As much as we might hate to admit it, the main reason we get sick, is that we’re human. That doesn’t mean you have to get sick every time flu and cold season hits, but it does mean that it will happen sometimes.

And, in fact, most of the symptoms of the “common” cold are actually just the reactions of your immune system pouring white blood cells and secretions into your body to flood out the invaders.

But, you can support the immune system and the digestive fire so the evacuation happens more efficiently. Read my first post on Diet for Colds and Flus.

Important note: If you’re intuition ever lets you know that something more serious than you are equipped to handle might be going on, please consult your doctor. You should feel comfortable sharing with your doctor about any herbal or alternative regimens you are using. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, it might be best to find a doctor who is more in line with your perspective. (Please see the pink box at the end of the post for advice on when to seek professional medical help.)

An Ounce of Prevention & a Pound of Cure

elderberryDuring the cold and flu season, it can be a good idea to supplement with immune boosting herbs. Things like elderberry, astragalus, tulsi and mushroom blends can be super helpful to ward off the bugs floating around.

Elderberry extract has been shown to inhibit several strains of influenza, and to bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro and to relieve symptoms 4 days earlier than placebo while also significantly reducing the need for “rescue” medications.

There are lots of Elderberry extracts and syrups on the market (and I love this recipe for Elderberry Gummies), but you can also make a very tasty elderberry syrup at home:

Simple Elderberry Syrup

IMG_07711 c dried Elderberries–available at most herb stores or here.
3 c water
¾-1 c raw, unheated honey

Place the elderberries and water in a saucepan (without the honey!) and bring to a simmer. Continue to cook for 25-35 minutes, until the volume is reduced by about half. Strain the mixture and squeeze the berries to get as much of the juice out of them as you can.

Allow syrup to cool until it is just warm to the touch and then mix in the honey. Store in the refrigerator and take some daily through the cold and flu season. A standard dose is about ½-1 tsp. per day for kids and 1-2 tsp. per day for adults. When sickness does strike, increase the frequency to 2-3 hours (instead of once daily) until the symptoms disappear.

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 4.07.01 PMAstragalus—is prized in Chinese Medicine for boosting the immunity and strength of the lungs and as an adaptogen. Modern studies support this. It is often added to soups and broths all autumn and winter to help support the health of the whole family. It can also be taken as an infusion and I like to add it to my elderberry syrup. You can buy it here. If you want to add it to the syrup, use about 1 tbsp. of cut and sifted or 3-4 large slices of astragalus.

tulsiTulsi—or “sacred basil” is referred to as the “Queen of Herbs” in Ayurveda due to its many applications. It helps to ignite the digestive fire and is anti-viral. Once sickness sets in, it clears excess muck from the lungs and sinuses and helps a fever to break. It makes a lovely tasting tea and can be combined with many other herbs.

Tulsi also works as an adaptogen, soothing the nervous system and helping us adapt to stress, while lightening the spirit. (In my experience, kids don’t usually seem to feel so bad for themselves when they get sick, but goodness knows we adults could sometimes use an attitude adjustment.)

Taken over time, tulsi helps to build the general immune strength of the lungs.

Honey—when it’s raw and unheated, can be an amazing medicine. A special exception to the no sweets rule during cold and flu, raw honey actually cuts through accumulated congestion in the body. If you’re adding it to tea, wait until the tea is cool enough to drink comfortably before adding honey.

Ginger—boosts digestive capacity while helping to cut through the accumulated muck. (Avoid ginger if taking aspirin. They are both anti-coagulants and the combination could thin your blood too much.) Try one of these preparations (or add a tsp. of Ginger powder to the Elderberry Syrup recipe above):

• Ginger, Cinnamon and Lemongrass Tea–1 slice ginger, 1/2 stick cinnamon and 1/2 tsp. lemongrass. Steep herbs, covered, in hot water for about 10 minutes and strain. Add honey if you like, but make sure it has cooled to comfortable drinking temperature before adding the honey.

• Ginger, Turmeric, Black Pepper and Honey—add a pinch of each dry herb to a ½ tsp. of honey and take 2-3 times per day. This blend is good for cough and can be particularly helpful used at the first sign of symptoms.

There are many, many other herbs that support winter health. I’d love to hear from you! Let me know in the comments what some of your favorites are!

If you or your child present with the following symptoms, seek professional medical help. (This list is from Aviva Romm, MD)

Persistent fever (>3-5 days) with no improvement
Stiff neck
Forceful vomiting
Severe/unremitting headache
Incoherence or unresponsiveness
Deterioration of symptoms
Visual disturbance
Severe facial pain
Painful breathing; difficulty breathing
Persistent sore throat (>3-5 days) with no improvement
Drainage from the ear
Dehydration; unwillingness to accept fluids
Any signs of illness/infection in children under 6 mo old
Signs of serious illness: such as measles, pertussis, pneumonia, and meningitis.

Dehydration is one of the biggest concerns with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea. When you or your child suffers from these symptoms, it is very important to keep well-hydrated. Don’t insist that your child drink large volumes of water at once, give them frequent, very small doses of fluids including broths and electrolytes.

Severe dehydration is a medical emergency. Symptoms include very dry mouth, no tears when crying, no sweating, the child has had a dry diaper for more than three hours or if older, hasn’t urinated in over 6-8 hours, dizziness, dark urine, a depressed fontanel in infants, depressed eye sockets and skin that has lost its elasticity. If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms take them directly to the Emergency Room.