral upper respiratory tract infections with modern research confirming its effectiveness.
How pelargonium works
Pelargonium contains a number of unique substances, such as reniformin, with antiviral and antibacterial actions. Pelargonium also increases the activity of white blood cells that target and destroy infections.
Pelargonium blocks the adhesin molecules that bacteria use to stick to cells in the respiratory tract. This means that bacteria invading the respiratory tract are more easily dislodged and flushed away. Pelargonium also inhibits the attachment of viral particles to target cells, so they cannot enter to multiply.
Another interesting action is that Pelargonium stimulates the movement of hair-like cell projections (cilia) which form a ‘respiratory escalator’ that helps to bring up mucus and clear the lungs of infection.
Pelargonium and the common cold
The results from eight trials, involving almost 750 adults and over 800 children with acute bronchitis, found that Pelargonium sidoides was effective in reducing cough, sputum production, headache and nasal discharge.
The authors concluded that Pelargonium may be effective in treating symptoms of acute rhinosinusitis and the common cold. Doubt existed because in some trials treatment wasn’t started until the infection was in full swing – it is most effective if you start taking it as soon as possible after symptoms start. I always keep Pelargonium in the first aid cupboard to treat the first signs of a cold.
A study involving 103 people with cold symptoms present for between 24 and 48 hours found that taking Pelargonium sidoides extracts significantly improved symptoms. After 10 days, 78.8% of those receiving Pelargonium treatment were clinically cured, compared with only 31.4% taking placebo. If you start taking Pelargonium as soon as you notice the tell-tale signs (sore throat, runny nose, sneezing) rather than waiting to get to the chemists to buy it, I know from personal experience that symptoms will be gone within 24 hours. If you stop taking it, symptoms will come back, however, as the virus/bacteria is still in your system, so keep taking it for at least 3 days after symptoms have gone.
Pelargonium and bronchitis
Results from four trials show that Pelargonium sidoides extracts are significantly more effective than placebo in treating acute bronchitis. Two additional trials show that Pelargonium sidoides extracts are effective and safe for treating acute bronchitis in 406 adults who took 30mg extracts three times a day for a week, and that Pelargonium was safe and effective in treating 200 children and adolescents aged 6 to 18 years.
Pelargonium and laryngitis
I first came across Pelargonium when I had lost my voice due to acute laryngitis. I felt perfectly well, but sounded awful. A friend whipped out a pack of Pelargonium and within 20 minutes of taking my first dose, my hoarse voice was back to normal.
Pelargonium and sinusitis
A study involving 105 people with bacterial sinusitis, in which symptoms had been present for at least one week, showed that taking Pelargonium extracts three times daily for up to 22 days produced significant improvements in symptoms, with faster recovery than those taking placebo, and no significant side effects.
Pelargonium and tonsillitis
In 140 children with tonsillitis, taking Pelargonium sidoides extracts produced a significantly better improvement in acute symptoms than placebo. Pelargonium reduced the severity of symptoms and shortened the duration of sore throat by at least 2 days.
Pelargonium and asthma
In children with asthma, symptoms are often triggered by a viral respiratory tract infection. A study involving 61 children with asthma showed that taking Pelargonium for 5 days to treat a common cold significantly reduced cough frequency, nasal congestion and the frequency of asthma symptoms in those taking the extract compared with those taking inactive placebo. The researchers concluded that Pelargonium sidoides may prevent asthma attacks during upper respiratory tract viral infections.
The recommended tablet dose of Pelargonium is 20mg to 30mg, three times a day, for adults.
Tinctures and syrups are available to treat coughs and colds in children, in whom doses are lower (check manufacturer’s recommended dose according to age).
Click here to read a typical Pelargonium Patient Information Leaflet.
It’s important to continue treatment for 3 days after symptoms have resolved to prevent a relapse.
Within the UK, Pelargonium falls under the Traditional Herbal Registration scheme and is made to pharmaceutical standarts Pelargonium is licensed as a traditional herbal medicine to treat symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections including the common cold, such as a sore throat, coughs, and a blocked or runny nose.
Experience in Germany suggests that Pelargonium sidoides extracts are safe, with 1 in 189,000 patients experiencing a side effect during an average treatment period of 10 days. A few reports of potential liver problems were found to relate to other causes.
As Pelargonium is classed as a medicine, always read the patient information leaflet before taking the tablets. Do not take during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Pelargonium works well with vitamin C and zinc against common cold symptoms.