Let's face it, we all come down with a cold or flu from time to time. When this happens, it is almost always an indication that our bodies may be under stress or overworked to the point that our immune system has been compromised. I believe that colds, flus and other ailments are more than just viruses that we randomly catch. There is almost aways some kind of underlying emotional factor to illness and it is important to address it as such and in a holistic manner.
Admittedly, this Winter was the first in many that I caught an unpleasant cold while traveling over the holidays. I was able to nip it in the bud early by inducing a productive fever and incorporating extra amounts of herbs and foods that I try to always have on hand. Although this did not cure me 100%, I was able to greatly reduce the severity of my symptoms and understand some of the potential causes of my cold.
Here are 9 herbs and foods that can help to boost your immune system, promote warmth and help cure and soothe the symptoms of colds and the flu:
Elderberry (Sambucas nigras) - A Protective immunity booster, this is one of my favorite herbs to have on hand during cold and flu season. One of the abilities of Elderberry is that it can actually create a barrier around ones cells to help reduce the chance for a virus to enter, infect and spread to other cells and throughout the body. For this reason Elderberry is one of the best preventatives for common cold and flu viruses. I have found that it also works wonders for people suffering from stagnation in the body, specifically in the tubular regions (e.g. digestive tract, bronchial tubes and the blood vessels). This can be reiterated by the exploration of the stems from which the berries develop. Upon cutting one of the stems it's hollow and tube like structure is revealed. This method of identification is known as The Doctrine of Signatures. Herbalist Matthew Wood explains this as the idea that a plant resembles the disease, organ or person for which it has the ability to remedy. This philosophy also allows one to use their intuition and imagination to work with plants to understand and find the correct remedy for each individual and/or ailment.
Elderberries are deliciously sweet, earthy and loved by children and adults alike. One of the most popular and my personal favorite preparation to make with the berries is a syrup sweetened with honey and spiked with apple cider vinegar. I also like to add Rieshi mushroom and fresh ginger root to my syrup as well. Other popular items to make with Elderberries are: jams, jelly, wine, mead, kombucha, tincture and vinegar.
Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) - High in volatile oils, Ginger is known as a carminative. A carminative helps to soothe and settle the walls of the gut by removing gas from the digestive tract. This is why ginger is a great ally for upset stomach, cramps and bloating. It is also great for those who suffer from motion sickness as it can calm nausea. It also acts as a natural "antibiotic" and can help to soothe and fight off common colds and respiratory infections. The heat present in ginger root is a great way to stimulate the vital life force as it invigorates the senses and warms your entire body while it helps to stimulate circulation. Ginger is also a great ally for women to help reduce pain associated with menstrual cramps and bloating. A tea made from fresh ginger root is one of the most effective remedies for a cold or flu. Peel and finely chop a 1/4-1/2 inch piece of ginger and add it to a large mug. Fill your cup with freshly boiled water. Cover and steep for 10 - 15 min. Add a splash of fresh lemon juice along with a spot of honey and you have one of the most soothing and warming teas around.
Yarrow (Achellia millefolium) - One of my all time favorite herbs/wildflowers, Yarrow is a diaphoretic and is known for it's ability to induce perspiration and help stimulate a productive fever by allowing the body to naturally "burn off" a cold and or flu virus. This is done through Yarrows ability to work with the blood and bring internal heat to the surface of the body. Yarrow is incredibly protective on both physical and psychic levels as it has the ability to staunch bleeding of deep wounds almost instantly and when taken prior to social interactions, can help one to create healthy boundaries. I almost always carry a small bottle of yarrow with me for that exact purpose. A dropperful or two of Yarrow tincture can be taken to help eliminate or diminish almost any type of infection at the first sign of a common cold and even flu. Tea of Yarrow is also quite effective, but very bitter. For this reason, I suggest people use a tincture made of fresh Yarrow for a more pleasant experience.
St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) - Next to Yarrow, St. John's Wort is another plant ally that I love and use quite often. A sun loving perennial with anti-bacterial, anti-viral & anti-inflammatory properties, St. John's Wort will help calm and heal bacterial and viral infections. The energetic properties of St. John's Wort are cool and dry. This lends credit to its anti-inflammatory properties making it a great remedy for hot and stinging viruses such as shingles, herpes, cold sores and fever blisters when taken internally and or applied externally. Also important is it's ability to calm nerve pain and symptoms of sciatica while it also can help to soothe back and neck pain. It is a helpful remedy for the long winter months to help relieve symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Effective Disorder) and mild depression. For the most effective medicine, it is best to seek out a preparation, preferably a tincture, made with Fresh St. John's Wort. St. John's Wort infused oil also makes for a lovely massage oil to soothe aches and pains associated with colds & flus. Once the plant is dried, its active volatile oils and beneficial constituents (such as Hyperforin and hypericin), dry out and lose much to all of their healing properties. One of the best ways to tell if a preparation has been prepared with fresh plant material is by it's bright to dark red color.
Garden Sage - (Salvia officinals) - Wise and powerful, Garden Sage is a wonderful addition to ones herbal arsenal and is also a very popular culinary herb. Although there are a handful of types of Sage, common Garden Sage is the one I will address here. When brewed as a strong infusion, it can be used as a gargle for sore throats and a rinse to help heal sores of the mouth and bleeding of the gums. One of my favorite remedies to make and keep on hand for the winter months is sage honey. Easy to make and highly effective, fresh leaves, stems and flowers of sage are chopped and placed into a large jar. The jar is then filled to the top with raw honey and left to steep for 6 weeks. After 6 weeks, it can be strained and added to a mug of hot water and drunk as a delicious and soothing tea. It can also be eaten by the spoonful for fast relief. Sage is an astringent and can help to dry up excess mucus in the lungs and clear the sinuses while it can also be smoked to help improve symptoms of asthma.
Lemon - (Citrus limonum) - This lively, tart and refreshing fruit helps bring a state a alkalinity to your system which is essential when dealing with any illness, but can be super helpful when one encounters a cold or flu. Both the juice and peel of lemon contain vitamin C and can be added to hot water with a spot of honey and drunk as tea. Lemon has a cooling action on the body and can help to reduce body temperature and calm fever. To help stimulate digestion, add 1-2 Tbs to cool water upon waking and drink freely on an empty stomach. Try this for one whole week and observe the changes you feel in your bodies digestion and in your stomach. It is important to purchase organic lemons if they are available to you due to the high levels of chemical fungicides and pesticides that are sprayed on non-organic citrus.
Raw Honey - To receive the full health benefits that honey has to offer, it is important to find raw honey local to your region. When the honey is raw that means it has not been heated to high temperatures and pasteurized. This ensures that all of the beneficial enzymes, antioxidants, pollen and anti-microbial actions are still in tacked and are available to be absorbed into your body. When raw local honey is used, it can help relieve symptoms of seasonal allergies by introducing local pollen into your body. It can also help to prevent colds with it's anti-microbial properties, relieve and soothe inflamed tissues internally and externally and also improve skin health and heal wounds.
Garlic - (Allium sativum) - Many people LOVE garlic and what's not to love? It brings a deep and savory heat to culinary dishes and a brilliant, robust flavor unlike any other herb. When we look past it's culinary uses, we will find that garlic has highly powerful antiseptic properties and has been used for centuries to cure and prevent colds and flus, ear infections and yeast infections in women. The juice of garlic diluted with water can be applied to wounds to keep them clean and protected. As a diaphoretic, garlic helps to warm the body and allow it to naturally "burn off" illness and infection. It is also an expectorant and can help to remedy asthma, coughs, congestion of the lungs and even chronic bronchitis. Because garlic is also a stimulant, upon ingesting cloves of raw garlic, one may experience slight sensations of euphoria and perhaps a jolt of energy. Lastly, garlic has the ability to promote healthy digestion and keep the mucosa of the digestive tract strong and healthy.
Raw Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar (with the Mother) - In my opinion Apple Cider Vinegar is an elixir from the goddess! This fermented liquid gold is made from fresh apples, sugar and water and when unpasteurized contains in it what is called "The Mother". The Mother is the beneficial bacteria which forms during the fermentation process and the active ingredient to help promote alkalinity and balance the bodies pH levels, fight infection, stimulate digestion, promote healthy gut flora, improve skin health and give one a boost of energy. It is high in acetic acid and can help to break up mucous and reduce symptoms of allergies, acid reflux, heart burn and can calm the burning sensation of stomach ulcers. It can also regulate and can even lower blood sugar levels, help to maintain a healthy body weight and keep infections at bay. A suggested dose is 2-4 tsp. into 6-8 oz of water up to 3 times per day. It is a good idea to also rinse your mouth with clean water after each dose. Due to its high acid content, apple cider vinegar can be abrasive and wear down the enamel of ones teeth and irritate the skin of the lips and around the mouth.
From my personal experience, the above herbs and foods combined with adequate rest and self care can help to prevent, treat and ease the symptoms of common colds and flus safely and effectively. The simplicity of natural and herbal remedies continue to amaze and reassure me that the things we need to cure what ails us are closer to home than we may sometimes realize.
The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood