The first thing to do when you are sick is, of course, to take care of the symptoms. Then, to address any constitutional weaknesses, should you be susceptible to frequent cold and flu infections. Which means beefing up your immune system. And while mainstream medicinal protocols may offer antibiotic and other treatments, they do not offer ways to strengthen your body and its defenses. That’s where the green world has a lot to offer.
Common Cold and Flu Treatments
If your head, chest and/or sinus cavities are stuffy, steam with herbal teas which clear the condition (see steaming instructions below). Chamomile tea soothes the mucosal membranes, is mildly antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. Tea tree oil is very antimicrobial and effective. Use very sparingly, only one or two drops per pot of tea, or enough to be fragrant but not overpowering.
How to Steam
Prepare a quart-sized pot of chamomile or tea tree oil tea. It need only be mildly strong, not intense. You could use two or three generous pinches of chamomile to a pot of water, or enough tea tree oil to be fragrant yet not strong-smelling, either (as above). Boil the water, add the tea flowers or essential oil drops, turn off the stove and wait for the tea to steep. Once steeped, and when the tea is hot enough to be steamy without burning your skin, remove from heat. Place on a table top, on a trivet. Bend over the pot of tea (you could do this sitting down at the table) and throw a towel over your head and the pot, to make a tent, which catches the steam. Breathe in through your nose, inhaling the steam. Keep breathing it in: The tea and the steam alike will be therapeutic. Do this as long as there is steam to breathe in. Then, rinse off with very cold water to close your pores, and pat your skin dry. Do not rub your skin with the towel: Being heated up, your skin will be extra sensitive. Just gently pat it dry.
Gargling for sore throats and laryngitis
Use fresh-squeezed lemon juice and warm water, ie unsweetened lemonade, gargling three times a day to put vitamin C directly on the throat and for disinfectant action. NEVER swallow after gargling, because the liquid in your mouth will contain toxic by-products and bacteria. ALWAYS spit it out.
Sage tea is a specific for sore throats, and makes a very good gargle as well as drinking tea. Containing anti-microbial essential oils and being of an astringent nature, it contracts and firms oral gums, brings down swelling in tissues of the throat and mouth, and has anti-inflammatory action. Thus, sage tea may be used for dental and sore throat concerns alike. Gargle with sage tea three times daily to soothe irritated throat tissues and to reduce swelling. Alternate sage tea gargles with warm lemonade gargles as above for optimal healing of sore throats and laryngitis alike.
Safety considerations with sage: David Hoffmann writes in his book Medical Herbalism that “adverse reactions are likely only with overdoses (more than 15 g sage leaf per dose) or prolonged use of red sage. The toxic constituent essential oil, thujone, causes symptoms such as tachycardia, hot flashes, convulsions and dizziness. Avoid during pregnancy.” However, in gentle or moderate doses and outside of pregnancy, sage is quite safe. Note that the tea is more dilute than the concentrated essential oils, and thus is easier on the body.
Thyme tea is a very good anti-microbial for sore throats and coughs. May be used as gargle, or the tea may be drunk internally. Rub the essential oil on your chest to loosen phlegm (dilute with olive oil), but the oil is not for long-term internal use as it can irritate the mucus membranes. The tea is safe to drink.
St Johnswort has demonstrated anti-viral activity, alongside nervous system anti-inflammatory action. May be safely administered internally except where light sensitivity is increased, as a rare side effect of this herb. Liver secretions of the enzyme CYP3A4 and P450 are increased by St Johnswort, and may interfere with other drugs. Consult your physician if you are taking medications, prior to consuming St Johnswort internally.
Additional herbs for immune system strengthening
Astragalus: great for boosting immune response. Contra-indicated in autoimmune conditions due to its immuno stimulant effects. Good for short-term use but not long-term.
Reishi: Superb strengthener of the adrenal glands, good for fighting fatigue and hormonally boosting immune strength. Effective when used in the long term.
Schisandra: A superb adaptogenic herb, meaning that it boosts adrenal gland function, fights fatigue, hormonally strengthens immune response, increases resistance to internal stress and external stressors, and generally boosts resistance while strengthening the body over the long-term.
Osha: Used for chest colds and lung conditions. Anti-viral. Very effective.
For long-term immune strengthening, I recommend doing schizandra berry, Reishi, Siberian Ginseng, astragalus and/or Ligustrum (the latter two are particularly important). Be sure your digestive tract is healthy and that there is no “leaky gut syndrome” present: See clinical nutritionist Elizabeth Lipski’s excellent booklet, “Leaky Gut Syndrome.” Avoid food allergens, especially gluten if gluten intolerance is present, to be sure the integrity of the digestive tract’s mucosal barrier is strong and an effective shield. Keep your liver cleansed and healthy, while using the herbs recommended above for long-term immune and adrenal strengthening.
The idea is to a) strengthen the immune system production with adaptogenic herbs b) strengthen the adrenals c) keep the intestinal and other mucosal barriers strong and healthy and d) cleanse and strengthen the liver.
NOTE: If your thyroid is low, as is common in our society, you may be vulnerable to increased frequency of cold and flu infections. Check with your doctor to be sure your thyroid is healthy and functioning at an optimal level. If your doctor says that your thyroid is “Normal”, check very specifically: Where do you rank on the “normal” chart? You could be on the high end of normal or the low end, in which you are bordering on hypothyroidism, or under-secretion of the thyroid gland. If you are normal but on the low side of normal, consider a kelp supplement to boost your thyroid with iodine as nutrient required for manufacturing thyroxin, a thyroid hormone. Acupuncture can also bring very good results for boosting thyroid function.
Last but not least, be aware that given the same exact blood sample drawn at the same moment, two different laboratories may come up with two different readings. The quality of the laboratory is important. Mainstream and alternative medicine teach different diagnostic methods: One doctor may say a lab reading is “Normal” while another may pronounce it “sky high” or “low”. The yardstick used for determining health or illness, or just plain old need for strengthening in absence of actual illness, vary with different medical schools of thought. When in doubt, go for a second opinion. I trust alternative medical diagnostic methods because their yardstick includes not merely malaise as diagnostic concern, but just plain old need for strengthening of a body system in absence of malaise. That refined diagnostic fine-tuning of the body is key to good health. But we each must go the path we each trust, and to honor yourself is very important. Go the way you believe in and stick with any doctor who is giving you good results. The proof is in the pudding, and different bodies respond differently to various treatment methods. There is no textbook version to any individualized wellness protocol.
A Sante! To your good health!
Drina Brooke, certified Community Herbalist, professional musician
The information contained herein is provided for your general information only, and does not substitute for a physician’s individualized guidance. Considerations unique to each individual often apply, and can complicate the picture. Under no circumstances do we recommend particular treatment or give medical advice. Always consult your physician when seeking diagnosis and/or treatment. This information does not diagnose, cure or prevent any disease.