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Herbal Wellness for Cold & Flu Season

December 8, 2014

Nowadays you can walk by nearly any pharmacy in the fall and see signs advertising flu shots. While I am not explicitly against vaccinations, flu shots are a lot like resorting to antibiotics for minor infections when there are so many natural preventative strategies available to us.

If we want to coast through the Cold and Flu season in relatively good health the core concept we want to work with is “It’s not the bug, it’s the host.”

Our internal ecology is either a welcoming home to pathogens or it is an unwelcoming place to merely pass through.  Working on building a healthy internal ecology will increase our resistance to pathogens and reduce the length or severity of an infection.

Building our immune resistance during cold and flu season will hinge on three things: exercise, adequate rest and diet. I include beneficial herbs, spices and teas into the category of diet.

I have found that no matter how well you eat or keep up with exercise, a lack of sleep and relaxation will cause our immune system to tank. We often get sick at that very moment when we have had too much stress and not enough rest. We instinctively know that cold we feel coming on is forcing us to slow down. Sound familiar? So I feel rest and relaxation is the bottom line for cold and flu prevention.

I am going to focus on some easy herbal strategies for the cold and flu season but first I will share some basic approaches to diet that will help boost our immunity.

The key food group that will make us more vulnerable to illness are sugars, excess carbs and starches that destabilize our energy levels and basically feed all kinds of pathogens and opportunistic bacteria in our gut. So that is something you want to keep in check.

During the fall and winter season I feel it is important to get a good daily dose of healthy fats, from both vegetarian and animal sources and include daily servings of cultured or fermented foods to support healthy gut flora.

The other group of foods that you want to gravitate towards are those high in natural polyphenols and flavonoids. These foods are generally richly hued with a slightly bitter and astringent taste. Polyphenol and flavonoid packed foods are anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and often anti-bacterial, so they offer a broad spectrum of health benefits.

You can incorporate a daily dose of the whole unsweetened juice or fruit of pomegranates, blueberries, cranberries, red grapes and citrus.

In the vegetable domain red cabbage, broccoli, kale, spinach, cherry tomatoes, globe artichokes, onions and leeks are great sources of these phytonutrients.

Including lots of fresh herbs like peppermint, oregano, sage, dill, thyme, ginger and parsley will also significantly ramp up your level of pathogen resistance.

And of course the goodies…dark chocolate, green tea, coffee and red wine are also incredibly anti-oxidant rich, so a little indulgence is warranted!

Polyphenol and flavonoid rich foods are a good focus in fall and winter because they inhibit the growth of pathogens, so we need a regular daily supply.

Let’s talk about herbs and spices for the cold and flu season and some simple ways to use them.

Just like the other dark red and purple berries, elderberries are packed full of flavonoids and are my favorite herbal remedy for the prevention and treatment of colds and flus. You can purchase elderberry as a tincture or syrup or utilize the dried berries in a tea.

Elderberries will increase our antibodies to cold and flu viruses and can also disrupt a virus’s ability to replicate, so we can use it both as prevention and treatment.

I take elderberry in tincture form three times daily for one month during the transition into fall/winter as prevention and then keep a supply on hand if I feel my resistance is going down due to stress. At the first sign of cold or flu symptoms, you need to take a dropper full of your immune boosting herb, like elderberry or Echinacea every hour or so for a few days to really have an impact.

Hourly dosage at the onset will greatly reduce the length and severity of a cold or flu.

Also the regular use of sage or ginger tea is part of my strategy; you can add elderflowers, peppermint, lemon verbena, rosehips or lemon juice to round out the taste and increase anti-oxidant levels.

Here are some easy herbal recipes from my kitchen and some of my favorite herbalists that you can work with this fall and winter!

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