Leading up to the holidays I was really looking forward to jumping right in to 2020 hitting the ground running with so many exciting ideas in my head for my business that I couldn't wait to get started. But then it happened: I got knocked down by the flu--AGAIN! Yep, I was hit by the flu for the second time in 5 weeks! I can't even remember the last time I had the flu, so my shelf of herbal remedies was not stocked for it. I made it through the first round pretty quickly, but this second time really took it out of me. After my first round of the flu I figured I wouldn’t have it again any time soon, so I was caught without the standard remedies to deal with it yet again!
Once I gathered enough energy to get out and gather supplies, I got on a strong herbal regimen and finally started making progress, feeling a little better each day. I thought I might share with you some of the common herbal remedies used to handle flu and fevers so if you are lucky enough to come down with it you might be better prepared than I was.
Read on to learn:
- Why having a fever is actually good for you.
- The common herbs that can help you kiss your fever and flu goodbye. (You may even be growing them in your own yard!)
- My recommendations on which supplements to take.
- The one most important thing to do when you have a fever!
Believe it or not, a fever is a good thing! It is your body's natural response system to treat infections, and is designed to help--not hurt--you. Having one is one of the worst feelings ever--pain all over, horrible headache, throwing you from freezing shivering cold to a hot, sweaty mess, and back again. Our natural instinct is to stop the madness and get rid of the pain so we can feel comfortable again. We reach for the pain relievers and get some quick relief. But when we do this we are stunting the innate wisdom our body holds in its cells. By bringing up our internal temperature when it perceives a threat, our body is acting to kill off the infection; the virus can't survive in a hostile environment much higher than our basal temperature. So when we reach for the bottle of aspirin we are halting the process of assault, often prolonging the illness and weakening our bodies defenses at the same time. If we can allow the body to go through its natural process, as uncomfortable as it is, we will emerge stronger on the other side. I recommend having someone monitor your fever to make sure you are staying in normal safe fever range (up to 103 or 104), calling your doctor for help if you go beyond that range.
The herbs that we look to for help breaking a fever are called febrifuges. They have a natural ability to help move the body's internal heat outward to the surface of the skin causing sweat and therefore releasing heat and cooling the body down to its standard temperature. Most of these herbs also happen to be antiviral. Combining these herbs with calming herbs to help relax the body and mind during the discomfort of a fever will help the process go more smoothly. (See supplements below and add several chamomile tea bags to the following tea blend.)
An age-old remedy for fever and flu is an herbal tea made of peppermint, elderflower and yarrow flowers. I love that these are all very accessible herbs--you may even have them growing in your own yard! These herbs will help stimulate your body to bring the heat to the surface while relaxing the capillaries and pores of the skin in order to allow the heat to release in the form of sweat. Medicinal teas are taken in much larger quantity than you will find in the common store-bought tea bag; you will want to use a handful of herbs (about an ounce) to 2-3 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, then take off the heat. Add equal parts of the three herbs to the pot and cover. Steep for 15-20 minutes. Strain out a cup at a time, drinking 1 cup every 2 hours or so until your fever breaks. If you are having a hard time taking the tea, try for a few tablespoons every 30 minutes or so. A word of warning: medicinal teas are strong, both in taste and in action. Don't expect it to taste good! I promise you, if you sucked on an aspirin pill it would taste strong too! Just remember that the strong bitter flavor is a sign that it is true medicine made by mother earth to help you through your illness! And gulp it down, as warm as you can stand it.
Rule of thumb with all herbal medicine when treating an acute illness: don't stop taking your remedies the moment you feel better! This is an easy way to invite the last bit of pathogens that remain to multiply again. Take the full dose of tea for a minimum of 3 more days after you feel normal again. Then taper off to a half dose for a few more days, just to make sure you are completely out of the woods!
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is very easy to grow. Probably best to grow in a pot as it will completely take over a garden bed! It tastes great fresh and dried and has many herbal, medicinal and edible uses.
Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) grows wild all over southern California, as well as many other locations throughout the US. I even found the most enormous elder bushes I have ever seen at the end of a long hike in Kauai! You may be aware of the Sambucus syrup carried by most drug stores for boosting immune system during cold and flu season; it is made with elder berries which are produced once the beautiful and fragrant white flowers fade. If you live in a region where this grows, wild-harvest some flowers (look up responsible harvesting techniques first) and dry them to have on hand. Be sure to have a good identification book handy to make sure you are harvesting the correct plant.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), a common yard plant, is as cheerful as it is medicinal. Yarrow has many uses and is easy to grow and harvest. If you have some in your yard already, harvest the flowers and dry them, keeping them in your cabinet for medicinal use.
We all have a natural tendency to reach for a bottle of pills when something ails us. I get it, I do it too. But I promise you, when dealing with colds and flu, going straight to the actual herbs, drinking herbal teas and taking herbal tinctures will be the best way to heal. Do yourself a favor and take the few extra minutes it takes to prepare your tea. Make a larger batch and keep some in the fridge for the next day so you don't have to make it every day. Just reheat it and drink.
This being said, there are a few supplements I can suggest that will also help.
- Oscillococcinum: this is a homeopathic supplement that can be taken once a week during flu season to help prevent the flu (a natural "vaccine" if you will) or can be taken during a flu to lessen the duration. During the flu, take this in addition to the herbal tea for maximum effect.
- Old Indian Wild Cherry Bark Syrup: this is an old remedy that will help protect the lungs from a deep infection and help soothe the throat and boost the immune system while fighting germs and infections.
- Wishgarden Serious Relaxer: This herbal tincture is comprised of herbs to help relax both muscle and mental tension, both of which are needed to help you deal with the discomfort of a fever.
- Vitamin C: I always recommend taking this on a regular basis to support the immune system. The one linked is the one I take. It is a high dose of 4000mg (I have a weak immune system) but it won't irritate the bowels and is safe and effective. Normally I would say taking 1000mg/day is effective, and 3-4000mg/day during illness broken up in doses throughout the day.
- Immune Dx and Cold Dx: If you are just feeling the very beginnings of something coming on, grab a bottle of Immune Dx and take more than the recommended dosage per day, and take it until the bottle is gone. If you are in full blown cold or flu mode, use the Cold Dx, again taking more than the recommended amount, until the bottle is gone. It will help support your body in handling the infection and moving through it faster. I'm telling you, people swear by both of these supplements.
The 3 Most Important Things to Remember
There was originally only 1 most important thing. Then I remembered the 2nd most thing. Then I tacked on a 3rd for good measure. :)
- The first and most important thing to remember when dealing with a fever is to stay hydrated! When you are sweating out your fever it is very easy to get dehydrated, sometimes dangerously so. It is extremely important to drink as much water as possible to protect yourself. In addition to plain quality water (no tap water please!) drink coconut water for good electrolytes as well as your herbal teas.
- Rest, rest and more rest! Your body is using all its resources to kill off the invading virus, so don't push yourself to do more than be your immune system's best assistant: sleep, take your herbs, sleep some more, take more herbs, watch tv, then go back to sleep. Do not go to work, don't go grocery shopping, don't do laundry or the dishes. Be responsible, listen to your body, and just take it easy, okay?
- Last but not least, don't slack on your herbal remedies. I know I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. The problem with herbal medicine is not that it doesn't work; the problem is that people are used to taking high-potency pills and getting immediate relief. So when they don't get the same effect from herbal tea they take it as an obvious sign that it isn't working. Or, we have the problem of compliance. You start taking your tea and supplements and you start feeling better so you stop taking them. Unfortunately you weren't well yet, so your issue comes back two-fold and you end up on heavy medication. Please, even after you feel better, continue taking your herbs and supplements for at least three days past the end of your symptoms! With supplements I recommend just finishing the bottle even if you feel all better. Got it??
I hope it goes without saying that you should always check with your doctor before beginning any new supplements or remedies. That being said, also understand that doctors have zero education on herbs and little on vitamins and supplements (not to mention an average of two hours of nutritional training), so I also recommend finding an integrative doctor who can speak to both sides, an integrative pharmacist, and an established herbalist and/or naturopath to call on for skilled advice. If you happen to live in the San Diego area and would like some referrals, I'd be happy to help! Just leave a comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Not sure where to source loose herbs? Check your community to see if you have a local herb store. Not only will they have quality herbs, but they will also have knowledgeable staff to help you pick the right herbs for your needs. If you don’t have a local store available, Mountain Rose Herbs is a great online source for quality herbs and supplies. www.mountainroseherbs.com
If you have a local health food store close by, they are usually your best source for trained staff to help you with supplements and vitamins. If you happen to have a Pharmaca store near you, they are also a great resource, as they staff trained practitioners who can help guide you with vitamins and supplements, while also offering a full pharmacy. Whole Foods is always an option as well if you don’t have a smaller more personal local shop near you to support.