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

April 29, 2009

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.

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Herbal Facial Steams for cold & flu season

December 30, 2008

My 'Herbal Delight' facial steam

My 'Herbal Delight' facial steam

Ah! One of my dear etsy customers just commented on her use of my herbal facial steams during a recent sinus infection. What a wonderful way to use the healing powers of herbs!

Herbal Steam for cold & flu season:
1 tsp comfrey root
2 tsp thyme
2 tsp sage
1 drop of eucalyptus essential oil (optional) or 1 tsp dried eucalyptus leaves.
1 drop of thyme essential oil (optional)

Directions:
Place the herbs in a small saucepan of water, bring to a boil and then simmer for a 10 minutes, with the pot covered. Take the pot off the heat and add the essential oils. Drape a towel over your head and place your face over the steam, breathing in deeply and moving your head from side to side. Take a break if it gets to be too much. But keep placing your head over the pot for at least 10 minutes total, blowing into the water a little when it starts to cool down in order to direct the steam into your nasal passages. Breathe!

Thyme is a wonderful, handy herb that is also antimicrobial. I regularly drink thyme tea when I am sick or just during the winter to keep my immune system primed. Comfrey root is a healing herb that is also demulcent, so it is soothing to the mucus membranes and other body linings. Sage is astringent, which is often much needed during head colds. Eucalyptus e.o. helps open the nasal passages. I say “one drop” and yes, you could put two drops, but don’t over do it! Essential oils are very powerful, especially in a bowl of hot steaming water. By the way, this would also be a good steam for acne because of its antiseptic strength and astringency (except for maybe the eucalyptus). Don’t forget the ginger & lemon tea for that head cold!