Staying healthy through the winter: Tips from the herbalist
Jill Ruttenberg, RH, AHG
As cold weather sets in and those in the northern latitudes have to stay inside more, it’s not easy to avoid colds and flu. Here are some of my all-time tried and true remedies to have on hand if you get symptoms, as well as herbs and supplements to take to prevent getting sick in the first place.
My favorite five for the onset of a cold: Take one or more, or a combination of these as soon as you feel “off”—that tickle in the back of the throat, a headache out of nowhere, sneezing, or a dizzy feeling or sudden fatigue.
1) 1000 mg of Vitamin C 1-2 times per day
2) 15-30 mg Zinc 1 to 2x per day (always take zinc with food as it can upset an empty stomach). Zinc lozenges are also soothing for the throat.
3) 2 capsules (300-500mg) of Echinacea 3x per day or 40 drops of tincture 3 or 4 times during the day. Even better when combined with Astragalus in a tincture.
4) A tea or blended drink of fresh Lemon, Ginger and Honey (add Garlic if you can handle it!) Ginger is a “diaphoretic” herb which makes you sweat out toxins, and is also warming and has many anti-microbial compounds. Lemon loosens congestion and honey is both expectorant (loosens phlegm) and antibacterial, with lots of antioxidants. The addition of garlic gives this drink an extra antiviral punch and tends to clear nasal passages.
5) Yin Chiao san, or Gan Mao Ling, two Chinese formulas for the very first sign of cold or flu. I like Planetary Formulas’ Yin Chiao, and you can take 2-4 tablets every two hours. Take only for the first 2-3 days. Other brands such as the tried and true green & white box one, are available on the internet. If you have ever taken “Airborn” it is based on this formula. Many people are helped at this first stage by a product called Cold Snap, created by an acupuncturist friend of mine in Colorado. It is also based on the Yin Chiao formula.
What about Gan Mao Ling? The yin chiao formula (combination of herbs) is usually used for what we call “wind heat” invasions, whereas the gan mao ling is better for “wind cold” conditions. It will not hurt to try the Yin Chiao first, even if your symptoms turn out to be a cold condition.
Let me explain, briefly: In the tradition of Chinese Medicine we speak of rhinitis, cold and flu as “wind invasions”. Wind refers to (sometimes) actual wind, or virus, bacteria, heat, or cold coming into the body, often through the 2 soft spots in the back of the neck, which we call “Wind’s gates.” (Yes, your grandma was right telling you to wear your scarf!) The treatment principle to eradicate this imbalance is to “release the exterior” with herbs that counteract the coldness or heat, and move the pathogen out, often by opening the pores of the skin, or encouraging urination.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners can determine if the condition is one of cold or heat, but at the first sign of a respiratory illness it’s not easy to tell the difference. If things progress, (I hope not!) you can watch for some heat signs such as fever, flushing, a very red tongue, swollen throat or glands, cold sores, or thick mucous or phlegm that may be yellow or green. Signs of wind cold are chills, headache, clear runny nose, cold feet, and neck stiffness.
Other Effective Anti-Viral & Immune boosting herbs: can be taken alone or in combination. If health food stores still provide bulk tinctures which you can mix yourself, or loose teas, you can make those blends yourself. There are many wonderful plant allies, and these are only a few.
1) Oregano Oil or Leaves: Chew 2 fresh leaves per day, or if taking the essential oil, put 2 drops in an empty capsule, or one filled with olive oil. (too hot to use directly in the mouth!) or take one 100-150 mg capsule daily. The oil can also be rubbed on the soles of your feet (good way to use on kids! One mom calls it Pizza feet!)
2) Astragalus Root: A nutritive Chinese herb that boosts T-cells (immune cells) and also raises the Qi, or life force energy, and helps with lung infections.
3) Echinacea: a combination of Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia root is ideal for boosting immunity. Take in capsule, tablet or tincture form and increase dosage if symptoms occur.
4) Cordyceps, Reishi, Chaga and Turkey Tail Mushroom: These are not the kind of mushrooms you EAT, but instead, strong immune boosters. I recommend a blend of any of these, easily purchased through a company called Host Defense, OR New Chapter’s Liver Force. If you live near a wooded area, look for Turkey Tails on dead wood branches, they are brown and look like turkey tails! (be sure they ARE turkey tails before using!) Simmer some up and drink the tea!
5) Pau d’arco: from the bark of the Tabubia impetiginosa tree (it grows here on AmaTierra’s property, but can also be found in health food stores); a strong anti-viral/anti-bacterial herb that is also used for candida albicans overgrowth.
6) Olive leaf: kills viruses by starving them of the nutrients needed to survive and replicate. Has been found to be effective also against herpes, mononucleosis & rotavirus. Olive leaf also lowers cholesterol, blood pressure and is anti-inflammatory. Dosage: 500mg 1-2x per day for preventive, double if symptoms occur.
Other Herbs and Supplements to help you stay strong and healthy:
1) Take 1000 mg of Vitamin C and 15-30 mg Zinc 1 to 2x per day (always take zinc with food as it can upset an empty stomach)
2) Add Garlic, Onions, Ginger, Oregano and Tumeric plentifully to your meals or smoothies each day; they are anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and help your body ward off pathogens. Please read my blog “Immune boosting foods” for other anti-viral Foods and Spices with medicinal properties.
3) Essential Oils of doTerra On Guard or Young Living Thieves Oil: Spray on your body, diffuse in your home, and gargle with a few drops in water if you feel a sore throat coming on. Warm salt water is also a good option as it helps the pain of a sore throat and kills viruses and bacteria, bringing those pathogens up to the surface to be eliminated.
5) Drink a LOT of room-temperature water or warm herbal teas through these months, and take hot baths. Viruses do not like heat.
6) Teas to drink on a daily basis that have immune-boosting, clearing or antiseptic properties: Grated fresh ginger, lemon balm(melissa), turmeric, elder flower, mint, cinnamon, hyssop, and licorice root.
During these winter months, be sure to have at least the Top Five remedies handy in your home. Many of them, such as Vitamin C, Zinc, Reishi or Turkey Tail Mushroom and Echinacea are preventive and strengthening, and can be taken on a daily basis, so why not stock up?
Wishing you a healthy and happy new year from our little corner of paradise here in Costa Rica. –Jill Ruttenberg, RH, AHG
Jill Ruttenberg, RH, Co-Owner & Wellness Director of AmaTierra Retreat & Wellness Center in Costa Rica, is a professional nutritionist, certified practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and clinical herbalist registered with the American Herbalist Guild. She is also an experienced massage therapist, energy healer and Hatha yoga instructor. The Wellness Center at AmaTierra is Jill’s living dream, the fruition of decades of training, practice and experience in natural medicine and the healing arts.