Articles by Deb Hayes
A Winter Herbal Almanac
With the winter's seemingly omnipresent cold and flu season upon us, it is in our best interest to be proactive and to start taking preventative measures. The key to prevention is a strong immune system which is the guardian of our body's health.
There are many things you can do to strengthen your body's defenses against winter illnesses. Creating these healthy habits also contribute to overall health, can help slow aging, help prevent infections, degenerative diseases and cancer.
Colds and flus are caused by over 200 types of viruses that attach themselves to the cells lining the nasal passages and throat. Adequate hydration, especially during cold weather, keeps mucous membranes moist and healthy and enhances their natural resistance to harmful organisms. Keep humidity levels up to combat unhealthy dry air in your home. Water also flushes out toxins, transports oxygen, nutrients and immune enforcers to cells. Unsure of what your fluid intake should be? Take your weight in pounds and divide it in half. The resulting number is how many ounces of clean water you should be drinking per day.
Sleep deprivation and high stress levels can compromise immune function, so managing your stress and making sure you get adequate sleep (7 to 8 hours per night) will help keep your immune system functioning properly.
Good nutrition is of utmost importance. Avoiding processed and fast foods (composed primarily of anti-nutrients - foods that not only deplete nutrition in the body instead of adding it, but also add a burden of toxins which weakens immune function.) Nutrition rich organic whole foods is best. Eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables will provide a healthful array of nutrients and antioxidants that keep the microbe fighting peptides and killer cells strong and also provide protection from free-radicals that can damage the immune system. Vegetables rich in vitamin A and Beta Carotene including carrots, sweet potato, pumpkins and winter squash are known to boost immune response. Root vegetables support the liver which helps strengthen the immune system.
A healthy digestive system plays a vital role in a robust immune system. Making sure it is provided with healthy levels of probiotics is an important preventative measure. Research shows that a daily bowl of probiotic rich yogurt will increase your resistance to colds and flus by over 50%. Plain yogurt is best, add your own fruit, vanilla, and/or natural sweetener. Be aware that within a short period of time, after consuming sugars, your immune system is temporarily depressed. Using Stevia, Agave or Brown Rice Syrups are better choices.
Herbs have been used since the beginning of time for our nourishment and healing. Nature provides us with the tools to help your body's ability to strengthen and heal itself.
A step into the kitchen can yield a variety of these health-promoting herbs. Learning how to enhance your foods with culinary herbs can have a beneficial impact on your family's health. Herbs not only provide us with an array of flavors, but can also nourish and help you stay healthy. Used regularly, culinary herbs and spices can help reduce inflammation, prevent colds and flus, aid digestion and circulation, lower blood pressure, boost immunity, and help prevent free-radical damage with their anti-oxidants. Here are some surprising antioxidant levels of some common herbs. If the antioxidant value of vitamin E =2: Oregano = 29; Spearmint, Rosemary, Lemon Balm = 15; Peppermint, and Sage = 12; Savory, Thyme = 10. So make sure you include these herbs wherever and whenever you can.
All the culinary herbs and spices have their own special nutrients and healing qualities. Using a variety is best. Here are some of my favorites:
Cayenne powder is one of the most incredible healing herbs. It has a list of healing properties the length of my arm and leg! Here are only some of them: Cayenne fights infections and helps to flush toxins out of the body. It can rebuild health after an illness. It stimulates circulation, metabolism and digestion. It is a nerve and heart tonic, and can help in the prevention of stroke and heart attacks. It can stop bleeding and help heal ulcers. It is very high in vitamins A and C, beta carotene, Lutein and Quercetin.
Ginger adds a tasty spicyness to our cooking. Not only does it warm the body, but it is also an antimicrobial, antispasmodic, and expectorant. It increases circulation, metabolism, immunity and digestion. It is also a potent anti-inflammatory, especially when combined with Turmeric. It is used for all kinds of nausea. It is decongesting and helps the body flush out toxins. My favorite way of using ginger is a fresh tea. Cut up one tablespoon of ginger root per cup of water. I often add cinnamon, a few cloves, and/or allspice to give it even more zing. Cover and simmer at least 20 minutes. I leave a pot going on our woodstove all day. You can add a squeeze of lemon and/or a dash of honey before drinking. This is a great preventative, and will also help break up mucous if you have already become sick. If not buying organic, it is important to know where your ginger is coming from - ginger form China often contains VERY high pesticide levels. Both Cayenne & Ginger added to other herbs will boost their effectiveness.
Garlic is one of the most powerful medicinal plants there is. It has antibiotic, antimicrobial properties that help the immune system combat bacterial and viral infections, and helps prevent secondary infections. It contains about 25 germ killing compounds. It is effective in lowering the risk of heart disease and has anti carcinogenic and anti inflammatory properties. It boosts the immune system and protects the liver. For its antibiotic properties, raw garlic is best. To increase its active ingredient, Allicin, chop finely and let sit 10 to 15 minutes before ingesting or adding last-minute to your favorite foods. Tip: For medicinal purposes, I add the minced garlic to a spoonful of vegetable juice and swallow without chewing. Then follow it with a cup of the juice. To avoid stomach upset, take raw garlic with food. Caution if you are taking blood thinners.
Thyme is another potent antimicrobial. It is also a powerful antiseptic and antispasmodic. It can be added to foods for its immune enhancing qualities, and it helps to digest fats. The tea can be used for oral and respiratory infections, colds, coughs, bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, and asthma. It relaxes the tissues of the lungs promoting the flow of mucous out of the body. The essential oil of thyme contains the most potency for the properties and is one of the most potent immunostimulants, protecting and supporting. It can be used in all aromatherapy applications. It is not to be ingested. A steam inhalation is a great treatment for a sinus infection.
Medicinal Mushrooms such as Shitake, Maitake Reishi and Turkey Tails have potent healing properties and strengthen the immune system. Add shitake and maitake to your foods to add vitality and fight colds and flu. Reishi and Turkey Tails are more usually obtained in extracts and capsule form (as can also be found for Shitake and Maitake).
Cilantro revitalizes the body and helps indigestion and most importantly, helps the body detoxify heavy metals, especially mercury. It makes a great pesto to have with your fish dishes.
Turmeric Helps build your body's defences by activating cellular defense mechanisms and genes which also help in cancer prevention. Contains very high antioxident and potent anti-inflammatory agents.
Lemongrass is an aromatic grass family herb with a rich aromatic flavor used as a seasoning in soups, stir-frys, curries, marinades and Thai dishes. It also posesses many medicinal properties. It is antimicrobial, antifungal, antiseptic, and antibacterial. It is soothing to the digestive system and helps digestion of fats. It is said to restore the spirit and to calm the nervous system. It will help induce sleep.It has been used to loosen and lessen mucous and reduce fevers. It makes a good house/tea plant for the winter (it can go out for the summer). Find a fresh stock of lemongrass sold at a health food store and place it in an inch of water until the roots sprout, then place it in organic potting soil. It likes it warm and sunny, but survives cooler and less sunny conditions for the winter. Snip leaves for a wonderful, fragrant and tasty tea (I add it to my green tea in the mornings.)
Stock your shelves with lots of green and herbal teas. They will not only add their healing properties, but drinking hot fluids warms the the throat and impairs viral replication. Here are just a few of many helpful herbs:
Green tea is full of protective antioxidants. Drinking it regularly can help strengthen the immune system, boost the heart's resistance to cardiovascular diseases, detoxify the body and increase longevity. Buying organic is very important as many pesticides have been found in conventionally grown tea crops.
Try some Holy Basil. It has powerful antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be used as a daily tonic, reducing stress, promoting inner calm and clarity, and a healthy immune system, balancing metabolism, and increasing physical stamina.
Mullein is an herb to add to your winter teas for its tonifying effect on the respiratory system. It will help break up mucous, opening and clearing the lungs. It will also soothe a dry hacking cough. An oil infused with the flowers is an effective treatment for earache/ear infections.
Elderberry is a great preventative and antiviral. It not only boosts the immune system, but disarms viruses and prevents them from penetrating healthy cells and reproducing. Use it preventatively, at the onset of symptoms, or after the fact for a speedier recovery and prevention of secondary infections. If you get a head cold with sinus drainage, elderberry syrup can help prevent the virus from digging in and moving into your chest. The elderflowers are also antiviral and anti-inflammatory helping with both achyness and congestion of both colds and flus. This tea recipe is a good one for a head cold: Mix together equal parts by weight of elderflower, peppermint leaf, yarrow flower and ginger root. Infuse one heaping teaspoon per cup of water covered, for 20 minutes.
Eucalyptus is a powerful respiratory aid. It is used to prevent and/or to treat the symptoms of colds, flus and other respiratory problems. Leaves can be used in teas, baths and inhalations. I prefer to use the essential oil for an inhalant, placing a few drops on a tissue and inhaling deeply. The oil is a potent antiviral and antibacterial and helps clear sinuses and lungs, but it can also kill viruses trying to take hold. It is great for airline flights or anytime you're around potential exposure to illness. Keep this oil away from eyes, and do not ingest.
Echinacea is a well known and powerful immunostimulant and best taken at the onset of symptoms, or preventatively when you may have been exposed to a cold or virus.
An unfamiliar herb to most people, andrographis is an effective immune booster. It is antibacterial, antiviral, a cardio-protector and an expectorant. Its most powerful use has been for acute or chronic infectious diseases (including colds and flus) as it helps clear infection from the body. It is anti-inflammatory and enhances liver function. Most important, it is also an anti-spirochetal, being among the most potent herbs in the treatment of lyme disease.
Our toxic filled fast-paced, endless to-do list days, seem more stressful than ever, and leave little energy or time for us to really take care of our selves. Even if your lifestyle choices we've talked about exceptional, environmental toxins, emotional stress, and the wear and tear of everyday life compromise our immune systems and leave us vulnerable to not only cold and flu viruses, but also bacterial, yeast, and fungal infections, cancerous cells and the now ever increasing threat of antibiotic-resistant and lyme disease organisms.
Adaptogens are nature's best key to health and well being in this sometimes overwhelming stressful world. They are amazing tonic herbs that contain vital substances that over time gently nourish, strengthen and protect the body on a deep cellular level. They help the body adapt to stresses of all kinds whether physical, emotional, or chemical. They strengthen and protect the systems of the body and help prevent the damage that these stresses can cause. They also tune up the immune system, keeping it running smoothly. These are herbs that would be very beneficial for you to get to know.
Astragalus Root is the top adaptogen herb I would recommend for its deep immune strengthening properties. It is a restorative tonic that is safe to take on a regular basis. It not only contains antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor. It is a heart tonic, it protects the kidneys, is useful for chronic weakness of the lungs, and promotes tissue regeneration. Caution - it is contraindicated for transplant patients, inflammatory infections, high fevers and it is suggested that you temporarily stop taking it if you do come down with a cold or flu.
Schizandra Berry (schizandra chinensis) is one of the strongest antioxidents yet found in a medicinal plant, protecting cells from the effects of free radicals. It exerts remarkable beneficial and protective effect on the liver which enhances the immune system. It can help balance many body functions when under stress. It has been used to treat nervous conditions and adrenal exhaustion. It is used as a liver protectant and restorative, a lung tonic, and it enhances the immune system. It is helpful for asthma, skin health, and cold induced coughing.
Eleuthero Root (eleutherococcus senticosus) is a tonic herb working slowly and steadily to replenish core vitality. It improves general immunity and enhances overall resistance to both external invaders internal breakdowns. It is most often used to build energy and endurance over time, and is a favorite among athletes. Taking eleuthero provides energy in a harmonious way and helps repair our bodies which have become fatigued and frazzled from our stress filled lives. It has a normalizing action in the face of stress on the endocrine, nervous, and cardiovascular systems, helping create balance.
Rhodiola Root (Rhodiola rosea) is another potent adaptogen, and unlike the other adaptogens, even one dose has been shown to improve one's ability to cope with a stressful situation and can reduce stress related anxiety. It has been used to treat depression, mental and physical fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, colds, flus and other infections. Studies have shown antioxidant properties as well as benefit to the nervous system and helps protect the heart from stress induced damage. It may also improve memory and concentrations. Rhodiola's taste is like a fresh rose, as is it's scent, hence one of it's common names, rose root.
Milk Thistle Seed, not being an adaptogenic herb, is none-the-less an important herb to know about. It helps support a healthy liver It contains Silymarin which has the remarkable ability to protect and heal the liver. It also helps treat hepatitis and cirrhosis. Anyone who drinks alcohol, takes medication, or eats an unhealthy diet on a regular basis could benefit from Milk Thistle Extract. The healthier the liver, the healthier the immune system.
Aromatherapy can also be used for prevention of viruses and also help with symptoms and recover after the fact. Potent antiviral, immune stimulating, and respiratory-supporting essential oils can be used in baths, sprays, steam inhalations, and massaged into the skin (after adding into a carrier oil or body lotions. The simplest way is putting a few drops on a tissue and inhaling deeply throughout the day. This is great for airline flights! Add a few drops to your pillow at night as well. The best oils are eucalyptus, thyme, lavender, basil, oregano, tea tree, lemon and pine. Keep away from eyes, caution with children, and do not ingest.
The following herbs and natural products can be used at the very onset of symptoms to hopefully stop a virus in its tracks, or at least ;essen symptoms and duration, and also prevent secondary (bacterial) infections. Most contain immunostimulants and antivirals.
Echinaces, oregano oil, fresh garlis, onions and ginger, medicinal mushrooms, apples (contain high levels of the antiviral antioxidant quercitin), thyme and eucalyptus oils, elderberry estract or syrup, green tea, lemon juice (for its detoxifying and alkalizing effect), hot liquids (soups and teas), vitamin C and zinc lozenges. Using the homeopathic remedies ocillococcinum and zycam and cleansing your nasal passages with a neti pot or a zylitol ("Xlear" can also help). Stay away from sugars, daily and wheat as they encourage formation of mucous and promote formation of congestion.
Lyme Disease is becoming a huge problem. It is often misdiagnosed and can be difficult to treat. However, there are some herbs out there that may be able to help, such as Japanese Knotweed and Andrographis. Everyone out there needs to be informed about this disease, and I highly recommend reading Stephen Buhner's book, "Healing Lyme - Natural Healing and Prevention of Lyme Borreliosis and its Co-infections." Stephen provides a core herbal protocol that when used along with antibiotic therapy will increase the liklihood of a positive outcome. These herbs can also help if antibiotics either did not work, or were given too late, and they can decrease the incidence of post-lyme disease syndrome or chrinic lyme. The three main herbs are andrographis, japanese knotweed and cat's claw, and are said to be able to lower or eliminate spirochete loads in the body significantly. Again, a healthy immune system will help in prevention of infection.
The effectiveness of your herbs is only as good as their quality. Whether for culinary or medicinal use, choose organic, and buy from a local grower or a high-volume distributor to assure the herbs are fresh and haven't been sitting and deteriorating from age.
This information is intended for informational purposes only and not intended to be used to diagnose or treat illness. Some bacterial and viral infections can be serious and need immediate medical attention. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a disease, please consult with your health care practitioner before using herbs, as some herbs may be contraindicated in some conditions or with some medications. Special considerations needs to be taken with children.
Deb Hayes is an herbalist, educator, grower of hard-to-find medicinal herbs and owner of Earthshine Herbs and Workshops in Monson, MA. She can be reached at 413-267-9062 or www.earthshineworkshops.com. Visit the website for a partial listing of available workshops and talks available for your group or organization.
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