Nervous about Swine Flu? Look to Herbal Medicine for Immune Boosting

echinacea_300x300I’m going to reveal something you might not know about me – as a medical anthropologist (my professional training, aside from herbal studies),- it is tough to find a job that is ‘specific’ to my anthropological studies (as any anthropologists reading this will attest to!). One place where medical anthropologists fit in fairly neatly is in the public health field, particularly anthropologists who are more on-the-ground oriented. I work in a Center for Preparedness Research Education and Practice as my ‘regular’ 40 hour work week job, and part of what I do involves providing support to non-profit service providers of vulnerable populations in the area of emergency preparedness planning and training. I’ve been involved in numerous discussions, planning efforts, and even some research around pandemic influenza planning, and so am well tuned-in to the events of recent days.

There have been numerous reports to date that demonstrate the many ways that Tamiflu and other pharmaceutical antirvirals do not really work in preventing viruses. But for centuries, alternative medical systems have practiced preventative medicine by 1) building the immune system, and 2) using anti-viral and anti-biotic herbs. Herbs contain chemicals with different ‘actions’ on the body, and many of these chemical compounds are extracted or copied in order to produce the pharmaceuticals. The downside of these pharma drugs is that the side effects are often bad and the toll on the body can be hard, particularly for the liver.

Fears about swine flu abound, and with the alert level raised to ‘5’ today, its no wonder that the public is getting a bit anxious. In the preparedness field, we have learned one thing (at least), and that is to give people something that is in their control to do in the given situation. Does that make sense? In other words, if you can be proactive in taking care of at least one or two elements in your situation, you will feel empowered and are less likely to be fearful or panicked.

Approaches to viral and retroviral medicine have shifted over time to favor immune-building approaches to treatment rather than relying solely on antiviral drugs. The reason? The huge rate of mutation and eventual resistance to these drugs (if not immediate resistance). Boost your body’s immune strength and concurrently treat it with antivirals once a pathogen strikes.

So what herbs can we use? Lots. Master herbalist, Michael Tierra of the East West School of Planetary Herbalism, writes about the antibiotic and antiviral powers of pure oregano oil in his blog post about MRSA, and much of this is just as applicable to treating cold & flus. In some earlier posts, I also outlined some Herbal Remedies for Colds and Flus, Part I and Part II, both of which included immune-boosting herbs like Astragalus and anti-viral herbs and foods such as onions, garlic, thyme, etc.

I can’t leave out the power of Adapotens to boost the body’s ability to ward off infection and just generally cope with stress, reduce fatigue, and help us ‘adapt’ better to the stressors of our lifestyles. Adaptogens include well known ayurvedic tonics, Ashwaghanda and Shatavari, and Asian tonics such as Red Ginseng, Korean Ginseng, Eleuthro Root (Siberian Ginseng), and Rhodiola Root. These should be taken regularly and constently, along with Astragalus, for a strong immune-boosting tonic.

muira-puma-capsulesI have recently posted some immune-boosting capsules and herbal syrup on my etsy site and would welcome your comments and feedback both on etsy and here. What herbal anti-virals have worked well for you? I’ve heard about the use of colloildal silver for the treatment of flu, for instance, but have no experience with this treatment. Let me know your thoughts by commenting on this post! This won’t be the last of its kind.

10 Responses to Nervous about Swine Flu? Look to Herbal Medicine for Immune Boosting

  1. aucuparia says:

    Hi Lilith.

    Although I’m not sure about how much we can rely on herbal medicines in their ‘traditional’ doses during a flu outbreak (I’m into heroic doses, but this is pretty frowned upon in many herbal circles, you’re on the right track. Definitely.).

    Note that Astragalus membranaceous has contradictory results in trials. Some say don’t use it in acute conditions, some say use it in Flu. I say use it in Flu.

    Any questions to I’m a qualified and practicing Medical Herbalist.


    Thanks for the inspiration!!


    • lilithsapothecary says:

      Hi there H.@ aucuparia! Thank you for contributing to the conversation! Yes, I am aware of that discrepancy. I tend to use astragalus more for tonic immune-building purposes rather than acute infection. However, when it comes to flu, I say use it.

      As for dosage, I am leaning more towards immune-boosting strategies & higher dosage when it comes to more severe strains. There does seem to be a lot of discprepency in this area too. Many traditional dosage recommendations, including for commonly used remedies like Echinacea, are far too low to be therapeutic. For a severe H5N1 or H1N1 influenza, however, I don’t necessarily advocate for the sole use of herbal medicines. This would be in line with Michael Tierra’s recommendation of traditional antibiotics (perhaps concurrant with other nutritional and herbal therapies) for severe infections like syphillis, etc. In the case of severe pandemic influenza, I have to say that I’m all in favor of that vaccination once it arrives! The Chinese were putting scabs from people infected with smallpox under the skin 2,000 years ago, after all. Until then, lets get those immune system resilient and strong. Thanks again for your reply!

  2. i had to add my friend onto one of my blogrolls! just thought i would let you know 😉

  3. Hey Lilith,

    Immune boosters are good for ordinary flu, even if it goes pandemic. But a flu that has a cytokine storm where healthy young adults are more likely to die than the young, old or infirm, you want to stress other strategies like cooling heat, relaxing the interstices (area between the capillary beds and the pores) and addressing eliminatory properties of the organs with alteratives, diuretics and mild laxatives. So adaptogenic medicinal mushrooms which increase cytokines may be contraindicated.

    • lilithsapothecary says:

      Hi there!
      Thanks for your comments: i appreciate your added expertise when it comes to cytokines.

  4. Sarah Phillips says:

    Hi, I have just had flu (or swine flu) and I have taken a course of tamiflu. It had left me feeling very fatigue and still my muscles ache occasionally. I decided to go to my local food shop and was advised to take Korean Ginseng and some multivitamins, I have been taking them for a couple of days but no affect as yet but i assume to soon? Do you think this is the right thing to be taking or would you recommend anything else. Just to help you I am 32yrs old work in a busy veterinary centre and have 3 children.

    Many thanks


    • lilithsapothecary says:

      Dear Sarah, I am glad you got through that flu okay! Just to let you know, *any* time your body goes through a really strong viral experience, you can be very fatigued for 2 weeks or more. You may still need extra rest because you’ll be feeling totally wiped for a while! If this were me, I would definitely advise an adaptogen (Ginseng is one) as well as much nourishment as you can get, continuing to take antiviral foods and herbs. You might consider ultra-nourishing herbal infusions, such as one taken with nettle leaf and oatstraw. Order 8 oz of each from Mountain Rose Herbs or Pacific Botanicals, along with Spearmint if you like a minty taste, follow my directions for infusions, and drink this continuously. It will give you powerful, bio-available nutritional support and help your body to rally.

      With any herb, you aren’t going to see “instant” results overnight, but rather a gradual re-building and return to balance. Ginseng is a wonderful herb that will help your body become more resilient in the future and also help your body “adapt” to stress, while building your immune system. Everyone in a modern lifestyle should take an adaptogen every day! They truly are tonics for our long term health and well-being. David Winston, noted AHG herbalist, recently came out with a book about Adaptogens, in case you are interested in reading more.

      Thank you so much for commenting here on my blog! I hope that helps ~~

  5. […] means and not for treatment of acute infection. In addition, there was an intriguing comment on a previous post about the use of medicinal mushrooms being contraindicated with the treatment of flu because of the […]

  6. […] posts that may be of interest: What to do about H1N1: 5 Tips Nervous About Swine Flu? Look to Herbal Medicine for Immune Boosting DIY Remedies for the Cold Season Part I DIY Remedies for the Cold Season Part II Herbal Facial […]

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