Yes, we are smack dab in the middle of cold and flu season and for those of us with toddlers in day care (a-hem), herbal remedies seem to be a constant part of life in the wintertime! You actually never need to touch the chemical laden and possibly detrimental cold & flu symptomatic remedies on the counters of your local pharmacy. Instead, turn to the natural gifts of nature, for far more effective, immune-building resistance and treatment.
Astragalus root is a chinese herb that has been long used as an immune tonic. Michael Tierra recommends making an herbal syrup from astragalus for those with compromised immune systems, but I often just add astragalus regularly to decoctions or even to soup stocks for an added immune boost! Astragalus is not an herb to use once a cold has already set in.
Adaptogens are a wonderful gift to us and are used in many cultures as tonics for longevity and resilience throughout life. They help to balance our systems and create better resistance to stress, including stress-induced colds and flus. Regular use of an adaptogen is recommended for anyone living in our stressful, postmodern, multi-tasking world! Examples of adaptogens include Siberian Ginseng (Eleuthero), Asian Ginseng, Ashwaghanda, and Rhodiola Root. You should consult with an herbalist or herbally-savy naturopath to assess which adaptogen is best for you. That said, Siberian Ginseng seems a good all-around adaptogen that is often used as an energy tonic for athletes.
Echinacea is still the superior choice in cold and flu treatment. There have been studies suggesting a lack of effectiveness, but the dosages and herb formulations in those clinical studies were not therapeutic, more often than not. I still swear by the stuff! As with many (if not most) herbs, echinacea’s clinical power is not isolated to one ingredient, but rather, its whole chemical make-up contributes to its immune-boosting power. The action of this wonderful herb is quite different from allopathic antibiotics and even other antibiotic herbs such as Golden Seal. Echinacea actually vitalizes the immune system rather than attacking the virus directly, and thus assists the lymph, adrenal and thymus glands in their immune activity. It is also a fine fever herb and does not interfere with the needed (slight) elevation in temperature, as bacteria and viruses cannot survive above 100 degrees, but keeps the fever low enough to prevent convulsions (Susun Weed, Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, 1986).
Echinacea does appear to have some preventative power, especially when used in the early stages (you feel that throat tickle, perhaps, or you’re starting to feel run down), but it also shortens the length of a cold and lessens the severity. Echinacea is better taken in tincture than capsule form, but I also like to make a strong herbal syrup from a decoction of echinacea, chapparal, ginger, and thyme to really pack a punch to that mean old cold. I’ll post DIY instructions for making an herbal syrup at some stage soon. The important thing is taking ENOUGH of the stuff. Most people under-dose. At the first signs of a cold, you may need to take a dropperful of the tincture four to six times a day. This is equivelant to 1-2g dried root per day. Take up to nine 300-400mg capsules per day. If you are taking the tincture, you should have a transitory numbing, tingly sort of feeling on your tongue. For babies and children, put 10 drops of echinacea in a four oz. bottle/cup of water or juice. Allow your child to drink as desired and this will help keep a fever in bounds. Even the newest of newborn babies old will benefit from the breastmilk from a breastfeeding mother taking echinacea infusions or tincture.
Garlic and Onions are potent anti-virals in an of themselves. Fresh garlic is much more potent than cooked or roasted garlic and one way to get around popping a whole clove in your mouth is to dice up a few cloves, add to olive oil and dip bread in the oil & garlic. You might even add a dash of cider vinegar for good measure! It’s yummy AND it’ll treat that cold. In addition, the old adage about chicken soup seems to be linked more to the onions and garlic simmered in that warm vegetable or chicken stock than to the chicken itself. Not only are the onions and garlic antiviral, but viruses don’t survive at hot temperatures and drinking hot broths, soups, and teas can really inhibit viral replication, along with keeping you well hydrated. I’ve also heard of wise women making strong garlic teas from fresh cloves. One half cup of this stuff and you could really knock that cold back a couple steps, or if taken early on, might deter it completely.
Ginger and Lemon infusions should not be understated as a helpful treatment strategy. Not only is the hot liquid good to take in, but ginger is warming and can help heat the body up, helping you to ‘sweat it out’. Herbalist Michael Tierra recommends taking the hot ginger tea (fresh or dry ginger root infused for at least ten minutes) after a hot bath and then piling on the blankets. Heating up the body temperature helps prevent viral replication and can really do a number on the little suckers. That’s why our immune response is often to have a fever! Viruses simply cannot survive in body temps over 101 degrees. You need only get concerned when your temp gets to 102 or higher or that they persist for more than a couple of days. Lemon is very rich in infection-fighting vitamin C and is also a fever cooler when the temp rises.
Elder Berry and Flower : Elder, herbalist Susun Weed tells us, seems to help the body regulate temperature, and when those lovely white blossoms are tinctured, can provide a superior remedy for treating infants’ tinctures, as well as our own. It reduces frighteningly high fevers without fail and doesn’t have the detrimental effect on kidneys and livers as commercial fever-reducers (advil, tylenol) do. Put one drop per pound of body weight under the tongue (for infants and adults alike) and thoe dose can be repeated as often as needed. It is completely harmless. The fever usually begins to decrease within a few hours of the first dose. (Elder can also be administered by dropper while breastfeeding).
RECIPES for therapeutic foods & herbal infusions to follow in Part II!