Friday, December 14, 2012

Our Favorite Herbal Remedies For Cold and Flu Season

As I’ve mentioned previously on my blog, my interest in herbal remedies came from my Grandmother…
     “My introduction to natural remedies came from my Grandmother when I was a child. For boo-boos and stings, she would snap off a piece of her aloe vera plant. Once at her house, I had a toothache, and she used a jar of clove oil to soothe it. She used honey to quieten coughs.
A few years ago, around the time our third child was born, I began looking more into the ‘old ways’ of doing things. It started with small things, like using steam and eucalyptus oil for stuffy noses rather than reaching for a decongestant. Or using a few drops of warmed olive oil for an earache. I discovered how things like garlic and apple cider vinegar benefit our health. I had always believed in the healing powers of plants, but I became seriously interested in learning more about natural remedies. I gathered knowledge gradually, here and there, little bits at a time.”

The internet can provide a wealth of free information about herbal remedies, although when looking for “natural cures”, one often has to sift through a bunch of junk to get to the gems. I am not interested in the latest fad or costly supplements (“snake oils”) and am more interested in remedies that I can grow, harvest, and prepare myself. I appreciate scientific studies, but in the absence of scientific studies, I am interested in how long such cures have been in use and how consistently documented the effects have been. (Face it, most scientific studies are conducted and published by big businesses who stand to gain a profit from findings in their favor.)
Most of the herbs I use are quite gentle. Many can be found at the local supermarket. That does not mean they are not effective!
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”  ~Hippocrates

Over the years, I have discovered that changing our diets and some of our habits, along with ditching the over-the-counter drugs in favor of herbal and home remedies, have kept us healthy.  In fact, in our growing family of eight, none of us have had to resort to antibiotics to treat our illnesses since…I think 2008? 
(Our doctor visits have been so few and far between that when I took the kids for checkups this summer, the pediatrician’s office did not have some of my kids in their system, even though I knew they have all been to at least one checkup. Regardless of what others may think about my children only being seen by a pediatrician once a year, the pediatrician confirms that they are all quite healthy. I present this as evidence that what we are doing is working well for us.)

Learning Herbs is a good introductory website. Herbalists such as Susun Weed, Heather Nic an Fhleisdeir, and Rosalee de la Forêt provide a wealth of herbal knowledge on their websites. (As a Catholic, some of the spirituality does not mesh with my own, but that’s OK. I appreciate the herbal knowledge of these women, and I take what I can use.)
If I am unable to grow/harvest my own herbs, I order them online from Frontier or Mountain Rose Herbs.
In my kitchen, I have a big binder of herbal remedy recipes that I have collected from these and other various sources, and I will share some of my most-used, tried-and-true, simple-to-make favorites.

Long documented as an anti-viral, we begin taking elderberry syrup at the first sign of a virus—scratchy throats, runny noses, sneezing, etc. Especially if there is flu in our area! We have had excellent luck with this cutting down the severity and duration of our colds.
Elderberry syrup:
1/2 cup dried elderberries
2 cups water
1 cup raw, unfiltered honey (preferably local)
Bring the elderberries and water to a boil, and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain the liquid, add the honey. It will keep refrigerated for 4-6 weeks.
Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro

We also take Echinacea, well-known for its immune-boosting properties—at the first signs of illness.
Tea—place the dried herb into a mesh tea ball, steep in hot water for at least 20 minutes. (Steep all herbal teas for 20 minutes to receive medicinal benefits.)
Tincture—squirt a dropperful directly onto the back of a sore throat. Yes, it makes the children hate me for about five minutes, but we have had good luck with this curing sore throats quickly. You know that feeling like you are swallowing glass? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. And when the kids get to that point, they will actually ask for the tincture. (How to make a folk tincture.)

Ginger tea—grate about 1 inch of a ginger root, steep for 20 minutes, add lemon juice and raw honey. Ginger is a warming, stimulating herb which strengthens the immune system, loosens phlegm, and soothes scratchy throats (honey and lemon are also immune-strengthening and soothing.)

For stuffy noses/congestion:
Chamomile flowers—place a handful of chamomile flowers, along with a pinch of peppermint leaves into a bowl and cover with steaming hot water. Place a towel over your head, drape around the bowl, and breathe in the steam. Follow up by blowing all the junk out of your nose and a cup of strongly-brewed peppermint tea.

For fevers:
I don’t treat fevers—they serve a purpose in killing viruses/bacteria in the body. Rather, I treat discomfort associated with the fever and support the immune system in fighting off the illness. We stay hydrated with teas and bone broth soup, rest, and our immune-strengthening herbs. Some of the teas that we drink during fevers are chamomile, lemon balm, and elder flower. I also add rose hips to our teas for extra vitamin C. We avoid juice, as the high sugar content can weaken the immune system.  I have found that whenever I can let the fever run its course, rather than bringing it down with anti-pyretics, this shortens the duration of the illness. It’s better to let the body do it’s job.

Garlic has well-documented antiviral and antibiotic properties, as well as a whole other host of health benefits. Although I had read much about garlic being a broad-spectrum antibiotic, I never actually put it to the test until I developed mastitis after Baby #6. Mastitis, which can make one feel worse than the flu and pneumonia combined, is one of the few times I would ask the doctor for antibiotics! Yet it was on a Friday evening when my fever spiked and my muscles ached so bad I could not move. Desperate, l asked Greg to chop a clove of raw garlic into 3-5 small pieces, and I swallowed them like pills. I continued this every four hours throughout the night (along with cool rosemary compresses on the affected breast), and by morning, my fever had disappeared. I was back to normal by the time the doctor’s office opened on Monday morning.
We get raw garlic down the kids by adding a crushed clove to soup or spaghetti, mixed with butter and spreading on whole grain bread, or in hummus—I’ll add 4 cloves of garlic to my batch of hummus, serve it to the kids with raw veggies, and they will eat it over the course of a day.
For ear infections, we crush a clove of garlic, let it sit in olive oil for about 30 minutes, warm slightly, and apply a couple drops to the affected ear.

There is no way that I could write ONE blog post that comprehensively covers natural/herbal support for colds and flu; there have been whole books and websites devoted to this subject. But these are a few of our favorite simple, readily-available remedies.
As always, please keep in mind that I am not a doctor, none of my advice is meant to be construed as medical advice, and none of it is intended to be taken over advice from your own physician, especially if you have any underlying health issues or are taking any prescription medication. I am simply sharing what has proven helpful for our family.

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