A HEALTHY DOSE
As a parent of a toddler, I somewhat dread the colder half of the year for a simple reason: sickness. It seems that there is always a cold or cough going around in our community.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at the common cold, and ways that you can both prevent and treat these illnesses using natural medicine. I should be clear that I am not a doctor, and you should seek advice from a medical professional if you are concerned about your health.
For prevention, focus on building a strong immune system through diet and herbs. Eating sugar has the potential to reduce your body’s defenses by 75 percent or more for up to six hours. Ever gotten sick after indulging in holiday pies or cookies? Most of us have. It should be no surprise that eating a balanced diet which includes probiotic foods — those good for gut health — is the way to go.
Beyond diet, you can add adaptogenic herbs into your daily routine. Adaptogens help our bodies maintain balance during times of stress and fatigue. Adaptogens are considered tonics, and can be taken daily for long periods of time without harm. Two of my favorite herbs in this category are ashwagandha and astragalus. Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years in the traditional medicine of India, Ayurveda. Studies show that ashwagandha increases the amount and diversity of antibodies we produce, and increases white blood cells, which identify and attack invaders. Astragalus has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over two thousand years. A study in the 1980s revealed that astragalus enhanced the immune system’s ability to identify bacteria, viruses, and even cancer cells.
If you feel a cold setting in — the first feeling of a sore throat, runny nose, or plugged sinuses — there are a handful of things I would recommend. The first is the age-old tradition of chicken soup. Rich bone broths are full of immune-supporting minerals like calcium, and also support your microbiome. There’s no denying the comfort that comes from a delicious, nourishing, hot soup.
Second, drink warming liquids like herbal tea. Yogi Tea and Traditional Medicinals brands make tea blends with names like “Breathe Deep” and “Throat Coat” which makes it simple to explore herbal tea if it is new to you. Other herbal teas to try are echinacea, a powerful immune-boosting herb, or elderberry, which has a wonderful fruity flavor.
For more specific ailments, one of my favorites is mullein, a soft-leaved plant you can find growing locally. This herb is an expectorant, meaning it will help you get rid of thick mucus in your lungs. It will also soothe irritated membranes. I have used this herb through a bout of bronchitis and it was so effective that it is my go-to whenever I feel a chest cold setting in.
Another favorite is thyme, an herb commonly used in the kitchen. Thyme has been used for centuries for upper-respiratory infections and has the amazing quality of suppressing cough. When your lungs are full of thick phlegm, it is important to get that out, which an herb like mullein will help with. But when you have a lingering cough that is keeping you up at night, steep some thyme in hot water for tea and enjoy the restful sleep you’ll have.
Essential oils should be considered as well, both preventatively and for treatment. These wonderfully scented oils have been used for centuries and are safe and effective. I use a blend made by doTerra On Guard on my daughter’s feet every day, thanks to the advice from friends. The blend of wild orange, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary smells amazing and supports healthy immune and respiratory function. Each oil is different, but they can be used topically, taken internally, or put into the air as a mist using a diffuser.
There are so many other home remedies that I employ when sick, including a neti pot, eucalyptus steam, herbal remedies like fire cider and elderberry syrup, probiotics, and bodywork. For my daughter, alcohol-free herbal tinctures from Herb Pharm have been helpful to kick a cold, and she enjoys herbal tea now, too. Many of these remedies can be found at the Rutland Area Food Co-op, and if you stop in, you may be lucky enough to chat with employee Helena Wu, a skilled herbalist who can point you in the right direction and offer up her own remedies.
A Catalan proverb says “From the bitterness of disease man learns the sweetness of health.” May we all have a sweet and healthy holiday season this year.